I was only 18 when I traveled, I signed up last minute and it was the best decision I ever made. At the time, I wanted to be a musician, singer specifically, and was planning to go to a local college to study music. I had always wanted to go to Europe and when presented with the opportunity, saw I could do both. Some of the scheduling has changed since I traveled, but the experience is still very similar today.
We started our year with an extensive staging workshop in Colorado where we learned the current show, got to know each other, and were taught how to be savvy travelers and global citizens. The people training us were all professionals. Many of us were coached by top Broadway stars.
My cast was scheduled to go to Europe, but could have been Asia as well that year. We were guaranteed a chance to experience 2 continents. The unknown spontaneity of the tour schedule was really thrilling. We spent 6 months in the US and 6 months in Europe on my tour.
When I traveled we changed cities almost every 3-5 days and stayed with a different host family in every city. They were all wonderful and it was a great opportunity to meet people from all different cultures and backgrounds. We also did in depth philanthropic work in each city such as visiting schools and teaching children about diversity and cultural awareness, building and maintaining youth centers, entertaining in nursing homes, building habitat for humanity homes, helping organize food banks and many more activities.
We had opportunities to intern in different business roles too. I was a communications assistant marketing intern and PR intern while on the road and did advance work where I would travel ahead of the cast to a city and help set up all of the host families, service projects, ticket sales and other logistics of their tour there. It was real world work and experience. I fell in love with working with people and marketing and I ended up studying Public Relations and International Business in school and am now a professional Marketing and Event Manager.
We also had many opportunities on the road to meet inspiring and successful leaders. We sang for the Pope on his 80th birthday, met with heads of major corporations on joint service projects, performed with Faith Hill and the Temptations for 60,000+ people in the Georgia Dome, and were guests of Presidents for national celebrations.
Some of us organized or joined in on side trips to countries not on our tour to learn and experience even more. I went to Mexico with a group of cast mates for a week and represented the organization at a meeting of world leaders and young leaders. We had one on one lunches and chats with presidents, kings, prime ministers, world peace leaders and Nobel Prize winners to help them learn to make good decisions that aligned with what our generation wanted for the future of the world.
I received a scholarship and some credits to college as a result of my participation in Up With People and a letter of recommendation from the President of the United States.
Most importantly, I literally have friends to this day in every corner of the globe (23+ countries from my cast alone). Thanks to the rise of social media, we talk with each other daily. I can travel anywhere any time and find someone I know, someone my friend knows, or someone who has traveled in Up With People too who wants to know me. It has opened up numerous doors in my career and even though we only traveled to 7 countries on our tour, I traveled to 24 countries between the ages of 18 and 24 as a result of friendships I made in Up With People. We also have reunions frequently with multiple casts attending and I have made friends with other alumni from all decades.
Music is still a very important part of my life, but I have so much more life now than I did before Up With People. I not only learned what I wanted to learn and do, I also learned who I am and what kind of person I want to be.