Friendship Force members and clubs around the world are doing spectacular work all the time!

Look here for news, stories and information on upcoming FFI events worldwide.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Friendship Force Receives Award from Open World Program

Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017
Open World Grantee of Merit Award Winners 2017

On January 23, 2017, Friendship Force International received the Annual Grantee of Merit Award for 2017 by the Open World Leadership Center. The Annual Grantee of Merit Award is presented to organizations who have demonstrated outstanding service to Open World Leadership Center.

Open World Leadership Center is a legislative branch agency that supports Congressional outreach for Members of Congress and conducts exchanges that establish lasting professional relationships between emerging leaders and their U.S. counterparts in democratic institutions. Delegates are provided with extensive exposure to American politics, civic life, and are hosted by American families. In 1999, Congress established Open World. Since then, more than 26,000 Eurasian leaders are alumni of Open World.

FFI hosted its first Open World delegation in 1999. From 1999 to now, Friendship Force clubs just like yours have hosted 2,085 Open World delegates. In 2017, Friendship Force clubs will host 16 delegations from the countries of Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Russia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Turkmenistan. Topics covered for the Eurasian delegations include: Legislative Development, Healthcare, Education and Innovation, Media Practices, and Accountable Governance.

Since Open World’s inception, Friendship Force International has been a dynamic player in building strong peer-to-peer professional programming for Open World’s delegates,” said Ambassador John O’Keefe, Executive Director of Open World Leadership Center. “They understand the issues facing our rising Eurasian leaders in their countries and how to craft a program that links them with their American colleagues to create strategies and solve problems.

FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O'Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek
FFI Financial Controller, Tracy Harrell, Open World Executive Director Ambassador John O’Keefe, and FFI Director of Operations Matthew Nidek

“We are living in times in which building bridges of understanding across the cultural barriers that separate people is more important than ever,” commented Jeremi Snook, President and CEO of Friendship Force International. “It is certainly an honor to be cited for our good works by Open World, and this award is very much appreciated by the entire FFI team. We feel genuinely privileged to be partnering with such a wonderful organization – one which shares our mission to help create a more peaceful world.”

Elena McCarty, Regional Support Manager and Open World Coordinator, and all of FFI Staff would like to take this opportunity to recognize the contributions these U.S. clubs have made since 1999 through hosting and planning Open World delegations.

Thank you and congratulations for the significant work you all have done, all of which helped us receive this honor!

Do You Need Travel Insurance?

So you’ve decided to participate in a Friendship Force Journey: the ultimate way to get to know friends around the world, to experience another culture from the inside and to come home changed from the views you’ve experienced.

When planning a trip whether it be with Friendship Force or for personal travel, you pay your money and then plan for the best. But what happens if your luggage and prescriptions are lost? What if your wallet and passport are stolen overseas? What if there’s a medical emergency? That’s where travel insurance comes in. Friendship Force policies require every Ambassador to have insurance that would cover you in case of an emergency. It takes the potential burden off of your host if an emergency were to occur.

When shopping for an insurance policy, it is important to compare the limits and exclusions as well as comparing the price. Friendship Force International is happy to be working with our new preferred insurance providers for our members around the world!

For U.S. residents: The Friendship Force Travel Protection Plan is a customized travel protection plan designed to meet the specific needs of our members. This plan is a custom group policy (number NW007), underwritten by Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, a leading provider of insurance to the US consumer. They have the highest rating, A+ by A.M. Best Company, as compared to all other insurance companies in the travel insurance market.

This custom plan provides insurance benefits and services at a flat plan cost based on the total cost of your trip. It is not based on destination or age and includes a pre-existing waiver if the plan is purchased within 15 days of the initial trip deposit. For an overview of the benefits and services as well as the plan costs, please click here, or for specific Frequently Asked Questions, click here. This policy can be used for travel on Friendship Force Journeys or personal travel.


For non-U.S. Citizens traveling outside their home country and not going to the USA, Trawick’s Multinational Plan is the one for you.

