U. S. Servas

promoting world peace one conversation at a time…

Leave a comment

Meet William!

William Grum – SERVAS Interviewer living in Oviedo, Florida (near Orlando)

I have been in SERVAS as a host/traveler off and on since the mid-1980s, and as an interviewer since 2009. I have visited other SERVAS hosts in the UK, Scandinavia, Portugal, Netherlands, most of the Eastern European countries, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Panama, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, as well as several US states. I have hosted mostly Europeans, but also from as far away as South Africa.

While all my experiences with SERVAS have been good; perhaps the most memorable time was when I participated in a caribou hunt by dogsled with native Athapascan tribesmen in the far north of Canada (about 500 miles from the nearest road). This was certainly an experience that would have been impossible without SERVAS.

If you’re in the Central Florida area and wish to join SERVAS as a host or traveler, I would be happy to interview you and share my SERVAS stories.


Leave a comment

Meet Deborah!

My family joined Servas as hosts in the late 1980’s when my children were young. It was a good way to give them an experience of our wide and diverse world without the expense and time of travel. We hosted visitors from everywhere for about 15 years before being Servas travelers, with a family trip to Italy our first Servas vacation. We alternated Servas visits with hotel stays, but the homes were by far the highlights of the trip. Our memories include sharing the cooking, hanging laundry on outdoor clotheslines, picking fruit from the orchard, and orienteering through mountain forests. By contrast, hotels were formal and even the best meals couldn’t compare with fresh-made home cooking!

Upon return to Boston I took up Italian, vowing to myself that by the next trip I’d be fluent. Several years later I took a 3-week Servas-only solo vacation, choosing destinations based on their artful qualities. My blacksmith host taught me to forge an iron rose. My woodworker host made me a tiny model of an Italian hill-town, with windows that glow when I place a small lightbulb inside. I traveled around Carrara with a building restoration expert, watching the craftsmen fabricate marble inlay floor mandalas.

Staying with a teacher during that trip I was able to visit her classes and talk with the elementary school children about America. It was just after the US attack on Iran, and the children were astute about world matters and angry about the attack. They wanted to know why I didn’t stop the war. When I asked whether Mr. Berlusconi would ask for their permission before taking an action, they understood the limits of democracy, and also the power of connections between average citizens.

This is why I am committed to Servas. At a time when the world has so much hurt and anger, Servas offers love and healing. I became an interviewer to spread the word and enable more people to serve as ambassadors of peace. This is a small gesture, but a powerful one.
My children are now grown and living in New York, where I visit whenever possible. My first grandson was born a year ago, and my delight in seeing him grow up matches my appreciation for the ways my son and his wife are embracing parenthood.
I am an architect and an artist, and have just written a book called The Accessible Home, to be published October 2012 by The Taunton Press. I also practice yoga, sing in the UU choir, and am on a dragon-boat team.
Deborah Pierce, Interviewer 

Leave a comment

Wants More Travelers!

Irv West and Freida Chapman are New York hosts who want more travelers. They have written an enticing blurb about their area to encourage travelers to visit them:

We live in the Adirondack Park, the largest state park in the contiguous Unites States. It is six million acres (larger than the entire states of Massachusetts and Vermont combined), with 40% forever wild. It is an experiment that worked. There are magnificent lakes, ponds and streams everywhere; the high peaks has 46 mountains without roads, one of which is the highest in New York State. We were home to the Winter Olympics twice.

We welcome visitors who want to share in nature’s bounty, hike any level of trail, eat off the land, frolic with our llamas, dogs and cats, find peace together in nature. We are on the way from New York City to Montreal, a lovely respite.

We can meet you at any of the buses that arrive in either Glens Falls or Warrensburg, or at either of the Amtrak stations in Saratoga or Fort Edward. Of course, we will also give you driving directions if needed.


If you’re a host in search of more travelers we welcome you to write a similar note describing why travelers should visit your area. Send it to info@usservas.org with “Wants More Travelers” in the subject and we’ll be happy to post it here! 

