Chaz Brown ’11 Taking Leadership Role with Sister City Relationship

Posted on January 28th, 2015 by

Chaz Brown '11

Chaz Brown ’11

When the sister city relationship was officially formed between St. Peter and Petatlán, Mexico, in 2010, the committees on both ends hoped to normalize exchanges between the cities. Every spring a group of students from Gustavus, along with a few members of the St. Peter community, travel to Petatlán as part of the Learning to Serve spring break service learning program. Meanwhile, several delegations from Petatlán have made their way to St. Peter. One such delegation is currently in St. Peter for a two-week-long cultural/linguistic exchange program, directed by Gustavus alumnus Chaz Brown ’11 and coordinated by members of the St. Peter Sister City Committee.

“These exchanges are what keeps the relationship going and nourishes it,” said Jeffrey Rathlef, who serves as Director of Community-Based Service and Learning in the College’s Center for Servant Leadership (CSL).

Brown has experienced both sides of the sister city initiative. As a student intern in the CSL beginning in 2008, Brown worked with the St. Peter Sister City Committee to help find and establish a sister city for St. Peter. He then became part of the initial delegation sent to Petatlán to see if it would be a compatible sister city for St. Peter.

Brown graduated from Gustavus in 2011 with degrees in International Management and Spanish along with a minor in Latin American, Latino, and Caribbean Studies (LALACS) and then completed his master’s degree in Latin American Studies from Ohio University. He moved to Petatlán following graduation, and his experience with the sister city initiative eventually led him to live and work in Petatlán.

“My involvement in the sister city initiative, and specifically the Learning to Serve program development, was instrumental in my decision to write my master’s thesis on the impacts of the Universidad Tecnológica de la Costa Grande de Guerrero (UTCGG) on the community of Petatlán,” Brown said. “I love the diplomatic relations and community and cultural insight that I’ve gained through my experience and I will be forever grateful for the experiences and opportunities that the initiative gave me and continues to give me.”

After completing his master’s degree, Brown became a professor of tourism at the UTCGG. He continues to work closely with Petatlán’s sister city committee, and has led projects for the committee multiple times.

“The beauty of the story is that Chaz was very involved with the sister city initiative and the committee on this side, and now on the other side, he is a member of Petatlán’s committee. He really has gone local to global,” Rathlef said. “It really hasn’t been the initiative of any one person; it’s been a very collective effort. But in the spirit of that collaboration, Chaz has nourished that and really fed it and led. He’s really shown a lot of leadership in a collaborative way. I’m really struck by how much students, here or there, really look up to Chaz and are really impressed. I think they find meaning in the programs by Chaz’s example.”

The students in the Petatlan delegation had some fun with the snow on the streets of St. Peter.

The students in the Petatlan delegation had some fun with the snow on the streets of St. Peter.

One of Brown’s main goals is to help normalize exchanges between the sister cities. His plan is to turn this initial January delegation from Petatlán into an annual exchange.

“One of the main goals from the beginning of the relationship has been to foster reciprocal engagement, and this Petatlán delegation is evidence of that reciprocity in action,” Brown said.  “In addition to normalized exchange programming, people-to-people connections are also being made organically through impromptu visits between our two communities.”

After a group of UTCGG professors accompanied Brown to St. Peter last year, the Petatlán sister city committee wanted to send students to St. Peter this year. So Brown started to develop a cultural-linguistic program for students studying in the University’s Language Center, many of which are full-time high school students who take advantage of the University’s Saturday program in English and French.

While in St. Peter, the visiting students are taking an intensive English course and are participating in community events, group excursions, community engagement projects, and some winter activities such as skiing and snowshoeing. Students immerse themselves in the local culture through staying with local host families for the duration of their program.

“My goal is for the participating students to gain valuable intercultural experience as well as English language coaching,” Brown said. “I’m most excited about the host family experiences for the students. At the end of the program the students always say that it was the most enriching and exciting part of their experiences.”

Brown works hard to continue to foster the relationship between Petatlán and St. Peter, and enjoys helping students experience the same kinds of opportunities that helped shape his life as a student.

“Chaz embodies what our Sister City Committees work hard to foster: citizen diplomacy and cultural exchange. He is invested in both the St. Peter and Petatlán communities, calling both places “home”, and inspires others to find the beauty in building community across borders. With future student exchanges, it is the committees’ hope to continue to encourage participants to be globally-minded leaders like Chaz,” says Gustavus alumna Annabel Landaverde ’12, current chair of the St. Peter Sister City Committee.

“My favorite part of what I do is the feeling of having potentially impacted my students’ lives with the same kinds of international exchanges and experiences that helped shape me and my life,” Brown said. “A community grows and becomes stronger because of the connections and relationships that its members create. So if you’re interested in community relations or development, get involved, make phone calls and most importantly, take the initiative to foster meaningful and sustainable ties between as many sectors of the community as possible—both locally and globally.”


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin



  1. Beatriz Torres says:

    Great article! It is amazing to see the leadership role Chaz has taken. Congratulations!

  2. Kathi Tunheim says:

    Excellent leadership, Chaz. I am impressed with all you have accomplished since you graduated.