Highlights for this plan include:

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption and Travel Delay Insurance
  • Medical Insurance
  • AD&D and Travel Related Benefits for NON – US Citizens traveling outside their Home Country and not going to the USA
  • Coverage from 5 days to 180 days

For more information, please click here. To get a quote, please click here.


For our members living outside of the U.S., we are happy to be able to provide travel insurance coverage for your Friendship Force or personal travel to the U.S. through Trawick International’s Safe Travels USA policy.

Highlights for this plan include:

  • Trip Cancellation/Trip Interruption and Travel Delay Insurance
  • Medical Insurance
  • AD&D and Travel Related Benefits for persons while traveling to the United States and worldwide with certain restrictions to specific countries and locations
  • Coverage from 5 days to 180 days

For complete details on the coverage, please click here. To get a quote, please click here.


For any additional questions or inquiries, please contact our resident Travel and Liability Insurance expert, Allison Lindsey at

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Rick Steves Recommends Friendship Force

Photo of Rick Steves
Travel expert and author, Rick Steves

Well-known American travel author and expert, Rick Steves, wrote a blog post on March 15 listing organizations he recommends that provide educational tours and experiences to travelers – and Friendship Force made his short list!

As Rick writes,

After taking several trips with organizations offering “educational” or “reality” tours, I’ve learned that getting the most out of a trip to a complicated corner of our world is easier with a guide and in the care of an organization that’s well-connected locally…The new edition of my Travel as a Political Act book will contain a list of organizations offering educational tour experiences to the broader traveling public. Please check out my list and let me know if you have any experience with these groups, or if there are others you’d recommend. Thank you!

According to his post, we will be listed along with other organizations promoting educational, locally-based travel experiences in the upcoming second edition to his popular Travel As a Political Act book, set to be published in early 2018. Rick captured the heart of our organization and mission, describing us as follows:

Friendship Force International, a nonprofit organization, focuses on person-to-person exchanges, with locals welcoming travelers into their homes and introducing their visitors to their cultures. In each destination, a “Friendship Force” club led by volunteers offers homestays and social activities, giving visitors the chance to get intimately acquainted with their hosts. Each one- to three-week program includes cultural experiences, such as learning to make traditional lavash bread in Armenia, visiting historic Brazilian fishing villages, or tobogganing on sand hills in Australia’s Hunter Valley.

Be sure to view Rick’s blog post on the topic as well to share your experiences with Friendship Force! Also check out a photo from Rick’s 2015 visit to Atlanta, Georgia’s local PBS station, where FFI Director of Marketing and Communications, Kaitlyn Ranney, chatted with him about Friendship Force!

Photo of Kaitlyn Ranney and Rick Steves
Rick Steves talks with FFI Director of Marketing and Communications, Kaitlyn Ranney, in 2015
Thursday, March 2, 2017

Legacy Fund Name Change and Wayne Smith Legacy Circle Creation

During their October 2016 meeting, the FFI Board of Directors voted that the Legacy Fund be renamed the Annual Fund to reflect the use of funds received annually in support of our mission. The purpose of the fund will not change – it is a change in name only. When you give to the FFI Annual Fund, 100% of your donation will still go to support programs that encourage worldwide friendship.

Along with the change in name to the Annual Fund, the Board also voted to create the Wayne Smith Legacy Circle for the purpose of establishing a planned giving program. Planned giving involves integrating a donor’s charitable gift into his or her overall financial, tax, and estate planning objectives so as to maximize benefits to both the donor and Friendship Force International. The most common form of planned giving is leaving a bequest in your will to FFI. This new program is being established to honor Wayne Smith’s lasting legacy as FFI’s founder, and to bring together donors who choose to leave their own legacy at FFI through philanthropy. Learn more about Planned Giving to FFI here.

For more information, contact Development Coordinator Pallie Savoie, at

To donate to FFI, visit our Donate Page here.