Leave a comment

Breakfast With Strangers

Servas members Courtney Dillard and Matt Webber will spend their honeymoon in true Servas spirit by taking strangers out to breakfast across America. Shortly after they walk down the aisle in July, they will hit the open road on their hopeful journey from Portland, OR to Portland, ME. Matt and Courtney decided to take this trip in part to challenge the negative narratives of ‘stranger danger’ and a divided America. As Courtney relays “Our several years as Servas travelers and hosts have shown us how wonderful strangers who become friends are and how much richer life is when you are open to others.”

The couple will seek out strangers along the road in all kinds of ways including bulletin boards, word of mouth, social media, and pure chance. When they return home they plan to compile their stories into a book: Breakfast with Strangers: 50 Meals across America. 10% of the proceeds will go to Servas.

If you are able to support their project through Kickstarter, please visit: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1406680384/breakfast-with-strangers-50-meals-across-america The couple has about a week left to meet their funding goal. If you would like to connect with them on their journey, they can be reached at: (304) 50-MEALS.

Leave a comment

Meet Evelyn Wolf!

Evelyn Wolf is an interview and host in Dever, CO


I joined Servas as a host about 30 years ago.  When traveling to Greece, I met an Australian couple who were Servas members and that’s when I signed up and have been a host since.  At the time, I lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan and now in Denver.  Over the years, I’ve been a Servas traveler, mainly throughout Europe.  There are friends I’ve made through hosting and travel, with whom I still communicate and visit from time to time.  The experiences have been wonderful and when one travels as a Servas traveler,  the cultural exchange is invaluable and allows one to feel part of the culture.

How long I’ve been an interviewer
At this point, it’s so many years, I don’t quite remember, though I keep all of the membership applications, that are stacked somewhere.  But, I’m thinking perhaps about 15 years.  And I enjoy interviewing, both in person and on the phone.  I have met a number of extraordinary and delightful people who signed up with Servas through me.
Where have I traveled?
Not everywhere I traveled with Servas.  The list of countries I’ve been to include: The entire United States, Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, France, Italy, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Greece, Turkey, Sweden, England, Austria, Spain, Poland, Hungary, India
Servas Memory
There have been so many wonderful memories, it’s difficult to pick one.  One that stands out in my mind is a trip to the westernish part of France, near the Dordogne.  My husband and I were the family’s first Servas visitors.  They took us around to sites, mainly into caves with the hieroglyphics and paintings on the walls from pre-historic times, that were incredible.  This was a remote region where our host family, as well as the other families in the village, lived for centuries going back to days where surnames did not exist.  We were the first Americans, believe it or not, this family and their friends had ever seen.  They were all wonderful and magnificent.   Had I not been conversant in French, I never could have that experience since no one spoke English, except for a few words here and there.
Hobbies I enjoy
Actually I enjoy too many hobbies and so do not have the time to spend on them all.  Top of the list is travel.  I’m a sports enthusiast and have played lots of tennis.  Living in Colorado, I hike and bicycle in summers and spend a number of days downhill skiing and x-c ski in between.  I also work out and do Pilates on a regular basis.  When I have the time, I enjoy cooking and always enjoy good restaurants.  I’m a music lover of classical music, opera, and jazz.
Favorite quote
Speak softly and carry a big stick.  Another is–It ain’t over til the fat lady sings.
Why I’m involved in Servas and why I think it’s important
Needless to say, I’ve always found this organization to be great and wish more people would be involved.  It offers a way to meet interesting and dynamic people both nationally and internationally that would otherwise be impossible.  The people in Servas are very varied and from all walks of life.  It’s important for the very reasons it was founded, which is to break down cultural barriers and build tolerances to all people.  Servas provides a means of travel to people who probably could not travel or could not travel as extensively.  Being hosted in different countries gives the traveler an enriched experience and inside perspective of cultures and people and the traveler is able to become part of the culture through a host family.  With Servas, you’re a traveler rather than a tourist staying at a fancy hotel who goes sightseeing.
Evelyn would be delighted to host if you’re in Denver!

