Owensboro stepped out into the global community in 1994 when a sister city relationship was formed with Olomouc, Czech Republic, after the end of the Soviet occupation. An additional relationship was formed later between Daviess County and Nissin, Japan, but is currently inactive.
The official mission of Owensboro Sister Cities and Regions (OSCAR) states that the group encourages global understanding between the community, other local communities outside of the City of Owensboro and other world communities. The mission also charges OSCAR with initiating exchange programs in the areas of education, business, professional groups and the arts.
OSCAR board members are appointed by the Owensboro board of commissioners and are assisted by ambassadors, a group of volunteers who help the organization. The mayor’s assistant serves as the OSCAR executive director and main point of contact.
Exchanges have included a wide range of interests and topics from elected officials, emergency services and tourism to librarians, students and social workers.
One popular OSCAR exchange program in recent years has been the one for secondary students. Local high school students are recruited through guidance offices to participate in this two-year exchange.
During the even numbered years, local students host a Czech counterpart from Hejčín Gymnázium in Olomouc, Czech Republic, in their Owensboro home for two weeks.
This year’s visiting Czech students will arrive on Oct. 13. According to Kelia West, the OSCAR board’s secondary student exchange chair, the Czech students will attend some days of school with their host student and tour some local high schools, Brescia University, Wendell Foster, Smothers Park and other local attractions.
To complete the exchange, local host students will travel to Olomouc during fall 2019 to be hosted in their Czech student’s home. The American students attend classes with their host students, tour local cultural sights and travel to some other regional towns in the Czech Republic.
“Our two-week visit always includes fall break so our students only miss one week of school,” West said.
West first got involved with the exchange when her family hosted a student in 2003. She hosted a student again in 2008 and soon found herself appointed to the OSCAR board, chairing the secondary exchange committee and making her first trip to Olomouc with the students in 2009. She has built many strong friendships and still stays with that first student she hosted, Martin Ivan, every time she travels to Olomouc.
Ross and Jill Leigh of Owensboro got involved with OSCAR when they allowed their son, Christian, to host Czech student Ben Slimáček in 2016 and then travel to Olomouc to stay with Ben in 2017. This year, they will host their second Czech student.
“[We looked at it as] an unparalleled opportunity to learn about other cultures,” Ross Leigh said.
Leigh added that he and his family have learned about the education system of other countries and how students of other countries react to various influences such as religion and politics.
‘[We were] comfortable knowing that [Christian] was going to stay with the family that trusted us to host their son the year prior,” Leigh said. ” We were thrilled to know that he would see first-hand that the world is bigger than Owensboro, Kentucky.”
Christian Leigh plans to spend next summer with Ben and his family visiting various European countries.
New exchanges have been added in 2017 and 2018 to expand the reach of the organization within the local community.
Because sports are popular in both Owensboro and Olomouc, two sports exchanges were added. In June 2017, the family of Robin and Jammia Joska participated in the Olomouc region’s annual half marathon. In June 2018, Robin Joska led a group of high school soccer players to Olomouc to participate in an international tournament there.
Tours for people interested just in travel and curious about Olomouc have also been added. In September 2017, OSCAR began the exchange for anyone who was interested in visiting Olomouc to experience the culture and make new friends. The second of these exchanges happens in September 2018. The group traveling to Olomouc for their annual Beer Fest in May 2019 is still accepting travelers.
To contact Owensboro Sister Cities and Regions or get involved in an exchange, go to Facebook.com/OwensboroSisterCities.