South Florida will become a home away from home for many Romanians

Romanian and American delegation in Florida

Fort Lauderdale (Florida) and Constanta, Romania’s gateway to the Black Sea, became two sister cities, a diplomacy initiative that will help Romania connect not only economically benefiting its citizens, but also educationally and culturally enriching both American and Romanian communities. Julia Costin, Romania Chairwoman of Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International, coordinates this endeavor with her full heart and dedication to see a great change for Romania. 

Natalia Ghilașcu: Dear Julia Costin, you are very involved and proud about building relationships between Romania and the US after signing a cooperation agreement between mayors from Constanta and Fort Lauderdale, FL. How did it all happen? 

Julia Costin: Yes, it’s a great opportunity for the city of Constanta to start a collaboration with one of the most vibrant and diverse cities in the US. The process started about 3 years ago, when I got contacted by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities executive director, Marianne Winfield, and asked me to get involved to make this collaboration successful.

One of the major activities was to help build a local board that will support the activities of a new sister city, then identify the collaboration opportunities, and highlight why Constanta was a great sister city “candidate”. Ultimately, once we had all the requirements covered, we reached out to our diplomatic representatives in Miami for additional support. General Consul Ghenea’s support was instrumental for the success of the project.

Coincidently, back in April, a delegation from the City of Constanta and Port of Constanta attended Seatrade in Miami Beach, and during this time I arranged a meeting with Fort Lauderdale mayor, Trantalis, and GFLSCI president, Russell Weaver in Fort Lauderdale. I started close collaboration with Constanta’s department for External Relations to work on the details as well as plan a delegation from Constanta to Fort Lauderdale to officially sign the agreement.

Julia Costin, Romania Chair with Greater Fort Lauderdale Sister Cities International

Also, one of Constanta mayor’s advisors, Mr. Marian Parjol, former consul general of Romania in NY, helped tremendously, especially because he was quite familiar with the US system, as well as to know how to navigate various bureaucratic requirements on Romania’s side.

From May until September, I worked closely with Mr. Parjol to coordinate a delegation in October, which will coincide with the largest trade expo hosted in Fort Lauderdale, attracting businesses and dignitaries from over 60 countries. On October 8th, we welcomed the Romanian delegation led by Constanta vice-mayor Costin Ioan Rasauteanu to Fort Lauderdale city hall where the sister cities agreement was officially signed.

This is a great accomplishment and opportunity to promote trade activities between Florida and Romania. If you think about it, Florida is a trillion dollar economy, actually if it was a country, its economy would be ranked the 17th largest in the world. I look forward to see my home country leveraging this alliance to facilitate trade between the two countries benefiting citizens of the US and Romania.

N.G: What would the two sister cities, Constanta and Fort Lauderdale, do to bring its people closer?  

J.C: Sister cities are part of a diplomatic effort to develop relationships between cities in the United States and international countries. With this new alliance built between Fort Lauderdale and Constanta my hope is to expand the existing cooperation between the US and Romania. Now we have a platform that will allow our communities to boost education exchanges, business trade, cultural understanding, and economic benefiting both cities. 

Currently, we are working with Mayor’s office to facilitate a trade delegation to Constanta in 2020. This will be a major event, and will bring FL dignitaries, businesses, and economic development agencies to explore the Romanian market. As we continue to expand our reach and strengthen this relationship, our goal is to boost exchanges in education, business trade, and community development that will enrich both communities.

N.G: What would be the benefits of Romania coming along with more of such partnerships?  

J.C: These alliances are a great platform to establish strategic relationships with major trading powers of the world. The “soft diplomacy” model will help Romania connect not only economically benefiting its citizens, but also educationally and culturally enriching our society.

Romanian and American delegation in Florida

Quite frankly, I believe this soft diplomacy will enable Romania’s businesses and its citizens to have easier access to economic opportunities . Access to resources is one of the major impediments for people to attain their full potential. Establishing and nurturing such alliances provide a pathway for personal and financial prosperity for all.

