This post is dedicated to 55 of the most amazing people I have ever met in my life and am so honoured to know.
One year ago today, 30th July 2005, most of us – new students on the WorldSmart August 2005 semester – met for the first time in Denver, whether at the airport or at the facility that would be our base for the next 3 weeks. Many of us had talked to each other online, through the YahooGroup or through IMs…but for many of us, this was the first time we’ve seen each other, touched each other, finally meet up with the people who previously were only just words.
I still remember the moment I arrived at Denver airport. It was around 11; I flew in from LA – I was meant to be flying in with another participant, Huning from China, but I never saw her on the plane and I think she missed her flight. I got briefly lost on the interairport train (got off the wrong stop) but eventually I made it to the arrivals hall.
At the arrival hall were a bunch of people with signs. “Up With People!” “WorldSmart Aug 05!” Nina had a clipboard to tick off names; I was the second arrival that day (Brandy was the first, and Che-Ri had arrived ages ago). Ana, Atsushi, Joanna, and Ashley were welcoming people in, chatting about the program…they had all travelled before, just very recently. It seemed to be a while before the next few people arrived, but they did: Brianne, Bally, Noelle, Jessica, Kara, Christie H. By the time Christie H arrived, a few more staff members came to take over airport duty: Laurence, Kerri-Ann, Bob, a few more. Bob saw me taking a photo with my PDA; first thing he said to me: “Already documenting the experience!”
We were driven to the airport in a van fit for a glamourbomb…sparkles, slogans, fairy dust. Chatting about birthdays and countries and technology. Getting to know each other. Arriving at the facility, we went through a circuit of paperwork (and more staff) before heading to the larger meeting room and seeing everyone else, as they came in through the day. Snacking on carrots and pretzels, checking email, playing Bingo and indoor football, first hugs, best friends already.
The beginning of an adventure.
Throughout the 18 weeks we went through a lot. People came – and went. The organization had a new CEO who came in the same week we did and was planning changes. (Hello, Tommy.) Already some were questioning the aim of the organization – go back to the past, or head for the future? “Leadership” almost became a trigger word – a trigger for mirth, largely, because the meetings we had over that one word were getting ridiculous.
We started off on a variety of community service projects – and debated on their effectiveness. We took stands and saw where other people stood (sometimes not where we expected). We dealt with people from cultures we did not understand, learning about what they understood of our culture (the facts, and the stereotypes). We had our host families – for some, like myself, their first.
Every city was a new story:
In Denver we were learning about ourselves through each other.
In Albuquerque, we first felt loss.
In Phoenix, we melted from the heat.
In San Diego, we roasted by the bonfire and shuddered by the juvenile center.
In Los Angeles, we became famous…even if just for a moment.
In Toyota, we saw the world in one event – some got to go back home without leaving.
In Maruko, we became superstars.
In Osaka, we became sardines in trains.
In Murou, we were the first sign of outside life for most of the village.
In Tokyo, we had a little taste of what was past and what was to come.
In Abiko, we were weighed for whales.
In Uthrect, we had more lectures than a uni semester.
In Antwerp, we sustained on hot chocolate and waffles.
In Koln, we were part of a circus.
In Erfurt, we took over every media possible.
In Bern, we dined on racklettes by the snow.
In Modena, we turned rehearsals topsy turvy.
In Roma, we said goodbye with a heavy heart.
Culture shock. Preshow jitters. Massage chains. Appreciation books and parties. Surprises. Movies. Chocolate. Dancing vegetables. Faith. Life philosophies. Magic. Proms Night. Temples. Photos. Art. Writing. Novels.
So much, in such a short time.
I am in awe of the people I met through the program. Artists like Nina who embody their craft. Leaders like Myoungshin who acts on change. Performers like Katie who bare their soul. Travellers like Elizabeth who call every country home. Meditators like Laurence who remain calm under pressure. Jesters like Tom who are never short of a laugh. Philosophers like Reuben who can create a life lesson out of a life moment. Educators like DeeAnn who practice what they preach. Sunshine like Jessica who are never short of the light. Everyone, with their own special magic and talent, sharing it with the rest of the crew, with the reset of the country.
To my fellow crew of the WorldSmart August 2005 semester:
Tom – Marco – Krista – Chris – Elizabeth – Danni – Peder – DeeAnn – Joyce – Irina – Nanu – Katie – Parker – Brianne – Myoungshin – Yoga – Natsuko – Rie – Rob – Marina – Melissa – Shimpei – Ticiana – Jessica – Che-Ri – Eli – Reuben – Yoko – Neshat – Laura – Ana – Kara – Bally – Yoshimi – Aya – Ah Reum – Sammy – Brandy – Celle – Hiroko – Noelle – Nina – Miho – Diana – Huning – Christie H – Cristy P – Bob – Anke – Atsushi – Laurence – Andrea – Gaby – Eston
Thank you for the best time of my life and for being the superstars that you are. I’m so honoured to be able to represent you and know you. I love you all.