Up with People


In a world filled with constant change, we are often divided by fear and intolerance. Up with People is breaking down these fears by using our unique blend of volunteering, the performing arts, and travel to empower people across the globe to think differently about their world, and understand the things that unite us as people and societies – our common humanity.

With a rich legacy that spans more than 50 years, Up with People has been reaching communities and people across the globe through our music, our message and our service since 1965. Our commitment runs deep and our aspirations are bold.

Through music and action, Up with People empowers young adults to become leaders and positive agents of change for a more hopeful, trusting and peaceful world.

To learn more about our gap semester (5 months) and full gap year programs, visit our site or our Program Page!


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Yes, I recommend this program

Life-changing then and now

Traveling in Up With People was an amazing experience. We didn't just visit other countries, we lived with families every place we went. I had never sung or danced before Up With People, but I was surprised by how much I loved performing and being a part of our show. We also had some very memorable community engagement opportunities, from visiting refugee camps in Scandinavia to flood clean-up in the US to helping a poor neighborhood in Mexico to renovate their homes. Traveling with the other people in the cast was the best part, in my opinion. Spending every day with people from more than 20 different nations who have all come together to learn and make the world better... it changed my perspective forever, and I am still in touch with friends around the world 25 years later. My experiences in Up With People led me to amazing international career opportunities and to lifelong friendships.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
Performing for the Pope in packed Mile-High Stadium
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Yes, I recommend this program

Life Changing Experience

I traveled with Up with People 5 years ago. I was a backpacker before but it was so hard for me to get US and Schengen visa to travel when i was a students back then. I heard Up with People from a friend that his friend traveled in this program. For me at that moment, it was a great opportunity for me to see the world outside of Asia and i never regret for a minute with this decision. Stay with host family, travel to a new city every week and volunteer work have give me so many opportunity to do new stuff, meet new friends and there are so many "aha" moment on the tour that just broad my horizon.I don't know there is a show though, and i never sing or dance before in my life, but it turn out to be a high and super memorable experience when i look back my Up with People experience.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
I ate cherry jelly for the first time with my host family in Denver. But i invited them to try to black jelly (Tortoise Jelly) from China later and they all get scared.
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Yes, I recommend this program

My Story

When I came to this programme I had no idea what to expect. I just packed up my bags and showed up in Denver. After going through some ups and downs learning the songs, the dances, the names, the people, the travels, the courses, and of course the program, I found such a weird family of loveable goofballs I never wanted to leave. We would sing in public together, go on crazy city exploring adventures, laugh about how we were broke and then adventure some more. I learned so much about so many different cultures and people and cities and just about the world around me. But something I never imagined was that I’d feel like a sister to someone from Switzerland, or have a best friend in Texas, or meet other people from Bermuda. Now not only do I have so many new skills to put on a resume and college application, but I have a home in at least 25 different countries around the world.
So something I would say is people ask me “Why Travel” and my response is “Why not?”

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
People tell you that everyone will love you and want to get to know you and be your friend, you won’t believe them. But you will find your chosen family here, and everyone will love you and be your friend and care for you. It is such a great experience.
Read my full story
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Yes, I recommend this program

A perfect opportunity to be out of your comfort zone and grow

Up with people is changing. There’s a before and after up with people. Why? Because you grow in every single aspect of your life, your mind understands new things that maybe you didn’t see before but they were always there, you learn how to truly love everyone no matter what your differences are, you become adaptable to any situation because you get to be in a new city every week so everything is changing all the time, and very very important you get to know yourself, what you want, and how much you have left to do in your life. it motivates you to start new projects and to do things that maybe you wouldn’t have done before. plus it’s fun, you travel so much and get involved in cultures, languages and communities as well as finding a new family that Will always support and be there no Matter what
it’s super amazing!!

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Try to be your best self, and to always ask questions and learn. Also never waste the opportunity to get to know someone, make connections
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Yes, I recommend this program

Changed my life

I spent about 2 years in uwp as a student and staff member. I’m not lying when I say my best memories are from those two years. I’ve made life long friends, mentors, and family through this program. It’s not for people who aren’t willing to put in effort and commitment to others and the countries you visit. It’s not for people who don’t want to be pushed out of your comfort zone. It will bring the best out in you, it will show you sides of yourself you didn’t know you had. It’s a 6 month or year commitment and it’s not free, so putting in as much as you want to get out of Up with People is IMPORTANT! I’ve seen myself transform in a matter of 6 months. My family didn’t recognize me because they saw a new confidence I never had. Don’t pass this up!

What would you improve about this program?
Improvement could be diversification and Implementing new ideas and not being afraid to break some societal rules.

Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Why did you choose this program?

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.

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.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Ellen Enebo

Job Title
Curriculum Manager
Ellen traveled in Up with People (UWP) as a gap year option in 1997, and returned to join their traveling “road staff” in 2007 for 3 tours before taking on her current role as Curriculum Manager. Ellen lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota with her husband and two daughters, and loves biking, quilting, and being outside.

What position do you hold at Up with People and why do you like working there?

I am UWP’s Curriculum Manager, which means I train and support our touring staff in delivering workshops & reflections, in volunteer service working with youth and schools, and leading the orientation sessions for the incoming groups.

Working for UWP allows me to be an integral part of an opportunity that was a significant growth experience in my own life. I watch young adults enter this program seeking to make a difference and create positive change in the world, and I am proud of my role in setting them up for success and providing tools for them to be prepared and thoughtful in their journey.

What keeps you excited about your job?

My job stays exciting because I work with driven and positive people in a fast-paced environment. Our touring cast is busy moving to a new city each week and with so much activity planned into every day, the work is ever-changing.

We tailor our curriculum and cast discussions to the specific tours and opportunities around us. It is so fulfilling to have the chance to continually improve our programs and customize it for the group to get as much from it as possible.

Do students have a hard time transitioning back after the program? If so, what is your advice on this?

After my first UWP tour, I had a hard time transitioning home—my Up with People community was so fun and so supportive, it was challenging to go back home and be on my own again on campus. We do our best to prepare participants for this reality- that their worldview has broadened and what they want from their life has probably changed during their UWP experience.

My advice is what I hope all our participants do—figure out a way to continue the energy and enthusiasm of their time in UWP into their home life. To get involved, to choose a community need they feel strongly about and take action to meet it and make a difference in a tangible way.

What is one common misconception about going abroad?

One common misconception about going abroad is that you go to learn about the place you are visiting. This is true of course, but it is nothing in comparison to what you will learn about yourself, your values, and your priorities. You discover what you believe by comparing the differences and similarities in how you were raised to the places where you are traveling.

Being put in the position to represent your city, your state, your country in a faraway place wakes up inside you a sense of pride and a chance to reflect on how your life so far made you what you are, and how you are in control of what’s next.