Alumni Spotlight: Kimberley McLean

Even when you hide yourself behind the unattractive disguise of the irritable, the exacting, the unreasonable, may I still recognize you and gladly serve you. -
Mother Teresa

Kimberley is an administrator/case worker with The Salvation Army in Aurora, ON Canada. She works with clients to maintain housing, to recover after setbacks due to job loss, illness, and family situations. After her year in Up With People, she became a retail manager, working with several large companies, but her passion was in her volunteer work with youth, music, multicultural families and in improving her language skills, influenced by her experience abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

Quite frankly, it was the music and performance aspect that first drew me to this program. I was a pianist and vocalist and the energy of the show drew me. I then discovered the real focus of Up With People was to build bridges between people and cultures.

Growing up in Toronto, being surrounded by various cultures and languages was normal to me, so I believed the program would be a good fit to broaden my life experience.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

While there were some fundraising suggestions sent by Up With People, most were geared toward American culture. I was able to adapt some ideas for Canadian use and raised my funding.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I wish I had known how to be a bit more assertive and adventurous. I'd have enjoyed really exploring more of the cultures, language and cities to which I travelled.

I'd tell people to embrace every new opportunity, even if you're a bit nervous or afraid. It will influence your life forever.

Find ways to enjoy every person with whom you come in contact. Forty years later they may be your best friend... or your spouse.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day can range from helping build a playground in an orphanage, having 8 small boys whose language you don't speak, put out a hand to touch your long red hair, saying "esta caliente?", to singing for a dignitary, to visiting people in a prison that had just been washed down with disinfectant, to holding the hand of an elderly person who just wanted to touch someone who smiled at them.

I learned to put on mascara while bumping along a mountain road in a bus, lift more stage equipment than I thought possible, interview prospective students in a language I have only begun to learn, and hug everyone.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear was that I was too quiet and shy to be really effective. I discovered people liked to tell me their stories, let me into their lives and found me kind and easy to talk with.

I gained confidence in my own abilities and worth, engendering the desire to help others in the same manner. I could make a difference.

What if a participant can't cope, mentally or physically and needs to depend on others?

Allowing others to help you is okay and helps them on their life journey. You don't always have to be strong. Letting people in when you are in distress builds relationships and allows others to build skills. Learning to be part of a team and take care of each other, while helping communities, will forever be part of the fabric of you.