By John Lombard, Mathematics Department
If you’ve ever read James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great And Small,” you’ll appreciate the pull that the verdant British countryside exerted on our family, and why we chose the United Kingdom as the country we would explore with WMA’s Hubbard Travel Grant. In fact, we cherished the bleating sheep and simple stonewalls of Britain every bit as much as the artifacts of imperial wealth, conquest and high culture — castles, estates, ships and gardens.
During our trip, we weaved seamlessly through both worlds, the thread being the warm and welcoming British and Welsh families who — thanks to the travel organization Servas — hosted, fed, enlightened and laughed with us.
For 15 years, our family has belonged to the Servas travel network (servas.org), and it was through Servas that we traveled in the U.K. Founded just after World War II in an effort to promote world peace through intimate, cross-cultural exchange, Servas has connected hundreds of thousands of people worldwide over the past 70 years. Linking travelers and hosts, Servas provides far more than cheap accommodations.
With Servas, the purpose is to grow cultural understanding: to explore points of view, find common interests, exchange tokens of one’s culture and share at least one meal with one’s host. We’d hosted many Servas travelers — including Americans, Europeans and Asians — at our home while raising our young children.
Now that our son and daughter were pre-teen and teen, it was time to experience Servas as travelers. We chose a country where we all spoke the language, and whose history and human and natural landscape we admire.
In the U.K., our Servas hosts were farmers, marketing directors, timber framers, retired teachers and opera vocal trainers. Each opened their home and deepened our appreciation for all things British. We arrived at each host bearing wine, bread, cheese and a neat packet of homemade envelopes made from recycled calendars, a gift reflecting our family ethic of low-impact living and passion for “upcycling.”
Our official Servas “Letter of Introduction” also described my eagerness to share handyman skills, and for one host family I repaired their guinea pig hutch, a modest return for their enormous hospitality.
A highlight in our Servas travels was sharing a locally grown meal with a Welsh family who made their living farming organically and timber framing. Their home, a converted 400-year-old stone barn, held everywhere evidence of masterful woodworking and love of food and nature. Before sharing a meal of spinach quiche, fresh salad and roasted root vegetables (thanks to their dozen laying hens and polytunnel hot house), we toured their small holding and woodworking shop and drank in the rolling Welsh countryside that lay in every direction.
I peppered my host with questions about woodworking, that being a passion of mine as well, while my wife shared her experience of founding a nonprofit in Northampton that supports small organic farmers and gardeners. My son ate second and third helpings of dinner, and my daughter forged such a strong and immediate connection to Natalie, the farmer, that Natalie invited her to return next summer to “woof” (a recently invented verb meaning “work on organic farms”), an arrangement of free room and board in exchange for farm labor.
Our trip to the U.K. renewed our passion for Servas, with the unique opportunity it creates to connect meaningfully with ordinary people; deepened my love for James Herriot’s British countryside, where all things green and ruminating seem to thrive; and gave my family a chance to break from routine and learn and explore together.
I think anytime an experience makes an educator feel more alive and connected, that spirit will flow into his or her teaching. I hope my sharing of the Servas model of traveling will inspire members of the WMA community — students, faculty and staff alike — to give it a try.