Friendship Force International: Experience a whole new world of human connections

By Joanne Curran

Over the years, our travel evolved from backpacking and hostels to supported biking and hiking trips and river cruises through parts of Europe and the United Kingdom. With retirement, my husband Michael and I increasingly found ourselves searching for travel opportunities that would allow us to experience more personal encounters with locals. Experiences that might trigger, if we were fortunate enough, a shift in our behaviours, our beliefs and our moral compass. Our search ultimately led us to Friendship Force International, a network of volunteer-driven clubs and individuals found in over 60 countries across six continents that was sponsored for years by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn.

Homestays combined with meaningful travel experiences in the company of fellow club members give Friendship Force (FF) journey participants (identified as ambassadors) a better understanding of our world. Without fail, every one of our hosts have opened their homes to us in a way that gives a whole new meaning to the Spanish expression for welcome: mi casa es su casa. By living with and like a local for a week at a time, strangers become friends over shared meals, laughter and rich cultural experiences with members of other clubs. Meeting different people and learning about what it’s like to live in their town or city has allowed us to experience different points of views and ultimately, discover common ground.

Imagine meeting your host and other members of their club for the first time at the airport and having them immediately reach out to relatives and friends for clothing to tide you over a weekend because your luggage ended up in Berlin and not Vienna.  Or having neighbours of your Japanese host join you for a street barbecue, during which Canadian hugs are the attraction and not the tiger prawns. Consider how amazing it is to be greeted by a parade of richly attired young cadets and musicians, accompanied by waving Indonesian high school students and their teachers lined up along the road. This overwhelming reception was bestowed on us because we were Canadians who took the time to visit their school and speak with them in English.

And on it goes. This Friendship Force camaraderie transcends language and cultural differences and illustrates that there is more that unites us than divides us.

Our Friendship Force travels have taken us to many destinations—Mongolia, Siberia, Peru, Argentina, Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan—that we might not have considered visiting because of practical challenges associated with foreign customs and language. Travelling with a group of like-minded FF ambassadors helps address these challenges well in advance of the journey. We share the burden of identifying the various logistical considerations and of collecting information on the laws and customs of the country being visited. Furthermore, we’ve learned from first-hand experience that the best guides to help us understand another culture are those who live it. As a result, the activities planned by the host club never, ever disappoint. And as for a foreign language being spoken by our hosts, regardless of the availability of wifi and Google Translate, we still find that smiles and hand gestures are surprisingly effective in helping to break down language barriers.

When international or domestic FF clubs visit Canada’s capital, members of Friendship Force Ottawa,, volunteer to help plan one-of-a-kind, Canadian and local experiences not typically available to tourists. Through these volunteer experiences, our club members become tour guides and visitors in their own city. Additionally, they get to experience what it’s like to host a stay, dinner or day—occasions during which cultures are shared and lasting friendships made. Every experience is enriching and even, at times, surprising for both the host and visitors. Never did we expect that the highlight of a visit to Ottawa in February by FF members from Australia would be experiencing first-hand the time and effort it takes to dress for the weather, take the snow off the car and shovel the driveway before leaving for an outing.

If you are interested in learning more about Friendship Force or any of the other eight Ontario clubs that may be close to you, visit You’ll be surprised how easy it is to make new friends even before you set foot outside your city or town.