N.G: What are the effects going to be in the following 5 years after such a cooperation and what can the two parties learn from each other? 

J.C: The success of such alliances are dependent on the responsible behavior of both parties, working in the best interest of the common citizen. The co-dependency of relationships requires those in positions of power to engage in good faith. Any exploitation or potential of bad reputation can have a detrimental impact on collaboration opportunities. 

We as citizens, have to take active participation and nurture these relationships to ensure long lasting benefits. The greatest element about the sister cities program is that is being led by dedicated volunteers who work tirelessly to maintain our positive ongoing relations, as well as maintaining the integrity of our programs. Personally, I envision a strong trade collaboration on strategic sectors such as tech, maritime, and Tourism. 

On the education side, establishing faculty and student exchanges, study abroad programs, joint degree programs, and research collaborations between Ovidius University and South FL universities, will greatly contribute to professional advancement. As far as culturally, we can explore a variety of programs focused on music, art, movies, and sustainable fashion. Any program is welcomed as long as it helps bridge the cultural gap.

Currently, we have a program called “Young Artists and Authors Showcase”, which is an annual contest that encourages youth worldwide to express the mission of Sister Cities International through original artwork, literature, and photography. This year’s theme is One World: “Out of Many, We are One”. We have a significant Romanian community in FL, and my hope is that South Florida will become a home away from home for many Romanians.

N.G: What motivates you to be part of this amazing project and what is your role in it?  

J.C: One of the greatest joys I have is the ability to make a positive change in the community. I moved here 16 years ago, and I got to know my community by volunteering with many great organizations that have a positive impact. Over the years, I’ve got to work with many selfless volunteers, who touched the lives of many in different ways.

The projects I was involved in had a span of many interests, either helping someone getting employment, or helping our veterans integrate to civilian life, to mentoring young women by arming them with knowledge and leadership skills. That extra support provided by non-profits can significantly improve someone’s life.

My role in this particular project was to facilitate the relationships between Fort Lauderdale and Constanta, coordinate engagement activities and enable resources culminating in the signing of the sister cities agreement in October. In my current role as Romania Chairwomen for GFLSCI, I look forward to working with different entities who share common values and have the best interest of advancing sister cities mission – promote peace through mutual respect, understanding, and cooperation – one individual, one community at a time.

N.G: How can Romanians in other cities of the US contribute to develop similar sister cities between the US and Romania? 

J.C: I encourage everyone to get to know their local government and elected officials by engaging in different civic activities. By doing so, not only they will be able to learn first-hand about local resources and initiatives, but also build goodwill and win trust with key stakeholders in the community. Fostering relationships with community leaders is vital to initiate and successfully launch those types of projects. It’s an organic process, and its takes time, but the benefits are rewarding.

N.G: What is the story that brings you to the US and what were your ups and downs while here?

J.C: I think my story is quite similar to most of immigrant stories, where we work hard and we build ourselves from the ground up. I consider all of my immigrant experiences a blessing which gave me the opportunity to learn and grow. Life has an incredible way to lead us in many different circumstances and experiences, that will equip us with the resilience to handle most things in life. Facing adversity is part of life, and by learning to embrace it, we can yield the greatest rewards. “Circumstance does not make the man, it reveals him to himself.” – James Allen. 

N.G: What do Americans know about Romania when they find out about your Romanian roots? 

J.C: Well, quite honestly, being Romanian is a great ice breaker in almost in any circumstances. Thankfully, Nadia Comaneci has succeeded in putting Romania on the map with her perfect routines in Montreal. That’s one of the things Americans mention most about Romania. Also, inadvertently, Hollywood, had created a great marketing promotion for Romania with the

Dracula movies. However, many people are still not aware of our achievements of Romanians contributions in the

fields of math, technology or aviation. I firmly believe, we have a lot to contribute to the world, given our rich history and heritage. These alliances are helpful in highlighting Romanian accomplishments and puts us in a different light – hardworking, trustworthy, and a dynamic community.

Natalia Ghilascu

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