The Friendship Force and OLLI/FSU

A week ago, Bill and I were volunteer hosts for a man from Ukraine. What an awesome experience this was for our family! OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at FSU) and FSU/Friendship Force hosted their first delegation under a new partnership with The Friendship Force International and the Open World Leadership Center.

The delegation was comprised of young professionals, including two physicians, an educator, a researcher, an urban developer, a facilitator and a translator from Ukraine. The OLLI/FSU Committee worked hard scheduling visits with state and local officials as the group was interested in how U.S. policy and legislation shapes — and reshapes — our health care system. They visited FSU, FAMU and TCC to interact with faculty and students in health care related studies as well as visit with our local health care facilities and at the Capitol.

We have been blessed to be here in this fine city because I won a free year in Tallahassee from an organization called Choose Tallahassee. OLLI gave us a year’s membership in their organization. FSU donated tickets to an FSU game, plays and more. Each semester classes are offered to OLLI members’ age 50+ on many different subjects. Our membership allows us to sign up for classes, participate in travel and become involved with The Friendship Force among other things. There are book clubs, walking clubs and so much more. You can join OLLI by going to their website at http://www.olli.fsu.edu/.

Back to The Friendship Force. We knew that Wayne Smith had been the founder and that President Jimmy Carter introduced The Friendship Force in 1977 to build a world of friends and a world of peace. We knew about the exchanges in and out of the U.S. and were curious to see how it worked. We attended a meeting, as we had volunteered as back-up dinner hosts. At this meeting, we saw some familiar faces such as Debra Herman, OLLI at FSU Director, and met Jodi Gooding and Anita Olivier who were working on Ukraine exchange, lining up drivers, dinners, events and so much more. Within a week of that meeting, we were asked to not only host a dinner but host one of the delegates for a week. We wanted to give back to OLLI and thought this might just be the way to do it.

This week was a great experience for all those involved! Five families volunteered to be hosts: Marlene Hanna, James Hennessey and Kathryn Gibson, Susan Osteryoung, Norma Smith and ourselves. Each of the delegates was assigned a host family to stay with and help transport them to the events that The Friendship Force arranged for them. The delegates were Volodymyr​, Pavlo, Kateryna, Oleksandr and Valentya. The facilitator was Yevgen and Sergei was a translator.

Our delegate was Volodymyr, a young doctor in his 30s who had been a paramedic, became a dermatologist and now was a public health administrator in Kiev, Ukraine. He was here to help his country reform their healthcare as were the other delegates. He and the others spent a grueling 37 hours of meetings at FAMU’s College of Pharmacy, Tallahassee Memorial Health Care and attending other meetings at other venues. Many other organizations contributed to make this event successful.

The Friendship Force managed to arrange some fun things for them to do too. Many meals at different places were arranged so they could experience our food, including the OLLI host dinners. They attended an FSU Women’s Basketball game, shopped at the mall, attended a reception at the Pepper Center, saw the play “Ragtime,” as well as saw the alligators at Wakulla Springs — all before heading home early Saturday morning.

So what did we do with someone who speaks little English? We spent the first day communicating with Volodymyr via Google Translator. Actually he spoke some English, so that made it easier on us. We fed him his first dinner with foods similar to what he ate at home. The first evening we played Rummikub, a tile game that needs little explanation. Breakfast was different each morning as we wanted him to experience some different breakfast foods.

We took him out to lunch to a Mexican restaurant which he had never experienced before, over to Wakulla Springs to see the alligators and manatees, went to the Museum of Florida History and to the Tallahassee Car Museum.

The guys set their laptops up one evening and played each other their “country’s” music. It was surprising how much of our music he had on his computer. He and I used Babylon.com to communicate on the computer and had some long conversations.

This was just a little taste of what we experienced as a Friendship Force host….and we will never forget it or Volodymyr. If you want to enrich your life, check out OLLI and The Friendship Force, you won’t be sorry.

Find out more about the Friendship Force at http://friendshipforce.org/index.php/who_we_are.

Bill and Cathy Campbell won a free year in Tallahassee as the Choose Tallahassee contest.

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