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Same Cultural Exchanges, Different Vocabulary

The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, once said, “The only thing that is constant is change.” Think of the way we communicate today. If you told me as a child that someday instead of posting that letter to grandma, I would text her on my mobile phone using my thumbs and emoji I would say, “you’re crazy,” followed by, “what’s an emoji?!” And yet here we are. And this is only a small example of the kinds of evolution we have witnessed in society.

The words we use are not immune to these evolutions as well. Remember when cloud was simply a puffy white mass of vapor hovering in the sky? Now, it’s a remote data storage platform where our documents and pictures live. Or how about when someone was viral, that meant they were sick, which nobody wants, but now it means that your social media message is being amplified and, ironically, everyone wants to now “go viral.” Remember when you befriended someone, it meant that you made a connection with a person that you were honored to consider a friend? Now, it’s devolved to someone whose online profile you might have just clicked because you casually met them while waiting in line at the coffee shop. We could go on, but I think you get the point. Turning the page at FFI and opening our mission to a wider demographic means respecting this evolution in language as well. This means that how we describe FFI – the terms we have been comfortable with for many years – might have to adapt to new norms in order to effectively communicate our mission.

Journey Image

Our shift from exchanges to journeys is one of those shifts, but don’t just take my word for it. In August 2016, in an effort to validate what we thought we were observing in how the world communicates, FFI invested in global market research where language, i.e., the words we used to describe our mission, among other things, was tested in eight countries*. In order to ensure communications, all respondents took the survey in their native language, whether English, Russian, Chinese, Spanish or German. The feedback unequivocally supported the term “journey” when it came to describing the collective experience of travel and hosting. It’s important to note that the statistically-significant survey responses did not come from couch-surfers or those who didn’t travel at all, but from a pool of like-minded individuals, ages 40 to 60, who understood our mission and met all the characteristics of a typical FF member. In other words, the feedback came from the very people we are trying to reach!

There’s an expression you may have heard that says, “one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.” Words that might work in one place won’t necessarily work in others. In 1977, the term exchange was used to describe the reciprocal exchange that was intended to take place between two cities at the same time. Today, while reciprocal exchanges are much less common, the term has been ingrained in the FFI lexicon to mean an exchange of culture, ideas and understanding. Although this internal definition of exchange remains true, the term is less clear to those outside of our organization, often dissuading potential participants. While we have begun to use the term journeys in English, does the essence of its meaning make sense when translated in German, Spanish or Japanese?

Unlike in 1977, the international nature of FFI in 2017 requires us to consider how best to describe the unique experience of traveling as an ambassador and being home-hosted through FFI in multiple languages in order to reach new members. This is why our team, in concert with FFI leaders around the world, is working on a recommended glossary of translations that will take the essence of the new wording and find similar terminology in other languages. You might not be surprised to learn that many clubs have already been doing this! With FFI clubs in over 60 countries, we understand that not every word translated can adequately capture the nuanced meaning in language specific to your community, which is why we are committed to working with you.

I invite you to continue on this journey with me of opening our mission and organization to the world and do all we can to connect with the thousands of members just waiting to join FFI by incorporating the voice of how future generations talk about the world, leaning on sound research, and extending a little trust and understanding. Together we will make 2017 not only a year of celebration around our 40th anniversary, but also a year of great growth!

In friendship,

Jeremi Snook

*Responses were gathered from each of the following countries: United States, United Kingdom, Chile, China, Russia, Australia, Germany and Canada

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