One of the biggest, most meaningful experiences I've had in my life was travelling on Up With People's WorldSmart Leadership Program for 4 and a half months, August to December 2005. Going on that program reinforced my view of alternative education and also gave a name to my preferred learning style – experiential learning.
TinKosong.Com has posted my article about Up With People (and my friend Li Shun has posted it to BlogsMalaysia – thank you!) so you can find the basic details of the program there. You can also see my account of my travels on my travel Livejournal.
Here, I will describe, in a somewhat more relaxed manner, what exactly Up With People is all about and how it fits in to alternative education. (Or at least try to.)
Last Updated: 17th May 2006 – added info about the new show, and Moral Re-Armament.
So what the blazes is Up With People anyhow?
Up With People is a US-based nonprofit organization which develops global education programs, allowing young adults from around the world to travel to different parts of the globe, do community service, learn about world issues, and perform messages of peace and unity.
I thought they did big musicals about that stuff.
That is basically how they started out, yes. In 1965, the founder, J. Blanton Belk, didn't quite like the whole "down with people! Down with the authority!" sentiment that was going on. He felt that the energy could be better spent on something positive, and he developed this by having the song Up With People written. This then inspired a travelling group of young performers going around the world with various year-long productions on various issues (togetherness, positivity, peace, current affairs, teamwork, so on), sharing cultures, and doing community service. Among the places and events they've been a part of include the Munich Olympics, the Superbowl, and being one of the first international groups to perform in China.
What happened to the musicals?
In 2000, Up With People found themselves in a rocky financial situation – they basically didn't have enough money to continue the way they are. Their performances were losing out to mainstream acts and it was starting to be outdated. They decided that, for the best of the organization, they will shut down.
They weren't dormant though – quite a number of people from Up With People's history worked together to develop a new program that would be a lot more relevant to current needs. In August 2004, the WorldSmart Leadership Program was born, with roughly a hundred people from across the world travelling to North America, Japan, and Europe for a semester.
What happened to the WorldSmart Leadership Program? I don't hear that name much anymore.
The WorldSmart program travelled for 3 semesters – August 2004, February 2005, and August 2005. During that time, there was a change in management, including a new CEO (Thomas J. Spaulding Jr) and a partnership with another US-based program, Leader's Challenge. Up With People also received a ton of feedback from everyone – current WorldSmart students, Up With People alumni, former host families, former host communities, anyone that had some sort of connection to Up With People in some form or another.
Based on that feedback, Up With People decided that it was best to reconnect to their history and base, instead of having two brand names compete against each other. It'll also make the transition flow smoother, bringing back the use of music as a communication tool while still emphasizing the need for skills in leadership and global perspective. In late 2005, it was announced that the next semester will start in July 2006, and will be known from now on as the Up With People Global Education Program.
I was in the August 2005 WorldSmart semester – ultimately the last one, and also the first semester with Tommy Spaulding as CEO – and we really gave a lot of feedback and viewpoints about the future of the program. The name change was probably one of our biggest influences. There is still some friction (some wanted the WorldSmart name to stay, some wanted the old shows back…hard to please everyone!) but hopefully with the short break to clean up the program, as well as the feedback and support, it'll go well.
So what happens in this Global Education Program?
The program still travels for a semester – 22 weeks total. One month is spent in Denver, Colorado, for orientation and to learn material for the performance. The crew/cast then travels to 18 cities across the US, Japan, and Europe, doing all sorts of things – community service, cultural exchange, internships, group discussions, projects, regional learning, performing, host family living, and tons more.
Only those countries? What about the rest of the world?
There are plans to diversify the tour places – right now the places being explored or considered include Korea, China, and possibly Singapore. Interestingly, the first WorldSmart semester went to Canada after orientation, and Up With People did travel to a lot more countries during its time.
That's a lot of things to do!
Indeed it is.
What sort of community service do you do?
