Ruth Erickson is a woman of the world.
Not just because she was born in Europe, or because of her many
travels abroad. Through her work with three different international
exchange programs, Erickson has helped bring different countries
and cultures to Hollister’s front door.
Hollister – Ruth Erickson is a woman of the world.

Not just because she was born in Europe, or because of her many travels abroad. Through her work with three different international exchange programs, Erickson has helped bring different countries and cultures to Hollister’s front door.

Erickson splits her time among many different community organizations, but the ones closest to her heart are the international ones, including the Sister Cities International (SCI), of which Hollister is a member, and two student exchange programs – the International Training and Exchange (INTRAX) and the Academic Year in the United States (AYUSA).

Involvement with these groups has provided Erickson the chance to promote cultural awareness while helping both youth and adult students broaden their education.

“In a little place like Hollister, where so many people don’t get the chance to travel, for whatever reason, these organizations can bring so much,” Erickson said. “It’s all very exciting.”

Erickson had been working with groups to help plan exchange student group visits when, in 1989, she was approached by Hollister city officials about joining a committee working with SCI. The city of Takino, in the Hyogo Prefecture of Japan, had contacted Hollister about becoming their sister city. Erickson’s work with the exchange student programs, and her multi-cultural upbringing, made her a natural choice for the committee, she said.

“I was raised in England, and I had worked in different countries and traveled all over Europe,” she said. “With my background, they wanted me (on the committee), and I was thrilled and said of course.”

The committee, now known as the Hollister Sister City Association, traveled to Takino, visiting the city and meeting its residents. Eventually, a signing ceremony was held in both Hollister and Takino, and today, copies of the agreement, along with gifts and other items from Takino are on display downtown at City Hall.

“It really brings home the world,” she said. “It brings to this little part of California a different part of the world. People here have opened up their homes to let guests stay with them, given sponsor dinners, local companies have given tours. People have opened up their hearts.”

Erickson was working with SCI while continuing to help coordinate tours and home visits for foreign exchange students when, in 1991, she was approached by a friend about working for INTRAX. The work was almost identical to what she was already doing, scheduling tours and arranging home visits for students, but now the students would be staying for several months as they completed one semester at San Benito High School.

“The job is basically the same, I still have to set up host families, arrange community activities,” she said. “And a few years after I started, my friend moved and asked me to take over her job as coordinator.”

Erickson divides her time between the organizations, filling various offices – she is co-president of HSCA, has been a board member of the Northern California Board for Sister Cities International for eight years and is nearing the end of her fourth term as the board’s president, in addition to to serving on the Friends of the San Benito County Library board for 23 years.

“California is one of the few states that has both a northern and southern board for the state, but it also has the majority of sister cities,” she said. “California is well-known. People have heard of California.”

Three years ago, SCI decided it wanted to partner with a student exchange group, and after some research, chose AYUSA. Because of Erickson’s involvement with both groups, she has been invited this year to attend SCI’s annual international conference, being held this year in Spokane, Wash., all expenses paid.

“It’s very exciting; I’ve never been to the international conference before,” she said. “I think they appreciated the fact that someone has been involved with both groups, because while the basics are the same, each group had something to offer the other, and I’m part of both groups.”

Erickson knows how important groups like SCI and AYUSA are – she was a foreign exchange student herself in 1960 when she took part in a school to school trade between England and France. She remains in touch with the family she stayed with, and they get together every 15 years or so for a visit. In 1966, she came to the East Coast of the U.S. for an internship working with autistic and schizophrenic children. Following the internship, she bought a Grey Hound bus pass and traveled throughout the country. When she came to California, she met her future husband, Ron Erickson, and the couple were married two years later. After following Ron to several locales, the couple finally settled in Hollister in 1978.

“I started this because I wanted my children to know a little bit about where I came from, and how I grew up,” she said. “I’m an international person. I keep thinking that one day I’ll have enough, and I’ll stop, but it’s been so thrilling. You really get to meet so many people. You make friends for life.”

Laurie Castaneda write Local Stories featuring people who live in and love San Benito County every Wednesday for the Free Lance.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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