Dustin Palmer, chairman of Walla Walla Tamba-Sasayama Sister City Affiliation, loves to travel the world and has a special love for Japan. So it was only natural for him to get involved with the Affiliation.

The non profit group sponsors mutual student exchanges between Walla Walla and sister city Tamba-Sasayama, Japan. An exchange takes place in March when Japanese students travel to Walla Walla. Another exchange occurs in October when a group of about 10 local ninth to 12th grade students are sent to Tamba-Sasayama for about two weeks.

Palmer said the government began the international student exchange program of sister cities in about 1955. Palmer was a student in 2003 when he got the opportunity to participate. 

“I spent a fantastic two weeks in Japan. The gal I stayed with and I stayed good friends. I was able to take my wife over there recently,” he said. 

Palmer got involved in the exchange in 2008, then went to Japan again in 2011, both as a chaperon and as vice chair of the committee. 

The Walla Walla native has been to almost every continent. 

“International travel is a big passion of mine,” he said.

He almost didn’t get back to the area, once he was out of school. He was made great job offers from impressive companies like Microsoft, Intel, Starbucks. 

“Then they canceled their offers due to the massive economic downturn at the end of 2008. I figured people would head for the bars, so I worked as a bartender. I’d talk with people, I’d get connections and improve interpersonal skills. I made friends.” 

He went to work at Key Technology, then started work at Whitman College as the math and computer science tech specialist. It was a good fit. “I love it,” he said.

Palmer has been to Tamba-Sasayama three times. 

“It’s very similar to Walla Walla in terms of community and agriculture. It’s very scenic with lots of trees, rivers and parks. Also Tamba-Sasayama is a very safe place. When you go there you feel a part of the community immediately. It’s friendly. It has a charm. You feel like you belong, like you never left home. I like to be far from postcard tourism. We have perceptions of countries based on their capitals like Tokyo. Tamba-Sasayama is not like that; it’s a blend of tradition, with a historic downtown and the modern. There’s a combination of Japanese and western-style new homes. You see both traditional Japan and modern Japan.

“In 2011 I started to be more involved,” Palmer said. “I have traveled all over the world and I’d fallen in love with some aspect of Japan.” 

He wanted to help others have the experience of a visit to Japan. 

“The U.S. is huge as a landmass. Japan fits on our western seaboard. We have different people on the east coast, (very different in culture and style to the west.) Japan seems to be like a fantasy world, with a new language, new people.”

Palmer said travel is also about creating good will between the countries. It promotes the understanding of culture from an individual basis, from personal experience, family to family and community to community, according to Palmer. An invested interest is created in friends and family over there.

“The Sister City Affiliation exists to maintain that connection, reduce the fear of the unknown,” he said. 

He wants to dispel entertainment myths and common misconceptions about other cultures. 

The experience has changed lives with the gaining of a new perspective, he said. The organization promotes peace and goodwill. 

“I want to get the excitement going and keep it going. That’s the plight of every charity,” Palmer said. “We have quite a bit of interest this year. Tamba-Sasayama and Walla Walla, are connected, everybody can benefit.”


Karlene Ponti began as Special Publications Writer in 1999, work includes Lifestyles, The Weekly and Business Monthly. After Wa-Hi, Ponti attended Whitman and is a UW graduate. Later she was ordained a Christian minister at CDM Spiritual Teaching Center.

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