As the train pulled up into the station, I wondered if, in my broken Italian, I was able to explain to Leonardo two hours earlier that I missed my connecting regional train to the small town of Magreglio & that I would be an hour late. With my luggage in one hand and an umbrella in the other, I stepped off the train into the downpour searching for someone who I emailed a total of five times.
A few people walked by, but no one was purposely looking for me…until I saw a man with a small child walk by. Our eyes locked, but he just kept walking. He took a few steps more, but stopped in his tracks & came back to where I was standing. “Jennifer?” A wave of relief swept through me. “Leonardo!!!” Martino, his little boy, looked up at me. “Ciao!”
My host family had arrived.
As we walked up to the entrance of his home, Mita, his lovely wife, opened the door to greet me. As I walked out of the pouring rain and into their home, the inviting aroma of warm pasta, spices, breads and vino filled the air. Before my eyes was the most beautiful spread of food laid out on a table decorated with a red tablecloth and flowers. I was overwhelmed at the trouble they went through to make their guest feel welcome and at home…and they really did! So this is what Servas International is all about.
When I first started traveling solo, I discovered how liberating & exciting it could be! I loved the freedom to go wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted. But what I craved was something more meaningful. I wanted to really get to know the locals, their culture and their daily life. Sure, I would engage in casual small talk with the locals, but it was usually short lived, and I was on to the next destination.
So before embarking on my second solo journey to Europe, I decided to do more than just sight see. I wanted to be a part of a host family and join in their everyday life. Through my research, I discovered Servas International and decided to join their worldwide hospitality network.
Servas is purposeful travel. Travelers and hosts are united by their desire to help build world peace, goodwill and mutual understanding by participating in visits with individuals and families of diverse cultures and backgrounds. – Servas.org
Applying is as easy as it was 5 years ago:
- Apply online
- Receive Application Packet in the mail.
- Fill out Traveler Application. (Included in your application packet.)
- Choose your Servas interviewer. (A list of interviewers is included in your application packet. You can also look them up online. There are many to choose from, but I just opted for the one closest to my home. )
- Meet with your Servas interviewer & be approved as a traveler. (New travelers and host families are always interviewed. I felt better knowing this because it gave an extra sense of security for both parties involved. They also require you have two letters of reference.)
- Fill out a Letter of Introduction. (Once you’ve been approved as a traveler, you are given a validated Letter of Introduction that is good for 12 months. The host family usually requests that you email the letter to them once they agree to host you, or they ask that you present it to them upon arrival. The Letter of Introduction asks for things like your name, passport number, email address, phone number, occupation, permanent address, dates of travel, languages spoken, description of yourself and your trip, what learning goals you have for your travels, interests and hobbies, previous Servas experience, involvement with any peace movements, etc…)
- Pay your yearly fee. (For an adult, it’s $85.00)
- Get a borrowed host book list. (Host books give you the information on the host families in the country you want to visit. They usually provide contact information, their hobbies, location, etc… This needs to be returned upon completion of your trip. )
- Contact the host family you’re interested in. (Sometimes they may not be available during the times you request, so just keep looking – you’ll find that perfect host family!)
- Get to know your host family. (I emailed Leonardo a few times before going to Italy just to get to know him and his family a little better.)
- Travel to your destination & HAVE FUN!
I spoke of my life in California, and they talked about their love of Italy and of being a host family.
We gave each other language lessons – Italian for me, and English for them.
Leonardo knew I’d be traveling to Paris at the end of my trip, so he offered me travel tips, a map of Paris and the best way to navigate the city.
The days went by so fast, and at the end, it felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends. I really felt like we were all bonded by our love of meeting new people, experiencing new cultures and spreading peace and friendship through traveling.
On the last day, Leonardo and his family drove me all the way to the train station in Lecco and treated me to coffee as I waited for my train to arrive. They made sure I was at the right terminal and that I had my ticket in hand with the right regional train number – they sincerely cared. We said our goodbyes and gave each other one last hug, and with a heavy heart, I boarded the train. As it pulled away from the station, I looked back at my lovely host family, & they waved to me for the longest time. My heart was full.
I will always remember and hold dear to my heart my first Servas experience with my Italian family, Leonardo, Mita and Martino. ♥
Have you ever hosted a traveler or been hosted by a family? What was your experience like? I’d love to hear about it!