- Published on Wednesday, 25 January 2012 00:00
- Written by Eren Göknar - Special to the Town Crier
Photo By: Photo courtesy of the Gustavsons
Los Altos residents Dee and Dave Gustavson shared stories of the lukewarm response they received when they attempted to start a Friendship Force International chapter in Iceland last August.
President Jimmy Carter introduced the Friendship Force organization in 1977 to promote grassroots diplomacy – earning the group a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for encouraging international understanding. The non-profit cultural exchange program arranges home stays, which allow participants to experience how citizens in other countries live.
Addressing a standing-room only crowd at the Los Altos main library Jan. 8, the Gustavsons reported on the Icelanders’ resistance to their mission.
Dave said they spoke to a Rotary Club in the country’s capital, Reykjavik, and to another club in Akureyri.
“They didn’t seem to think their homes were big and nice enough,” he said, perhaps compared to the American homes seen on television.
The concept seemed new to them as well, Dee added.
Through Friendship Force, Dee has visited 16 countries, including Cuba, Egypt, China, India, Uzbekistan, Poland, the Czech Republic and Brazil, and the couple together have traveled to Japan, Hong Kong, France, Germany and more.
Dee had nothing but praise for their experiences with Friendship Force, which takes turns hosting travelers for a few days. Participants become ambassadors abroad, sharing meals and living under one roof with citizens of other countries for a few days.
“By the end of the week, you feel like they’re part of your family – they’ve taken you shopping, to their church, you’ve met their children and you really feel like you know them,” Dee said. “They have similar problems.”
The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of Friendship Force boasts approximately 100 members, several from Los Altos and Mountain View.
“It just feels like the world is smaller,” said Dee of her experiences with the group.
Iceland: A cool place to visit
During the Gustavsons’ presentation, Dave flipped through slides of geometric concert halls, molten rock lava, geysers and farmland, sharing facts and observations from their trip.
Air travel time, including a stopover in Frankfurt, spanned approximately 12 hours. Despite its nippy name, thermal gases actually make Iceland pretty green. The weather stayed cool, reaching the 50s and 60s during the day.
They didn’t see the aurora borealis, because it was August and daylight continues until 10 p.m. Dave said many of the towns they visited had decorating competitions with colored flowers, and several communities had museums dedicated to World War II.
Reading and watching the Nordic sagas are an Icelandic pastime, he said, and characters from the sagas appear for sale in stores or on display.
Dave showed slides of contemporary-looking churches with modern mosaics that impressed him greatly, and noted that “elegant” public art also graced the common areas.
Iceland’s population is 320,000, with individualistic personalities abounding, Dave said. One 90-year-old woman had made a museum of her yard by collecting all kinds of stones, which she carefully categorized. In one corner, she had branched out into mechanical pens of different colors.
While visiting Iceland, the Gustavsons toured the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal springs and spa in Reykjavik, but they weren’t allowed to bring their camera in.
After Iceland, the Gustavsons stopped in Greenland, which had more ice than Iceland – and cost them approximately $1,000 per day to visit.
For more information on Friendship Force International, visit www.ffsfba.org or call Dee Gustavson at 961-3539.