Servas Fosters Peace through Intercultural Exchange
Servas travelers are warmly welcomed in more than 15,000 homes throughout the world.
You know by now that one of my underlying goals for this web site is to encourage intercultural exchanges, to make connections between people of different cultures which helps us all break down barriers between people and create more tolerance and understanding.Personally,I am a big advocate of traveling for the purpose of connecting with local residents to get an idea of their lifestyles and their philosophies.
SERVAS is an interesting organization that facilitates intercultural exchange by bringing together travelers who are interested in intercultural exchange as well as local hosts are willing to host these travelers (free of charge) or spend some time with them.Servas members are now represented in over 130 countries and it’s a great organization if you:
– would you like to visit foreign countries and take part in everyday life
– would you like people from other countries to join in your daily life for a short time
– want to try to overcome your prejudices to communicate with others
– believe that peace is possible if everyone truly wants.
Through an Internet search I was able to locate the US head office of Servas and I approached Carole Wagner,Office Manager,and Patrice Samara,Executive Director,at the New York head office of US Servas to shed more light on this interesting organization.
[Editor’s comment: please note that some of the information in this article is specific to Servas USA,while the general historical and philosophical underpinnings of this organization are applicable to all member country organizations.More specific membership information for each country can be obtained from the local country branch of Servas International.]
1.Please tell us about Servas,what kind of organization is it? What benefits does it offer to travelers?
US Servas is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote peace through
intercultural exchange.People can join as a traveler,as a host, or as both
a traveler and as a host.but you don’t have to be both.One can also become
a contributor to Servas.
Travelers can benefit by meeting and living with people in the country they
are traveling to.If you enjoy sharing good conversation with new people
and being part of a host family’s life,you will enjoy Servas.
Since no money goes to the host family,many people think,”Oh this a great
cheap way to travel “.That is not what we are.Our goal is peace,not
inexpensive travel.We are different than a lot of other similar groups in
that we interview all prospective travelers and do not approve those whose
attitudes and goals do not agree with Servas.
Our mission statement is: ” US Servas fosters a more just and peaceful world
by promoting appreciation of cultural differences through homestays and
experiences in the hosts communities.
We have hosts in over 130 countries and there are close to 15,000 hosts
worldwide.In the US we have 1,500 hosts.
2.When was it started and who created it? What is the philosophy behind Servas?
Servas was started in 1948 by Bob Luitweiler,a conscientious objector.
It was right after WWll and it originally had the name Peace Builders.
Bob established local groups in different countries to promote peace and to
make a change in society.
He built a hospitality system in Finland by going to Settlement Houses.In
Germany,he got people who were in labor movements to join.In Denmark, he
approached Folk High Schools,and in Britain he approached a Pacifist
service group that had community housing and worked with social outcasts to
bring them back into society.In the US he knew a woman Esther Harlan who was a Quaker,she had a large list of Quakers who became the first US Servas hosts.
3.How does Servas work,what countries can I visit and how many members are there?
Each country prepares its own host list.The list includes in addition
to the name and address of the host,their age and what languages they
speak.It lists their interests,what countries they have traveled to and
lived in and organizations they belong to.This helps the traveler to pick a
host who they have something in common with.
The traveler must contact the host,either by phone,letter or email if they have email,tell them when they are coming and ask if it is convenient for them to visit.Sometimes hosts will say no,either because they have family visiting,or just had a
Servas guest and need some time in between guests.They may also be going
on vacation themselves.Travelers should be aware that in July and
August Europeans go on vacation and you may have more difficulty finding a
host at that time.
4.Please tell us about some of the events that are organized by Servas.
Servas has an international conference every 3 years.US Servas has an
annual conference.This year it will be in Vancouver Canada,combined with
Many large cities have a monthly get-together of hosts,travelers and
friends,either in a restaurant or some member’s home; often everyone
contributes a favorite dish.This month in NYC,we will have a garden party
in a Brooklyn host’s garden.
5.What does being a “Servas Host” or being a “Day Host” entail?
A day host is someone who does not have room to accommodate a guest
overnight,but is happy to spend time with a traveler during the day,
sightseeing or having a meal.A regular host will put up the traveler for 3
days and 2 nights.Occasionally the host will invite the guest to stay
We discourage just a 1-night visit,as this does not enable the
host and traveler to really get to know each other.Host are not obligated
to give the guests meals but most do.If you were going to India or Africa,
or other poorer countries,it would be nice for the guest to contribute
toward the meals.
As a host in NYC,I usually spend time in the morning over breakfast, talking to my guest and helping them to navigate the subway system if necessary and making suggestions on things to do,if they don’t already have a list of what they want to do.I often invite them to visit the Fulton Fish Market early in the morning,since I live close by.This is not a usual tourist sight.I cook one dinner usually and suggest dinner in Chinatown for another meal.Sometimes they offer to cook for me.I have
some wonderful recopies given to me that were cooked for us in our home.