It varies from city to city. In my semester, among the things we did include:
- Building a horse trail that also filters water
- Setting up a World Expo in a school
- Working with the homeless
- Visiting schools
- Cleaning away old trees and weeds
- Cooking and preparing food
- Tutoring and looking after kids
- Doing various media and creative projects with schoolkids
- Interacting with senior citizens
- Redecorating various houses/rooms/buildings (even a ship once)
and all sorts of other things.
Do you get to choose which service projects you go on?
Sometimes you do, if there is more than one option in a city (for instance, in Erfurt, Germany, we could choose from nearly 20 media projects). Sometimes it's a matter of lottery. Sometimes there's only one project in the city, and everyone works together on the same thing.
Are there any classes?
There used to be actual college classes (with coursework and all). However, that has since been dropped since very few people were actually taking them. Now, there are weekly group discussions on various topics – leadership, global perspective, conflict, communications, cultural identity, and lots more. Kind of like the classes, except everyone is involved and there's typically no homework or heavy reading (though you might be assigned a group project once in a while).
What's "regional learning"?
Regional learning is basically learning about the area you're in – the actual city, the country, and the general culture. This takes form in many ways – tours (or, as the Malaysians know them, lawatan sambil belajar), company visits, lectures, projects, scavenger hunts, all sorts of things. We had a scavenger hunt in Boulder, Colorado; a panel discussion with key people in Hollywood, California; an Amazing Race-ish hike in Murou, Japan with tasks and pitstops; visiting the World Expo in Aichi, Japan; lunch in an immigrant high school in Antwerp, Belgium; various lectures about all sorts of things in Utrecht, The Netherlands – and tons of others.
Like the community service projects, there will be cities with more than one option – and cities with more than one thing going on for everyone. There might also be just one regional learning activity in the whole city for everyone to participate in. Occasionally there will be special opportunities open to a select few (usually by lottery, and evenly distributed amongst all crew members so that everyone gets a chance) – amongst these opportunities for us included visiting a mental health facility in Phoenix, Arizona and the General Atomics nuclear center in San Diego, California.
And what about the internships?
There are various internships available in the program, whereby students get to work with staff in various fields:
- External Relations & Admissions – public relations, media, admissions work, getting new students in
- Community Service (or Impact as we called them) – planning future community service works and tying them to the program syllabus
- Creative Productions – developing and organizing the weekly show/Celebration, event management, tech, performance.
- Applied Education – the Community Service group falls here, but this also applies to Regional Learning work
- Operations – Advance Work (travelling to a tour city one week in advance and setting up there), Bus Team (coordinating weekly travel), City Coordination Team (daily announcements in the morning)
When I was travelling, we had a dedicated Project Time 3 hours a week for internships and classes (the Operations internships worked differently). In the new program, I think the Project Times will differ slightly – some people may work on an internship while others do community service, for example.
How many internships can you do?
In my semester, there were 2 rounds, with each round lasting half a semester. Theoritically you could do 2 different internships, or just do the same one twice. You could also use a round as a Special Project time. The Operations internships work differently, so you could be an Operations intern while being some other intern too.
What's a Special Project?
Special Projects are basically projects developed by the students themselves. There's a wide variety of projects based on the student's ingenuity – our semester had a Language Exchange, an in-house magazine, me trying to do NaNoWriMo (that didn't work quite so well), business discussions, prep work for future countries, feedback collection, a documentary, and loads more.
Some Special Projects are worked on during Project Time; others, such as organizing a get-together or doing a one-time thing, are worked on some other time. In the new program, there will be some time provided for personal projects, so (unlike before) Special Projects and internships shouldn't be clashing.
What sort of project can I do?
Anything! As long as it's not illegal and doesn't harm anyone, feel free to start up your own project, or work together with other crew members for a group project. Self-developed projects are highly encouraged and supported in Up With People.
How's the performance like this time? Still a major musical?
Not quite that big. Every week, at the end of the week, there will be a Celebration – an hour-long (ish) performance and event to bring everyone together. The performance includes music, singing, dancing, sign language, multimedia, acting, public speaking, and a host of other things brought in by the crew – ours had a fashion show and Korean drums.