Friday, February 24, 2017

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

Friday, November 4, 2016

Board of Directors Meeting Wrap-Up

Dear Friendship Force Clubs and Members,

Ahead of a more formal year-end review, I wanted to share a summary of the most recent Board of Directors meeting that took place here in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, from October 14-17. This was our second meeting together since I began at FFI, and it offered both the Board and myself the opportunity to take stock of our accomplishments this past year and what needs our attention moving forward.

Jeremi with Loes Epping and Bob Duncan
Jeremi with Loes Epping and Bob Duncan

Before I share some of the highlights, it is important that we acknowledge three dedicated Board Members whose terms end this year; Viv Caulfield from Australia, Loes Epping from the Netherlands and Dave Kalan from the United States.  Thank you for all you have done these past few years to help move Friendship Force forward!

2017 marks the beginning of our 40th anniversary celebrations and with this comes a defining opportunity for the organization. Not only will we be celebrating four decades of international friendship, but also a vision that will carry us forward.

Jeremi with Dave Kalan and Bob Duncan
Jeremi with Dave Kalan and Bob Duncan

At the World Conference in Morocco this past September, I began to outline this vision, but the critical step of endorsing, approving and committing to this vision was still needed by the Board of Directors. A step, I am pleased to report, that was ambitiously and unanimously taken at the meeting together!

Details will be shared over the next several months but for now, here is a summary:

  • The Board accepted a comprehensive report on the efforts underway to strengthen clubs and club membership through stronger international marketing, public relations, and communications.
  • The Board unanimously supported developing opportunities for youth, family and individuals to join us in eliminating the barriers that separate people.
  • The Board approved raising the recommended host fees from $100 to $150 USD in the Policies and Guidelines for Clubs and Exchanges.
  • The Board unanimously endorsed the concept of establishing a global membership option for those individuals who do not have access to a local club.
  • The Board endorsed the recommendation by the Fund Development Committee to launch a fundraising campaign that will coincide with our 40th anniversary.

Extensive conversation and research has accompanied each of these decisions, and we will continue to share further updates and announcements in future communications. For now, let us begin the work of celebrating the important role Friendship Force has played in the world these past 40 years

Jeremi, Viv Caulfield, and Bob Duncan
Jeremi, Viv Caulfield, and Bob Duncan

More to come!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Guest Post: Programs Staff Update, by Matthew Nidek, FFI Director of Operations

Hello (and Kia Ora!)

It is an absolute pleasure to write to you now as the Director of Operations of FFI. In addition to looking after the Program Services Department, I now have more input and collaboration with our finance, marketing and communications, and Information Technology teams. I have fully embraced my new responsibilities here, and I’m thrilled to take part in helping our organization thrive as we enter into our 40th anniversary celebrations next year. There is so much going on, and I’m excited to share some of the news with you.

Matthew Nidek FFI Director of Operations

FFI Programs staff have gone through quite a lot of changes over the last few months. As we shared last month, Kaitlyn Ranney has taken on the position of Director of Marketing and Communications, and Laura Romero has assumed the role of IT Manager in addition to her support duties for Latin America. Amidst these changes, FFI Headquarters took the opportunity to change the Program Manager role responsibilities and name, as well as hire new staff who live in the regions where they offer club support.

Program Managers are now Regional Support Managers
This name is changing in an attempt to better reflect the function of the Friendship Force headquarters position for clubs, members, board and outside constituents.

  • Regional suggests that the position is charged with a specific region or group of countries
  • Support describes the function of the position in relation to clubs and members in that region.
  • Manager reflects the coordination and management responsibilities for this region.

By bringing together the functions of exchange management, exchange planning, club development and club support for a specific country or region, the Regional Support Manager (RSM) is better able to assess the needs of the region.  In this way, the RSM is responsible for their region in its entirety. The Regional Support Manager also becomes the knowledge expert for that region bringing forth both verbal and written reports that provides a comprehensive assessment of the health of the Friendship Force network for that region.

Welcoming New Staff
Filling these newly opened positions sure wasn’t easy! But we have found three people, Valerie Malfara, Kerstin Hogan, and Hemily Nogueira who are going to do a fantastic job! You can read more about their backgrounds on our website bio page here.

