A whirlwind trip to a frigid but hospitable place half a world away is something Nancy Backus won’t soon forget.
Pyeongchang, South Korea – Auburn’s Sister City – warmly welcomed the mayor and a City delegation as special guests to help usher in the Winter Olympics last week.
They visited friends and exchanged gifts in a show of global goodwill, a partnership the cities established in 2011, the same year the South Korean community won its bid to host the Winter Games. That relationship, Sister City officials said, was a factor in the country’s successful bid.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Backus said of taking in the festivities, which included the opening ceremony at sub-zero Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium last Friday. “Beautiful, spectacular being in the stadium. We saw a lot of wonderful things, but I understand we missed some things that went on outside the stadium. People who saw it on TV may have seen even more of the pyrotechnics and other things than what we did being inside the stadium.
“It was just a very proud moment to be there representing Auburn and the United States,” she said. “I was just proud to be there as a Sister City … knowing all they have gone through to make this a reality for their region, for their country.”
Backus spoke about her experiences by phone from Washington, D.C., where the American Medical Association presented the mayor on Tuesday night with the Dr. Nathan Davis Award for Outstanding Government Service for her work in the community.
The mayor enjoyed her visit to South Korea and its people.
“Their hospitality is tremendous,” Backus said. “They are very gracious and wonderful hosts … and very proud to have the Olympics.”
Because of a tight schedule, the invited mayor and delegation took in some scenery and winter-themed festivals and attended a welcome dinner but none of the full Games themselves. They traveled swiftly and efficiently by high-speed rail and shuttled by bus.
The delegation included Backus’ daughter Lucky, whose trip mom funded privately; Doug Lien, the City’s manager of economic development; and Duanna Richards, the City’s Sister City liaison and community programs coordinator.
Pyeongchang counts Auburn as its only American Sister City.
Over the years, the cities have shared goodwill in economic, educational, cultural and social circles. The Sister City program, according to its organizers and participants, has brought new ideas and perspectives to business leaders, enlightened many students who participated in cultural and educational exchanges and established and strengthened diplomatic ties among civic leaders.
In 2016, a Pyeongchang delegation, including the city’s then-new mayor, Jae-Kook Sim, visited Auburn leaders at City Hall.
“Auburn is a beautiful city … and the people have given us a very warm welcome,” Sim said of the visit.
Last week, Sim and Pyeongchang leaders returned the favor.
Both sides plan to continue and expand the program in the years ahead.
“It’s time for us to host now,” Backus said of the next visit.