The Celebrations also include some time after the show for mingling, admissions presentations, interviews, and sometimes a World Expo, which showcases the talents and productions of the crew (this was when our fashion show and Korean drums, amongst others, came in).
In our time they were free – I think they still may be, though there are plans for some Celebrations to be benefit concerts, to raise funds for a local charity or community organization.
EDIT: Here is some new info courtesy of the Premiere. The show will now have two extra elements:
- A Culture Jam, which showcases the cultures of the cast members – in our Premiere we had a swing dance, a Moroccan song, a "Europe" dance (with an Argentinian song), and a Japanese song. This will change according to the representative cultures of the crew members.
- Added involvement of the community. The focus of the shows now are on the local communities – highlighting the great things they do. Community groups will be invited on stage – to perform, to talk about their activities, to promote themselves. They will be able to set up booths during the performance day too. In the Premiere, we had two local Moroccan performers, the Words Can Heal group (with the Boys & Girls Club), the Rocky Mountain Children's Choir, and much more.
I'm not sure if there will still be a post-show World Expo. There would be some mingling time, but nothing's planned yet activities-wise.
Who decides what happens in the Celebration?
The basic structure is developed by the Creative Productions people over at the Up With People HQ. (hello Nina, Eric and Michael!) However, there is definitely room for improvement and improvisation – for instance, in our Celebrations in Japan, we included a group Japanese song after it was suggested to add something in a different language. Also, the World Expo concept was wholly developed by the students. The Celebration aims to incorporate the talents of the crew while connecting it to their activities in the city, as well as the goals of Up With People.
Do you have to be really good at singing/dancing/juggling/[other performance skill] to be in Up With People?
Not necessarily. There isn't a tight audition process. Generally they just want people who are open and willing to learn new skills – and the show's not that hard to do really! Those who are really stage-shy can also be part of the tech crew, managing lights, sound, and video (amongst others), so there is – as one of our songs go – room for everyone.
Who do you live with?
The crew lives with host families – people in the community who house them for a week. The range of families differ – typical nuclear families, majorly extended families, single parents, gay families, missionaries, college students, anyone and everyone (as long as they're sane and safe).
Sometimes there will be more than one crew member in the house; sometimes the crew member is hosted alone. Sometimes students get hosted with staff. Once in a while (especially towards the end), the group gets to live together in a hostel. Some crew members opt to live with family or friends in certain cities, which is possible.
Does the crew get to choose their host family?
Not necessarily, and often they won't know who the host family is until they get there. This is mainly due to timing constraints and is based on how organized each city is. Sometimes crew members request a certain family (if they're connected to said family), or they would be hosted with a family that matches their interests. (The Utrecht team put me in a family whose parents worked in computing. Interestingly, both my host mum and host dad were more interested in creative arts instead. Worked out really nicely.)
Once in a while there will be requests to be hosted with a certain crew member, though it's not always a guarantee. There are special allocations made for crew members with dietary restrictions, allergies, and religious & health requirements, depending on how necessary and available it is. (So asking for a dogless house because you have an allergy to dogs is fine; asking for no pork because your religion forbids it is fine; asking for a house with Internet because you need to write weekly blog entries might not guarantee you getting what you want.)
If the host family turns out to be unsafe, or otherwise unsuitable, and there are no other options, the crew members are allowed to switch host families.
Who travels in an Up With People crew/cast?
About 50-100 young adults, aged 18-29, from all over the world, with all sorts of backgrounds. Included in this are staff members (from 20s to mid 30s), also from all over the world with all sorts of backgrounds.
What are the advantages to travelling with Up With People?
- Making friends with all sorts of people from all around the world
- Having a new home and family in 7 different countries
- Learning all sorts of new skills
- Knowing you're appreciated (our group is an especially appreciative lot)
- Developing initiative to start your own projects and ideas
- Gaining TONS of experience
- Seeing many parts of the world
- Learning more about world issues
- Having loads of fun
- Very interesting resume-booster
- Gaining confidence
- Gaining personal strength
- A broadened mind
- Being more independent
just to name a few!
