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Oct 27

Building Friendships and Peace through Global Exchanges

Posted on October 27, 2015 at 2:38 AM by Beth Shumate

Friendship Force guests and hostMcKinney’s downtown square was enjoying its usual bustling activity this past Sunday morning, the outside patio areas filled with folks enjoying the gorgeous fall weather and some tasty brunch selections at places like Spoons, Rick’s Chophouse, The Celt and Sugarbacon Proper Kitchen. The newly-expanded Snug on the Square was my destination, thanks to a brunch invitation from McKinney resident Sharri McIntosh (pictured, center). She wanted me to meet her two house guests for the week, two delightful ladies here this week on a cultural travel exchange.

Sharri’s guests, Hilda Miller (left) and Pearl Wong (right), are visiting with a group of 13 travelers from Vancouver to spend a week in North Texas before heading to San Antonio this coming weekend, then some of the group will go on to Galveston for a few more days. The Vancouver visitors are staying in Dallas area homes this week, an inbound cultural exchange with the Dallas Chapter of The Friendship Force, an international organization that seeks to build personal relationships in an effort to foster world peace.

A Brief Background on The Friendship Force
The international non-profit organization was founded in 1977 as a way to promote travel not just for travel’s sake, but for the purpose of overcoming differences by bringing people together  to experience everyday life where others  live, play, and work. FFI achieves this goal by through its home-stay exchanges, promoting the idea that “you get to know real people by sharing real life.” President and Mrs. Jimmy Carter were supporters of FFI when it was founded, and now the organization has more than 350 chapters (about 135 of those in the United States) in almost 70 countries, all connected globally through the Atlanta, Georgia-headquartered Friendship Force International.  The organization’s efforts were even honored with a Nobel Peace Prize nomination in 1992. A statement on the group’s website perhaps says it best: “If we can build a world of friends, we can build a world of peace.”

Learning through Common Experience
“When you travel and stay in hotels, you just see the surface of an area, but when you stay in someone’s home, you get to see it in depth, and you get to see that while we may have cultural differences, there are many more similarities than there are differences,” Pearl said.

“The similarities are so strong,” Sharri agreed. The McKinney resident who moved here three years ago from the Austin area joined Friendship Force in 2010 and has hosted other members four times. She is a member of the Dallas chapter, the group hosting the club from Vancouver this week.

Like the Dallas chapter, the Vancouver group has roughly 50 active members who regularly participate in the exchanges and other travel opportunities. Aside from home stays, members can enjoy language immersion trips, “Semester at Sea” cruises filled with lectures and fellowship with other global members, and Friendship in Action missions to complete work in foreign countries. Each chapter also hosts local meetings.

All three women learned about The Friendship Force via word-of-mouth from friends or acquaintances which seems to be the norm. In North America, the membership seems to be heavily made up of retirees strictly because they have more time to travel.

“Europe and areas like Brazil and Turkey seem to have younger memberships. Travel and time off are just handled differently there,” Sharri said. “But we’d love to get some younger members to join – those in their 50s and 60s.”

In addition to Dallas, Texas currently has Friendship Force chapters in San Antonio, Austin, Houston and Fort Worth. A new chapter just started in Georgetown, Texas, too, about a year ago. (Sharri explained that Dallas chapter members will head to Georgetown in November to help that club facilitate its first exchange.)

After an hour or so of chatting about Friendship Force with my new friends, the ladies were off to explore the square. During a casual Tuesday evening pre-dinner reception Sharri hosted for the visiting Vancouver club and their hosts, the Dallas guests anxiously talked about how they asked their Dallas hosts to bring them to McKinney, too, after hearing how much Hilda and Pearl enjoyed it!
(The photo below is of those Vancouver and Dallas club members who gathered at Sharri's McKinney home Tuesday evening before dinner at Harry's on the Harbor in Adriatica.)

FFI group
Part Leisure Travel/Part Service Organization
Members are not required to host guests and can select what types of travel opportunities they want to take part in. For club exchanges, the majority of activities are planned ahead with itineraries each day and leaders for each from within the host club. The hosts usually have a free day to share their hometown and then they take their guests to chapter-sponsored welcome dinners and outings.

Aside from home stays, members can enjoy language emersion trips, “Semester at Sea” cruises filled with lectures and fellowship with other global members, and other types of trips. 

“We’re also a service organization that offers a different way to see the world,” said Dallas chapter member and Fairview resident Sandy Kaiser who joined with her husband in 2004. “Once you visit someone, you become friends for life.”

Paula Rose, a Dallas Chapter Excursion Director, spoke of a couple Friendship in Action trips she and her husband Edward have taken with the group. 

“We built greenhouses in Jamaica – that was an eight-day trip when we also delivered supplies to schools there - and we painted an old folks’ home in Cuba,” Paula said. “You work during the day, the have fun in the evenings.”

Paula and Edward even met a family on their language immersion trip to Bogata, Columbia, who later sent their teenager to Lake Highlands to live with them as an exchange student during her gap year between high school and college. 

“You truly do wind up having family members all over the world,” Paula said.

Joining Friendship Force
Anyone interested in learning more about The Friendship Force can visit the
FFI website to locate the nearest chapter. Those interested in more information about the Dallas chapter should visit the chapter's website.