Up with People was at the intersection of my interests: I studied dance and political science in college, and was always involved in youth development activities. UWP showed me how I could combine my performing arts background with my passion for social justice, international relations, and cultural understanding especially in a way that could impact young people. There really is nothing else like it. The opportunity to travel to and experience multiple countries I probably wouldn't have ever ended up visiting on my own was also a huge draw.
Why did you choose this program?
What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
When you're accepted to the program, you're assigned an admissions counselor who will accompany you for the whole enrollment process until you arrive to Denver for staging/orientation. They can be as involved as you need or want them to be. I was pretty independent and familiar with the program, so I didn't need a lot of support but my counselor still checked in with me just about every other week to make sure I had everything I needed to have a great experience. She offered to help with fundraising ideas, kept me aware of deadlines and updated me on my developing tour schedule. What you have to organize on your own for sure is transportation to Denver for staging/orientation at the start of your tour, as well as your return trip from your final tour city back to your home or to your next adventure!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
You need less stuff in your suitcase than you think you do, but you will never regret packing more underwear and more socks. Also, practical shoes and a small travel towel.
Bring a reusable water bottle, plus tupperware and utensils to use for group meals, and a reusable thermos if caffeine makes you a better person!
Let your family and friends at home know that you're going to be really immersed in your Up with People experience, and may not always be able to contact them as frequently as you would at home. This allows you to really be present and get everything out of your tour.
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Honestly, it's intense but invigorating at the same time, which makes the semester (or year) sustainable. If you're not exhausted at the end of each day, then you're not giving to your fullest potential which means you're not getting everything out of the experience, either!
Typically on Mondays you travel to a new tour city and meet your host family for the week. Most weekdays (Tuesday-Thursday/Friday) will be a combination of volunteering, educational/leadership workshops, and community discovery where you learn about the city you're in by exploring, hearing from guest speakers or visiting local attractions. Shows are typically on weekends, and you'll spend show days setting up the stage as a team, rehearsing, performing and meeting the audience, and then deconstructing the stage and loading it back into the truck. One day a week is also dedicated to you spending fully with your host family.
The four weeks of staging/orientation look a little bit different: you're in Denver, Colorado for four weeks getting to know each other, the curriculum, the service projects you'll take on tour, and the show. Each day is a combination of team-building activities, educational workshops, and you'll spend about half of each day learning the songs and dances for the show.
Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?
Before UWP, I had traveled in the US and in Europe, but I had never visited anywhere in Latin America. My first UWP tour took me to Cuba and Mexico for five weeks. I was apprehensive about the language barrier, cultures I thought would be vastly different than my own upbringing, and also the weight of bringing my privilege into developing countries - an experience I hadn't had before.
Although I had taken some Spanish in high school and college, I knew it was likely that some of my host families would not have had the opportunity to learn English. My first week I was hosted alone with a family in Mexico City who spoke no English, so I had to become comfortable with my own imperfect Spanish really quickly. I am SO grateful for this experience, especially that it gave me a taste of what it's like for many immigrants in my home country to not be able to communicate fully. I learned the value of nonverbal communication, the depth of the meaning of gestures and just how close relationships can be even without a common language. I still keep in touch with this family five years later.
What is unique about this program?
Up with People is a youth-led youth program. Most of the volunteer staff that travels with the cast is in the same 17-29 year old age bracket as the cast. This is one of the most empowering parts of the experience - seeing and being a part of what young people are capable of accomplishing in the world. There is a remarkable legacy attached to Up with People's 55 year history, and being part of the Up with People alumni community connects you with people who are making a difference in the world in more than 130 countries.