Making lifelong friends in every corner of the world
People across Bristol who open their homes to guests from around the world are preparing to welcome their next group of international visitors, this time from Northern Colorado in America.
We meet Carole Duckett, president of the Bristol Friendship Force, and Gloria Woodman to find out more about “travelling the world as a guest” and making friends in every corner of the globe.
A glimpse of “real life” can be the highlight of a holiday, from finding a little restaurant frequented only by locals to being unexpectedly welcomed to join a village celebration.
These insights into another culture are memorable and, as one group of Bristol-based travel-lovers know, valuable experiences.
Members of the Bristol Friendship Force (BFF) have been welcomed into homes around the globe, from Azerbaijan to Colombia and Kentucky, to experience the day-to-day routines of people from all walks of life.
It’s travelling the world as a guest, rather than a tourist, members say, meeting new people, discovering common ground as well as differences and – most importantly – making friends.
The group is part of a global network of Friendship Force clubs spanning more than 60 countries, with visits – or “journeys” – arranged between them.
Members from Bristol have just returned from a visit to Calgary and Medicine Hat in Canada and are now preparing to welcome FF members from Northern Colorado to Bristol in September.
BFF president Carole Duckett said: “It’s a totally different experience to anything you could do as an ordinary tourist and you end up with people you can call friends all over the world.
“We email and phone before each journey and when we finally meet it is already like we have known each other for a long time – I always find that magical.
“We are all different but we are in the Friendship Force clubs for the same purpose – to make a little bit of difference and contribute to peace in our own small way.”
The Friendship Force was launched, with the backing of US president Jimmy Carter, in 1977 during the Cold War as a non-religious, non-political group with the simple aim to break down barriers between cultures through friendship. In 1992, the organisation was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for its work in forging links between the US and Russia.
Today there are 15,000 members who take part in “journeys” and act as hosts in their hometowns. Carol said: “There is no better way to get to know people than by staying in their home. Meeting someone for the first time can be daunting to some but it is surprising how quickly you become friends – and language never seems to be a problem even if you don’t speak the same one!
“We all learn so much – I recently learned the proper way to drink tequila from some Mexican guests! And when people come to Bristol we can show them things that they wouldn’t see as tourists. Many of our visitors are very interested in how we buy houses and one guest was very curious as to how we all find time to cook ourselves a full English every morning before work or school!”
The September visit from Northern Colorado will include a welcome and farewell party as well as sightseeing in and around Bristol and the group is preparing a busy programme for their guests. The next “journey” away will see members possibly visit Brazil in 2019.
The group, which has 36 members, is keen to attract new members of all ages to take part in visits as well as hosting people in the Bishopston area. Besides travelling, the group also organises monthly coffee mornings and lunches as well as social outings such as walks or trips to the theatre. Members also support the candle-lit service hosted every Christmas by the Lord Mayor of Bristol, who is the group’s patron and always meets the Friendship Force members visiting the city.
For more information about getting involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org