Leave a comment

Hola From Panama

Hola from Judy and Dave Kashoff!
Dozens of crabs converged on the screen door of our cabin like creatures from a 1960’s era horror movie. Huge flying insects buzzed round as well–at least one had somehow found its way into our bed, something I discovered when I was awakened by a shout from Dave. I was just falling off to sleep when he shot straight up, slapping at his head. It was some kind of huge flying insect. For the first time in my life I was experiencing too much nature. Perhaps too much jungle. And too much rain. The rainy season was just starting, and we heard rain all the time, but it wasn’t always water coming from the sky, but rather the sound of rain, and each time we heard it, it heralded a different surprise.
When we weren’t being awakened by “Tse Tse Flies the size of eagles” as Dave said (he wants you to know he is quoting Peter Falk in his role in “The Inlaws“), we were startled during the night by the sound of hail. Loud, intermittent hail that sounded to be the size of golf balls. Every once in a while there was an enormous crash that sounded like cannon fire–or like it was raining bowling balls. It left us wondering for a while, but we decided it was coconuts falling on the roof. It turned out the sound was 50 times the size of the object, and was actually a much smaller fruit, but the metal roof amplified the sound. We did have a stunning moment, though, the next day, when a coconut did fall from a tree. I’d heard of people being killed instantly when they happened to unfortunately be in the space between a coconut and its landing spot, and the thought was especially terrifying because in this case a woody frond came with it, landing sharp side down, spearing the ground and embedding itself not far from where we sat.
When we first arrived at the Curu Wildlife Refuge, on the Nicoya Peninsula in western Costa Rica, we walked under the rainforest canopy to the sound of rain. Nothing strange or frightening, just the normal sound of rain, soon accompanied by thunder. But it wasn’t rain. Nor was it thunder. The sound was the Howler Monkey‘s deep throated, rumbling call. And it was not water hitting the leaves on its long way to the earth: it was the husks of something the monkeys were eating. At one point the sound changed to more of a “light shower“, and this time it was liquid falling from the sky. Lucky for us there were many leaves between us and the source, because it was monkey urine, and missed us. We’ve heard stories of monkeys delivering their excrement directly onto tourists with great deliberation. Animosity, however, was absent in these woods, and it was only the inopportune step we needed to be concerned about.
There are three types of monkeys in the jungle of the Nicoya, and many of them can be seen on the “Sendero Finca de Monos”: the Trail of the Monkey Farm. There is no farm, only jungle, but one is certain to find monkeys there–if you can find the trail. At the trailhead, there are no less than 4 wooden signs, 3 of them pointing in two completely different directions for the same track. But it doesn’t matter, every path seemed to lead to some kind of monkey. In addition to the Howler, there is the White Faced Capuchin, who made faces at us as we took dozens of photos, and the Spider Monkey. It was a Spider monkey who walked directly up to me after our first dinner at Curu, and took my hand. She led me first back to the door to the dining hall, hoping for entry, I supposed, and when it was not offered, to various other less interesting destinations. When I got tired of being led around I sat on a ledge. The creature sat next to me, and immediately put her head on my lap.
So I sat a bit while the monkey stretched, curled up “just so” and fell asleep. I didn’t want to disturb this cute behavior, but I can’t just sit and do nothing for long, even with the novelty of a monkey on my lap. Just as I was yearning for something more interesting, a drama began to unfold.  The monkey and I were sitting on a low wall that surrounded a sort of outdoor “foyer”. A huge toad, the largest I’ve ever seen, had found its way into the space, as had a crab. The toad clearly had his (or her) eyes on the crab, whose back was  literally “against the wall”, it’s claws held up in defense. This crab was nearly the size of the toad, and it had sharp claws and a hard shell. I could not imagine what interest the toad might have in it. But the next moment, the toad bolted and leaped towards it’s prey. There was a slight altercation that left the crab unharmed. I’m not so sure about the toad. There were a few more small “battles” until the toad was diverted by some insect, which it captured easily, allowing the crab to scuttle away.