Any drawbacks to joining Up With People?
There may be. The experience isn't all roses – there will be hard times too.
- An unsuitable host family
- A crew member you just can't get along with
- Lack of time
- Exhaustion and stress
- Occasional confusion – "what's going on?"
- Projects that seem pointless
- Occasional disorganization
- Culture shock
- Occasional lack of personal freedom (in Japan it seemed like every second of our life was planned, which frustrated some people)
Basically, what you get out of the program depends on how you see it. It's a matter of choice. There will be days when you're all "YAY I LOVE UP WITH PEOPLE" and some days where you'll be "ARGH I HATE THIS PROGRAM LET ME GO HOME". You really do experience just about every emotion available, and it's really up to you to make the best of what you have.
Don't despair though; there's tons of people around who are willing to help you the best they can and listen to you as much as they can.
I heard Up With People is a cult!
Ha! Not at all. (I've heard the same though, even now.)
Many people have this impression of Up With People being this squeaky-clean, "world peace and flowers and happiness" hippie idealistic group. Idealistic we can be, but we're not exactly Stepford-ish. We are such a diverse group of people with all sorts of beliefs and ideas; sometimes we don't even agree with each other. This diversity is encouraged, and flourishes in the program.
Up With People is not affiliated with any religious or political group, and they don't push any ideology on you. Rather, they encourage you to share your beliefs, learn about other's belief systems, and explore them together. Some of the most meaningful and popular service & regional learning projects included visits to mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, and even centers for Hare Krishnas and Free-Thinking Humanists to learn more about their philosophies and way of life. In my semester, we even had an afternoon where people came up and talked about their beliefs and religions, fielded questions, and held discussions.
Cultural events and holidays are also celebrated, or at least made known: some of us got to visit a mosque in Utrecht during Eid (Hari Raya Aidilfitri), and we had some Christmasy things going on. It's up to the individual crew members to share their culture and beliefs with others; everyone's willing to join in.
It's true that (in the US anyway) many Up With People events are generally held in churches. That's because they're usually free, or at least low cost. We don't get bombarded with church or Christian doctrine, though, and the type of facilities do differ – massive stages, stadiums, schools, all sorts.
Freedom of religion and belief is supported, protected, and encouraged.
EDIT: Up With People was affiliated with Moral Re-Armament, a Christian moral-values organization, during the early days. This may have accounted for the conservative, religious, "culty" feel of the earlier programs. The affiliation was broken in the 70s/80s and they went their separate ways – so the Up With People of now is quite different to the old Up With People in many ways.
Interestingly enough, Moral Re-Armament seems to be going through some changes of their own, though there are still news releases about them wanting a "God-driven" country and then trying to tie Up With People up with it. Oh well.
What happens after the program?
After the semester, everyone in the crew is automatically a member of the Up With People International Alumni Association, which is free for life. In the Alumni Association, members will be able to network with other alumni, keep up on current developments, and participate in activities such as reunions and the Community Action Project, whereby groups of alumni will travel and do community service in various regions.
There will be a Crew/Cast Representative for every crew (I'm the rep for mine) whose job is to keep in touch with everyone, update the crew on further news and developments, and organize activities and events (reunions, service projects, etc). Everyone will generally keep in touch with each other in various ways – email, Yahoogroups, websites, phone, IM, mail, anything and everything.
Some former students have gone on to be Up With People staff members – whether on the road or in the offices – while others have had interesting careers:
- Natalie Wilson, an elementary school music teacher who teachs jazz to fifth & sixth graders
- Hollywood star Glenn Close
- Singer Sherry Boyd
- Anja Adams, Assistant Director of CSI: Miami
- Tim Murtagh, New York-based web developer and gallery curator
as well as mayors, performers, creators, teachers, business people, activists, psychologists, police officers, media people, and all sorts of people. (Including, we speculate, Baljit Bhath, future Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.)
