The governor of Korea’s Jeollabuk-do Province, Song Ha-Jin, traveled to Washington State in late May, 2016, in part to recognize the 20th anniversary of the sister state relationship shared between them. Washington governor Jay Inslee also visited Jeollabuk-do Province in 2015 during a trade mission to South Korea and Japan. Government officials were not the only ones to mark the anniversary. The International Education program at Pierce College in Lakewood, Washington put on an exhibitionentitled Han Style to showcase Korean traditional culture on May 26-27. As part of the exhibition, Jeollabuk-do’s traditional paper, called ‘Han-ji’, and delicious local dishes were highlighted. Washington and Jeollabuk-do established their sister state relationship in 1996, and it is one of just three state-level sister partnerships that Washington has, joining Hyogo Prefecture in Japan and Mexico’s Jalisco State. At the city level, seven communities in Washington share ties with cities in South Korea.
During Governor Song’s visit to Washington, the two governors planted a tree on the lawn of the state capitol and placed a ceremonial wreath at the nearby Korean War Memorial to mark the two decades of friendship. The relationship between Washington and Jeollabuk-do is particularly active, with frequent visits and exchanges. Governor Song invited Governor Inslee to the World Taekwondo Championships in 2017, which will be held in Jeollabuk-do. In the first 10 years after the sister-state relationship was formed in 1996, Jeollabuk-do sent its government employees to Washington annually to learn from their counterparts and witness different systems at work. That program stopped after the governor of Jeollabuk-do changed in 2006, but since Governor Inslee and Governor Song started their terms in 2013 and 2014, respectively, both have renewed efforts to organize programs and events to enhance the sister state bond.
There are a total of 67 sister state and sister city relationships shared between the US and South Korea. Nearly half of all US states have at least one relationship, and California has the most of any state. The cities of Little Rock and North Little Rock in Arkansas are share ties with counterparts in Korea, and provide a home stay program to exchange students. Little Rock is also home to the American Taekwondo Association and hosts national tournaments for the Korean martial art every year.
Seo Hee Chung is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an Asan Washington Young Fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul.