• Population: 33,128
• Population density: 1,695 people per square mile
• Common languages: English, Spanish
• 4-member city council
• Population: 39,998
• Population density: 2,500 people per square mile
• Common languages: Dutch, French
• 33-member city council
Sources: U.S. Department of State website, City Data website
DALTON, Ga. -- After a seven-year hiatus, Dalton residents involved in their Sister City program with Dilbeek, Belgium, are excited about renewing old friendships and making new ones.
"It is a lot of fun, but it is also a great cultural experience," said Bobbi Butler, who has visited Dilbeek several times and hosted couples who came to Dalton. "Instead of just visiting the churches or historic places, you get to spend time with a family and learn to know them behind the scenes."
Thirty-seven Belgian business and political leaders, accompanied by some of their families, will arrive in Dalton on Tuesday for a five-day visit. During that time, they will tour Dalton city facilities, several Belgian-owned manufacturing plants in Dalton and Dalton State College. They will take part in "pig picking" and a hoedown at the historic Freight Depot and visit other historic sites.
The relationship between the cities began in 1985, with the help of former Beaulieu CEO Carl Bouckaert. For a while, the cities exchanged visitors every few years, with Dilbeek residents last coming to Dalton in 2001 and Dalton visitors traveling to Dilbeek for the last time in 2004.
Now Dalton city officials and residents hope they can resume the intermittent exchanges. This time, the visits will focus on economic and educational aspects as well as promoting cultural exchanges, Dalton City Administrator Ty Ross said.
Dalton State College is working to set up an exchange program with several Belgian universities, he said.
On Thursday morning, Butler and several other women stuffed goody bags for the visitors that included carpet coasters, Dalton cookbooks and other items representing the city. About 28 host families have volunteered to accommodate the visitors.
Butler said their trips to Dilbeek have been a highlight for her family.
"Everyone talks a little English -- they speak French and Dutch -- and the rest of the time you communicate with pantomime," she said. "We all have a great time."
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...