New position for Allison Lindsey, Senior Regional Support Manager
Long time employee, Allison Lindsey, was recently appointed the Senior Regional Support Manager position to recognize her long-term support and institutional knowledge. Many of you, I’m sure, have had the pleasure to work with Allison over the years. Allison will be available to provide help and advice for members and staff. She is also going to be the main contact person at FFI Headquarters for all Canadian and U.S. clubs. We are particularly excited about our U.S. members now having a main contact person at FFI, and that it’s our highly experienced and knowledgeable staff member!

You can find a full listing of club support roles here.

As always, please feel free to email me with any questions or comments you may have. I am looking forward to continuing working with and for you!

Matthew Nidek
Director of Operations
Friendship Force International

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Mid-Year Message to the Membership

Dear Friendship Force International,

It is hard to believe I have only been working with you for eight months.  This feeling is partly due to the many exciting projects currently underway that have consumed my time. But although it was my first time traveling to visit Friendship Force clubs around the world, I feel as though I’ve known you for years. This is something that many of you have experienced many times and it is, simply put, the power of the Friendship Force!

In addition to the  generosity of so many members who financially supported the “I’m In” campaign for a new database and website, you’ve also given hundreds of hours through leading exchanges, served as a club officer and experimented with new ideas and approaches to our mission.  When someone recently asked me what the biggest take-away has been since joining Friendship Force, I immediately pointed to the deep-seated passion of our members, in wanting to see a world transformed through citizen ambassadorship.

A tremendous amount of work is currently underway to promote the mission of Friendship Force, starting with the website, but continuing with a significant re-investment in marketing and communications. Much of this will be shared in greater detail at the World Conference in Morocco this September.  But connected to this work is a strong conviction about where we need to go as an organization.  How do we open our mission up to more people? How else might we realize success in our mission? In a world still full of division, where can Friendship Force do the most good?

Henry Ford once said, “if everyone is moving forward together, then success will take care of itself.”  We have a bright future ahead and much important work to do.  Thank you for serving as citizen ambassadors.  Thank you for making a difference in the world.

In friendship,

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Power of Friendship

As a member of the Friendship Force, I recognize that I can make a difference. I recognize that I have a mission. That mission is to be a friend to the people of the world. As I embark upon this adventure, I know that others will be watching me. I know that through my example to my fellow citizens and the people of other countries, the cause of friendship and peace can be furthered.”
-The Friendship Force Pledge

Do you recognize this? Sometimes the power of the pledge that Friendship Force members have been reciting for decades gets lost to familiarity. Yet make no mistake – friendship has the power to heal our pasts, bring greater understanding to our present, and positively influence the future of our world.

You are part of a movement to write a counter-narrative to the fear, prejudice, violence and injustice that the news industry causes us believe is now commonplace. Your stories of friendship and your everyday work of overcoming the barriers that separate us are testaments to that.  Thank you for continuing to stand for the power of friendship.


Friday, June 10, 2016

Stories of Friendship Initiative

My first genuine encounter with the Friendship Force wasn’t the mission statement I read on the website, nor was it any one of the elaborate descriptions of upcoming exchanges on the online catalog. It was when one of the Board Members shared a quick story about the people they met in their traveling with the Friendship Force over the years and how their pool of friends, once small, now reached far and wide.  This encounter, reminiscent of those experienced by thousands of Friendship Force members, helps codify for me the nearly palpable power of our mission in action.

Fulbright Scholar and renowned professor of storytelling Robert McKee once said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.”  The idea that it is our similarities, not our differences, that bring us together is only validated with the personal stories we tell of our own experiences.

First Story of Friendship Submission February 2016

Friendship Force has a long and wonderful history of facilitating these kind of experiences for countless individuals around the world.  As we look to the future of Friendship Force and for ways to share the good work of our organization I challenge you to ask yourself, “Is it time for me to share one of my stories?”

Friendship Force International’s Stories of Friendship initiative has already brought in dozens of stories, but one story is still missing: yours. So, please – share it with us today.