The monkey showed no interest in this little performance. We learned later her name is Fifi, and she doesn’t “take” to just anyone. She had no interest in Dave, for example. But she liked to take my hands and look plaintively up into my eyes. When I finally extricated myself from her embrace, we headed to our bikes to ride back to our cabin. She beat us to it, and grabbed my rear bike tire, holding on tightly, not only with her hand, but as we got closer to take the bike, with a leg and her tail as well! A Spider monkey’s tail is much stronger than her arms. She understood if she could stop my bike I would stay longer. I did, of course.
Once on our bikes, it again sounded like rain as we cycled the long lane in near darkness to a cabin by the sea. This time it was crabs, hundreds of them on the sandy road, who upon our approach, skittled sideways under the many layers of dry leaves lining the pathway. They were the same type of crab the toad showed so much interest in, and the same ones we found covering our “porch“ when we arrived, parting as we walked to our cabin. They kept us busy keeping them out as we attempted to catch the ones that got past us. It was especially difficult herding the one stubborn crustacean who tried hiding first in the shower, then behind the toilet, and finally kept me busy playing “musical trash can“. We didn’t want anyone to be locked away from their homes once we went to bed–from where we observed their bellies as they hung from our screen door. They are only one of five types of crabs we were to see at in Nicoya. Their most distinguishing characteristic are their huge bright orange jack-o-lantern “eyes”  that seemed “painted” on only for show, and along with their other colorful markings, made for a clownish look. Their real eyes, round dark buttons on a sort of antenna, looked like black caviar served individually on short sticks. Their dark backs, bright orange legs and purple claws were similar to one of the other species we would see, but very different from the hermit crabs or the small plain brown ones that blended so well with their environment we had to be careful not to step on one. Or rather, they had to heed our footfalls, they were so well camouflaged.
We watched our step as we walked in the jungles in Central America, not only to avoid stepping on crabs, but more importantly to avoid poisonous snakes. There are one hundred and thirty five species of snakes in Costa Rica, of which seventeen are poisonous. Most will get out of the way when they feel the vibrations of your footfalls, but the most lethal of all, the Fer-de-lance is generally not disturbed by the presence of humans until one accidentally steps on it. If you do, and you want to live to tell about it, you’d better get to the “anti-venom shop” quick (perhaps not found at your local mall). It is the most deadly member of the “Viper” family of snake.
“Watch out! That‘s a Green Viper and its highly venomous!” a woman called out as Dave was struggling to use a rake to grab it from a tree. The snake was wound around a branch holding a nest belonging to two Rufous-naped wrens. Lovely little things with a stripe across their head and patterned wings, we had enjoyed watching them as they fussed about, singing happily as we passed each morning. Now, the birds were shouting obscenities at this intruder, and with good cause: Senor Viper was after their baby. Dave successfully pulled the snake down, where it landed in an area devoid of cover. Traumatized, it quickly found my bicycle and we watched as it wound its way through the back tire, then the gears, reaching my handlebars, where it twisted around, and snaked its way back, exiting my bike from the same place it entered. Having carefully decided this bike was not to be its “get-away vehicle”, he (or she) took a chance and slithered along the ground until it found a real bush, where it was quickly camouflaged. Even in the photo Dave took, it is hard to distinguish the snake’s triangular head from the leaves.
Actually, its head was not exactly triangular, and that was how we identified it later as a “Green Vine Snake”, harmless, not poisonous at all. The only harm done was by us. We were too late to save the baby bird. Although we tried offering it to the snake, she was clearly too upset to accept it, and the result of our interference was that the bird died for naught and the snake went hungry. We were left only with some photos and a feeling of sadness for the parent birds, who were still chattering at the poor creature when we left.
Fortunately, we had no other close encounters with snakes. While hiking we only managed a quick look at a few, as long before we were in danger of stepping too close they slithered quickly into the bushes.  No Fer-de-lance crossed our path. Lizards did: huge ones, slender ones, some quite ferocious looking (though harmless) ones. We saw them mostly on the beach, while we found the Jesus Christ Lizard hanging out by the river. I identified this member of the wildlife community immediately, non-expert that I am, because I first saw it walking (running, really) on the water. When I told Dave I saw one he asked how I knew what it was. He didn’t believe me when I explained that once you know there is such a thing as a Jesus Christ Lizard, seeing it travel is enough for immediate identification. But later, we heard a splash, splash, splash! And Dave’s mouth dropped open as he had his own moment of enlightenment.
