For 35 years, the Long Beach-Qingdao Association has worked to make connections between the people and businesses in the sister cities.

When the coronavirus pandemic eliminated personal contact, the association created a Digital Pen Pal Program to connect Southern California college students with their peers in China, according to Mary Barton Mayes, the association president. The program quickly expanded to include students from Kenya and international students studying in the United States.

Mayes said in a release that the association had been planning a college leadership summit when the pandemic and associated travel restrictions hit. The pen pal program was created to replace the summit.

With support from Cal State Long Beach and Cal Poly Pomona, as well as the Qingdao Office of Foreign Affairs and the Qingdao University of Technology, the committee has paired 18 college students to begin a digital cultural exchange and build relationships despite the challenges inflicted by the coronavirus pandemic.

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Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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