Portland’s sister city: Ulsan, South Korea

A night cityscape of Ulsan
Ulsan is home to passionate soccer fans + lots of bridges. Sound familiar? | Photo via Scott Rotzoll

Portland has lots of sister cities — nine of them, in fact — but as today is Korean-American Day, we’re sending some special love to Ulsan, South Korea.

So, what is a sister city? Essentially, it’s a long-term partnership between two communities in two countries, agreed upon by the highest elected or appointed officials. Each relationship is overseen by volunteers with a nonprofit, which helps cultivate international bonds, share culture, and encourage economic development.

Ulsan Metropolitan City officially became our sister city on November 20, 1987, but many locals might not know a lot about the industrial port city on the southeast coast of South Korea. It’s home to Hyundai Motors, which made the Port of Portland the car manufacturer’s primary entry point to the US in 1988. A year later, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the company’s $12 million auto import facility + floating dock, skydivers delivered a shovel from 2,000 ft. — talk about soaring to new heights.

Oregon was the first state to ship fresh blueberries to South Korea, and in 2018, the country ranked fourth ($1.7 billion dollars) for Oregon’s international exports, largely consisting of machinery, agricultural products, computers + electronics, and chemicals.

Ulsan's float in the Grand Floral Parade
Ulsan’s float from the 2007 Grand Floral Parade in Portland. | Photo via pdxjeff

Both cities have a thing for roses. At the 2017 Portland Rose Festival’s Grand Floral Parade, the Portland-Ulsan Sister City Association’s float won the Royal Rosarian Award for best craftsmanship + workmanship. That same year, mayor Gi-Hyeon Kim visited with more than 60 delegates and the Ulsan Metropolitan Chorus serenaded listeners with a free “30th Anniversary Friendship Concert” at the Newmark Theater.

Despite the hardships of the pandemic, Portland’s sister city relationship with Ulsan remains strong after nearly 35 years. Portland State University has an exchange program with the University of Ulsan, and students from Hyundai Chungun High School make annual visits to Portland as part of the summer Global Leadership Seminar.

A pagoda like structure in Ulsan, Korea
Modern traditions blend with 5,000+ years of history. | Photo via Steve46814

If a trip to Ulsan isn’t in the cards for you right now, Portland has a vibrant Korean restaurant scene and Powell’s always has their Korean novels section well-stocked.