There were other things to avoid stepping on. One trail was covered with holes, each with a huge pile of dirt beside it. We thought the creature who dug these tunnels must be large and perhaps dangerous, but eventually we saw the homeowners: they were a harmless creature, another colorful species of crab.
We also needed to watch for the slime of chewed upon, slowly rotting fruit. Animals seemed to enjoy eating bits here and there, leaving their teeth marks on half eaten mangos. Understandable, since it was “raining” mangos while we were there and the trail was strewn with them. At dusk we saw an agouti, a tan colored mammal the size of a small dog , munching on one. A really large rodent, it looks sort of like a huge rat but much cuter. We followed it‘s lead and collected mangos (the freshly fallen ones); along with some nuts it became our regular breakfast.
The trails held other flora we found interesting, and we took photos of flowers and of the trees that seemed so strange to us. Like the tree whose roots looked like metal cable crossing over the path, including the soldered jointed intersections. Other roots curled over and around the trail like huge snakes. There is the Strangler Fig, rainforest trees whose roots extend from its trunk like narrow walls, twisting and turning but holding the tree up in shallow soil, playing the same part as the flying buttresses of Notre Dame. One tree is covered with spikes, others are covered with vines and I was surprised to see cactus in the tropical rain forest. There are trees holding huge termite nests that look like a monkey squatting up there, especially when we heard them rumbling and were searching the canopy to find it with our eyes. The same monkeys that sounded like thunder, and bounced things off leaves, sounding like rain.
We had came to the Nicoya Pennisula from high in the mountains of the Cloud Forest, where the rainy season had already started and it was coming down steady and hard. I heard that same sound on the roof at night when we were sleeping in Curu. I woke up Dave to tell him it was raining, and he told me it was just the sound of the ocean, just a few meters from our cabin door. So we stayed a few more days and watched kinkajous hop on branches from tree to tree, jumping 20 feet through the air, 60 feet above the ground. We saw Kingfishers, lineated woodpeckers, and when we stayed on the trails at dusk we saw bats and night hawks–a bird the size of a chicken who flopped along the path before us: not walking, flying, or hopping: but flopping. Dave said he was searching for his dinner by disturbing insects on the ground, but it looked very strange to me.
Finally, it really did rain, pounding on our metal roof at night, muddying the forest trails in the day and creating a veil between us and the wildlife. The rainy season was now in full force. We heard the downpour was less frequent and more predictable on the Caribbean side of the country, so we decided to head across. I transferred Fifi’s hands from mine to those of the nice young woman who shared our snake experience, checked our panniers for stray crabs, and took a ferry to the mainland. We left the Pacific ocean behind and cycled over the Continental Divide to the other ocean, the Caribbean. There we crossed a rickety wooden bridge over the Sixaola River into Panama. We’ve been here about a month, had some interesting times, but it’s raining here now, too. We’re going to head back to the United States to see what the weather is like there. 

1 Comment

A Note From Jensen

Hey everyone!

I am very excited about this opportunity that Servas has been able to provide me with.  The SYLE is a great chance for young members like myself to be able to explore the world while getting a rich cultural experience that you would not get in hostels. I have been a Servas member for several years now, both as a traveler and a host, and I have also served as one of the staff members in the office helping to answer phones and process the Letter’s of Introduction.  I am also involved with my studies at Humboldt State University as a Religious Studies major and as a Spanish minor.  I recently joined the Servas youth committee with Heather Mason  and through that I found out about the SYLE program. What a great way to spend the summer! I will be traveling to Spain for two months, leaving in mid June and returning in August in time for school to start. The trip will start in Valencia and will take me to many Servas hosts throughout the East side of Spain, giving me a balance between city lifestyle in Barcelona and the more laid back life in some of the more rural areas. I plan to keep a travel journal while I am on the road which will be filled with sketches, photos, and daily writings. A full story will be published on my return.

Thank You to all Servas members for the support and
please continue to help spread peace in your own community!

Jensen Martin, Servas Staff