What sort of people get accepted into Up With People?
The basic requirements for joining Up With People are:
- Aged 18-29
- Completed high school
- Proficient in English (though we'd had quite a few people for whom English is a second language and they cope fine)
Other requirements include:
- Willingness to try new things
- Stamina and good health
- Good communications and leadership skills
- Interested in community service and travel
- Wants to make a difference in the world
I'm homeschooled/deschooled! Can't I join Up With People too?
Fair question, and I don't think they'd use that against you. You can always ask the Admissions people – they're good with questions and feedback.
So how do I apply?
Follow these steps:
- Go to their online application form (free last I checked)
- Fill up the form (you can take your time with this)
- Send it off
- Wait until an admissions person contacts you for an interview
- Do said interview (usually by phone or in person)
- Wait about 2-3 weeks for your results
- If accepted – congratulations! You will receive a lot of information and forms for enrollment (though you're allowed to change your mind about enrolling). Your admissions person will also be in touch with you should you need help.
- If not – it's ok, you can always try again.
Do I need to prepare anything for the application?
Not really – you don't need to prepare certificates or exam results or anything of the sort. You do need to find someone who can be a good reference for you (teacher, boss, colleague, etc) – on the form will be a section to put contact details for your referee. There are also some short essay-type questions for you to answer on the application form itself.
How many As do I need to qualify for Up With People?
It doesn't matter. They don't ask for grades; rather, they value your life experience and your willingness to grow and learn.
How much does it cost?
One semester costs US$11,800; a full year is US$19,500.
SO MUCH!?! What for?
We had to pay US$14,500 during our time, so at least it's cheaper! As large as it looks, the money goes to fund all sorts of things – housing, transportation, meals, certain activities, and the services of a full-time travelling staff. Crew members also get occasional allowances for food, transportation, and projects if needed. It actually costs more for Up With People per student than what we pay for.
Are there any scholarships?
Up With People does offer scholarships based on need and efforts to raise the money. They also provide plenty of resources to raise money, such as a scholarships guide and a list of fundraising ideas (PDF file), some of which are absolute genius. Many people have used other scholarships to pay the fees too.
When is the deadline?
Up With People works on rolling admissions; they process each application as it comes in. It's recommended that you apply between 6 – 12 months before your desired travel semester (January and July), though there have been some people that applied and got in weeks before they had to travel.
How long is a typical Up With People day?
Usually a day lasts from 9 am till 5 or 6 pm, though performance days can go up till midnight. Some days have long evenings, which last to about 9 or 10 pm, and occasionally (especially on travel days), the day starts a lot earlier.
How does the group travel?
Between cities (and countries in the case of Europe) the group travels by bus, though we have travelled by train once. Between continents, the group travels by air (economy class lah).
Will I need a student visa?
No – a tourist visa works just as well. (At least for now)
Will I get college credit?
That depends on your college. Up With People does have partnerships with Hawaii Pacific University and Carroll College to provide college credit for those that travel on the program. For other colleges, it's a case-by-case basis. Up With People can help provide syllabus information and other help should your college require material.
I'd like to be involved in Up With People, but not as a student. What can I do?
There's plenty! You can:
- Be a staff member
- Be a host family
- Donate or provide sponsorship
- Be part of the Local Organizing Committees (the people that organize the crew's work in each city)
- Be a university partner
- Spread the word!
Their Get Involved page has plenty of ideas on how to be further involved with Up With People in other various ways.
Does anyone else from Up With People have a website I could visit?
Sure! Here are some links to people I know:
I have more questions! Who do I ask?
If you want more information about Up With People, you can:
So there you have it. All you need to know about Up With People…as far as my brain allows anyway. Feel free to comment with questions, updates, comments, anything.
Up, Up With People
You meet them wherever you go
Up, up with people
They're the best kind of folks to know
If more people were for people
All people everywhere
There'd be a lot less people to worry about
And a lot more people who care!
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