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The Language of Friendship: An Open Letter from Jeremi Snook

Our hosts intentionally shared their culture, customs, homes and families with us and were so warm, welcoming, and involved that in spite of language barriers, we felt attached and grateful to them. 

– FF Minnesota-Twin Cities Ambassador on a Journey to FF West Alajuela, Costa Rica

Dear Friendship Force Members,

Some of the best, most captivating, stories from Friendship Force members around the world are about ambassadors and hosts building friendships and understanding even when they didn’t share a common language.

For example, one ambassador from Virginia, USA on a Journey to Thailand commented, “I loved the family I stayed with [and] although the location was remote, it was wonderful – like Garden of Eden. Hosts were friendly, generous, and although there were language issues, we laughed, played games, and all learned new words and customs.”

I had my own first-hand experience being home-hosted by members who did not speak English during my second visit to Peru. Through hand gestures, broken English, and even more broken Spanish, we found a simple way to communicate. When we finally brought out our tablets and turned on a translation application, we realized even language barriers could not stand in the way of our budding friendship.

In the conversations that followed, we learned about each other through carefully chosen words, facial expressions, and elaborate hand gestures painting images of our stories in the air. In our short time together, we learned so much about each other’s families, experiences, and common zeal for the Friendship Force mission.

Other members have recognized that language differences are only a small inconvenience compared to the rewards of friendships not otherwise made. “Although we do not speak Spanish, language was not a barrier. Our hosts had some English as did their younger family members,” said two members from FF Calgary and Region, Canada. “We were in an area of Mexico that as tourists we would likely not travel if it were not for Friendship Force and our experience far exceeded our expectations.”

In a world riddled with divisions, we cannot let something as simple and basic as language be a reason not to strive for more connection. Through the miracles of new technology and on the shoulders of over 40 years of hosting and travel, there is no reason to shy away from an experience to meet new people who may not speak our language. In fact, we should embrace it!

“The only challenge for me was the language barrier, as most of us did not speak each other’s language,” said an ambassador from FF Minnesota-Twin Cities on a Journey to Costa Rica. “In spite of that, we communicated, used Google Translator, hand gestures, and others who could interpret.”

Some members have come up with incredibly inventive ways to connect, discovering an unexpected commonality. As an ambassador from San Diego, California to Brazil explained, “The highlight of my trip was communicating with a member of their club who did not speak English, I spoke no Portuguese. We communicated in Japanese – the language of our ancestors.”

As you plan your next Journey, take a moment to consider and prepare yourself for what might be a life changing experience that goes beyond words. Take it from an Australian ambassador to Japan:

Being able to stay with and be a part of these families lives was a great experience. Learning a small amount of their language and having conversations with them as they practiced their English was very enjoyable. We had conversations about our own lives and situations and I felt very rewarded from the experience. I feel certain that I will continue to converse and grow the friendship with some of the people I have met on this Journey.

In friendship,

Jeremi

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