Jimmy's Journeys Visting a Country's People, More Than Its Places, Is Former President Carter's Idea of an Enriching Vacation

Article excerpt

FOR A SMALL-TOWN boy brought up in the rural South, one of my good fortunes in life has been the opportunity to travel: under the sea as a young submarine officer with the U.S. Navy, on trade missions as governor of Georgia, throughout the United States as a candidate, and around the globe as president.

In the 16 years since leaving the White House, Rosalynn and I have continued to travel, packing and unpacking so many times we've lost count. Sometimes we go for pleasure - to be with family and friends and to fish the remote reaches of the world, sometimes on missions for the Carter Center, such as observing elections, negotiating between disputing parties and helping to resolve problems in the developing world.

In all this travel, what I remember best, beyond the places I've been, are the people met along the way.

Seasoned travelers know that if you're going to experience life in another land, you have to get as close as you can to the people. You must embrace them and their ways, and the best way to do this is close up - in their homes.

Exchange programs in which students and young people stay in private homes in other countries have been around for a long time. They have served well as vehicles for helping participants cross over and gain insigh t into other cultures.

But what I didn't realize until I was governor of Georgia is that this mode of visiting - and of learning - doesn't have to be restricted to students and other young people. The homestay philosophy is just as valid for adults, and through organizations like The Friendship Force - marking its 20th anniversary this year - they are readily available for all who are adventurous enough to give them a try.

While I was governor of Georgia, Rosalynn and I helped carry out a series of people-to-people exchanges between Georgia and Brazil. Through our involvement in this program, which was the precursor to The Friendship Force, we saw firsthand what could be accomplished. It made us firm believers in the homestay concept for enriching individual travel and as a means of creating a more peaceful world.

After entering the White House, Rosalynn and I helped create a new organization that would promote a global homestay program for adults called Friendship Force. It would be nongovernmental, the homestays would last one or two weeks, and it would be available to everyone in the world. Our goal was to create a "force," using the power of friendship to break down barriers by creating direct, personal ties among the people of the world.

Rosalynn's mother, Allie Smith, was an ambassador on the first exchange between Atlanta and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England. While there, she stayed with an English family with whom she still stays in touch.

Later, our daughter-in-law, Annette, went to Berlin. Even as a member of the president's family, she was assigned to live with a typical German family, sleeping on their living room sofa because there was no spare bedroom.

And our daughter, Amy, has been on two exchanges, one to Newcastle and one to Moscow.

Back To Newcastle

In 1987, Rosalynn and I were ambassadors on an exchange back to Newcastle and lived in the home of the family with whom Amy had stayed years before. I remember fondly our summer visit with Tony and Jenny Coates in northern England, and we still keep in touch with them.

It was an unusual situation for me. Rosalynn, for once, had the busier schedule, attending official Friendship Force functions, leaving me free to enjoy our visit as an ordinary tourist would. I had quite a bit of time to be with Tony and Jenny and their daughters, Amy, 10, and Charlotte, 7.

I like to jog in the morning and found that Tony likes to run as well. So early on Saturday morning we went for a 3 1/2-mile run through the beautiful countryside outside Newcastle. Our route took us through a tiny village called Riding Mill, and you couldn't ask for a better setting for an early-morning run. …