Six Zoom sessions are planned over the next several weeks so Iowans can get to know residents and community leaders in our sister state of Veneto, Italy.

Karla Weilbrenner McCollum, executive director of Iowa Sister States, calls it a “citizen diplomacy” project. The first of the online meetings will focus on COVID-19 and how both regions have worked to make education a priority.

“Teachers are doing their best to make sure the students are educated, so we wanted to talk about that from the Iowa side as well as on the Italy side, what they’re doing,” McCollum says. “We’re going to meet on the 23rd to talk to teachers, students and school administrators in both Iowa and Italy to see what they’ve done to mitigate and move forward during COVID.”

Later sessions will focus on the arts and culture in both Iowa and Italy, while two sessions will be devoted just to the two regions’ unique cuisines. “We have a lot of farm-to-table, they’re garden-to-table,” McCollum says. “They literally go out to their garden, pick something, whatever’s fresh and they cook it, and they go to the market a lot more often than we do. We’re going to look at those cooking traditions, with garden-to-table, and then, we’ll start looking at Iowa cuisines.”

Each session will run about an hour, starting with a main speaker for about 15-minutes, then she says it’ll be “wide open” for discussions. “Citizen diplomacy is about that person-to-person, people-to-people connection between us,” McCollum says. “On top of our government agreements, we want to form true friendships and we want to make sure that we give time for people on the calls to be able to interact and to ask questions.”

You don’t need to speak Italian to take part in the sessions, as there will be translators on the line. McCollum says one of the goals is to foster one-on-one relationships, and dealing with COVID is something Iowans and Italians all share.

“We want people in Iowa and people in the Veneto region to enjoy each other,” McCollum says, “but we also want to start with that tough topic of the resiliency and how we’re working our way through the global pandemic and show solidarity for each other and support for each other as sister states.”

The Veneto region, which includes Venice and the province of Padova, has been Iowa’s sister state since 1997. The sessions will held on Tuesdays starting at 9 a.m. from February 23rd through March 30th. They’re free but registration is required at