Dandong city officials sent a small contingent to meet Harry Shaheen at the airport and paid for everything while he stayed.

WILMINGTON -- For three days in July, 11th grader Harry Shaheen was the honored guest of a Chinese city. He visited Dandong, one of Wilmington’s four sister cities.

After planning a six-week trip to China for the summer, Shaheen realized he would be close to Dandong and reached out to the city.

“We talked and communicated, and they said, ‘Come and we will pick you up and accommodate you,’” Shaheen said.

Dandong city officials sent a small contingent to meet Shaheen at the airport and paid for everything while he stayed in the city.

“They were very generous the whole time,” Sheehan said. “I was very moved.”

Over the three days they enjoyed local cuisine and explored different areas of the city, including the easternmost portion of the Great Wall of China.

Shaheen spent a total of six weeks in China, from May 27 to Aug. 8, visiting cities, provinces and friends. He also taught English for a month in Inner Mongolia, a Chinese autonomous region.

His interest in Chinese culture started two years ago, after meeting students from China who attended Cape Fear Academy with him.

“I became part of their circle of friends and got acclimated to their culture and I began studying the language,” he said.

Shaheen spent three weeks in China last summer with one of his new friends and loved the experience.

“At that point, I had been studying the language for three months so I got a really big passion for the language and the culture during that time,” he said. “When I returned home, I continued studying the language and the culture and I really wanted to go back because I fell in love with the place.”

Shaheen’s continued studies helped him become conversationally fluent in Mandarin, and pushed him to go back to China. In looking for a way back over, he came across Dandong, Wilmington’s sister city.

Sister cities are cities from different countries that have some aspects in common and agree to start a partnership. Both Wilmington and Dandong are port cities with azaleas as their city flower.

According to the Sister Cities Association of Wilmington, there was a teacher exchange program for several years between the cities with students from University of North Carolina Wilmington going to Dandong for yearlong assignments.

Wilmington’s other sister cities are San Pedro, Belize; Bridgetown, Barbados; and Doncaster, England. Learn more about the program at www.scawilmington.org.

Shaheen hopes to return to China again in the future, potentially even to attend college. He is also trying to set up a visit for representatives from Dandong to visit Wilmington in the fall.

“Language is a tool for communication,” he said. “People are people wherever you go.”

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