Blogathon: #49 – WrapUp

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

So this is the last post for the Blogathon! After our community projects on the tour, we would get together for a wrap-up session, which allowed us to process our experiences and share what we’ve learnt. So consider this a Blogathon wrap-up.

We managed to raise (as of me writing this) $76. US$71 and AUS$5. To be honest I am slightly disappointed at the amount; my first attempt at Blogathon (well, Project-Blog), I managed to raise $137 with very minimal promotion. This time around, I promoted it everywhere – my crew list, BoG, alumni, LJ, elsewhere, tried the Blogathon games, and got very little in comparison. There is still time to donate, and Up With People takes donations year-round, so please contribute where you can!

I would like to thank the following people:

  • My sponsors – thanks for the support
  • Naoko for so graciously filling in for me when I was away
  • Sara and the bSpies for being cool monitors
  • Lorelle for being pretty much the only UWP alumni person reading and promoting this! Really great to have reconnected with you!
  • Everyone else that has read through and followed our Blogathon journey
  • Everyone that promoted me on their blogs
  • People that chatted with me online (MSN, Skype, Google Talk, IRC), whether I know you or not
  • Up With People, for being gracious and excited about the idea – I hope you’re not too disappointed with the $76!

Here’s a recap of all our Blogathon posts:

Thank you for your support and time and have a good life! Don’t forget to sponsor!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #48 – Songs Review 4

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

So very near the end! Don’t miss out your chance to get exclusive Up With People tracks just for a simple sponsorship!

With Everything Changing – another Carpenters/ballad!ABBA-esque folky song wondering if anything ever stays the same; the subject matter’s rather different from all the other songs. This is more about dealing with change and wondering if we will still be able to cope with all the changes in life. Easy listening.

I Am A Person – this is a very different Up With People song. Unlike the others (but perhaps vaguely closer to Keep The Beat), this is very dancy – almost like 80s Gloria Estefan or Paula Abdul or old-school Madonna. I’m wondering which show this is in because it’s so unlike all the other songs! This song laments about not being treated like a person but as a number, a “digital excuse”. (Perhaps the same lament school students make?) The rap is…a surprise.

El Puente – a Spanish guitar ballad, one you half-expect to hear under your window or on a gondola. I don’t understand Spanish though, so I wouldn’t be able to translate. Up With People does often sing songs in other languages – they’ve done Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Japanese, as far as I know. There’s most likely more.

Moon Rider – a guitar ballad about the world – I’m thinking from the title that this is from the perspective of someone on the Moon reporting about the Earth. It’s actually pretty poetic, and has a very theaterical feel to it by the end. Definitely a very unique Up With People song, but a very good one really. I think this was very popular too.

Where The Roads Come Together – an acapella’ed intro song, with a slight barbershop-quartet feel, about life and all the different paths people’s lives can take. Music (pop rock; drums & guitar) kicks in after the first verse. Sounds like a song to close a show with (like We’ll Be There).

Pays De Coeur / Hartelijik Land – I think this is French but I’m not sure. A theaterical ballad, with choruses; sounds to me like a girl singing a monologue about her life or the path she’s on (but I don’t speak French so I may be wrong). She may be singing to a certain place (Hartelijik?) too.

And the very special tracks…donate $50 or more and you can choose from one of the following:

Up With People 1965 – the song that started it all. A folksy banjo ditty that will make you want to do a jig (or at least it makes Michael Bowerman want to do a jig).

Up With People 1998 – the same song (possibly a verse shorter), just updated into an upbeat pop track. Notce that the occupations change as well – that’s a recurring thing.

If any of those songs appeal to you, even just for the curiosity factor, then SPONSOR SPONSOR SPONSOR! You won’t be able to get them anywhere else for a long time!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #47 – Songs Review 3

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

We’re nearly at the end! We still need sponsorships though, and as I promised, any verified and proven donations get Up With People tracks for every $20. This post and the next will give more details on the songs you can choose from:

Keep The Beat – a pop-dance song, with techno influence, that also carries the metaphor of music as humanity. The dance for this is killer difficult…and we got the easy version.

Calling Home – this is one song you’ll never find on an Up With People CD. It’s a fun Broadway-ish song about calling home during the tour – mixing and mashing styles, languages, tempos (it goes into a very slow ballad in the middle) – you name it. It was deemed too “internal” though, so it never got used in a show. But it’s such a fun song to bop to!

The other songs I haven’t heard yet, and I need to post this now, so stay tuned in 30 minutes for the last Songs Review instalment – including the two special tracks!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #46 – In The News

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

I get regular Google alerts whenever Up With People makes the news somewhere. Most of the time it’s just the string “up with people”, which doesn’t mean anything to me. Sometimes it’s something being compared to Up With People (i.e. it’s “shiny-happy-strange” reputation). Once in a while I’ll get something that is actually talking about Up With People the organization – recently there’s been a lot of press in North Platte about Up With People coming over, and there was a news article about the reunion and about a wedding between two alumni members.

One article I just got alerted about puzzled me though. Apparently Up With People caused some sort of political rift?

From the Google Alert:

REVIEW : Politicians now speak from conservative dictionary
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (subscription) – Little Rock,AR,USA
… The turning point in the war of words between liberals and conservatives came in August 1968, when the group Up With People sang at the Republican National …

What did Up With People singing at a Republican convention have to do with anything? Did they inadvertedly cause something to happen? I’ve been trying to log in, but it’s pay only and BugMeNot’s not helping.

It was really bizarre getting that alert – the Up With People is non-political. Most of my crew were of liberal leanings. Even if we had a Republican (which I’m not aware of; we did have a few socially conservative people but I don’t know their politics), it wasn’t a matter of conflict. We weren’t told to pick one side over the other. Besides, with all of us from all over the world, it won’t have worked. Just take Australia as an example – their “Liberal” party is apparently very right-wing.

Now I’m severely curious. What happened with Up With People at the Republican event that apparently caused some sort of a rift? Can someone solve the mystery?

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #42 – The Show

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Thank you Naoko for covering for me for the part hour!

I was just at a meeting for our college dorm – there’s a Dancefest happening soon and they want as many people in it as possible. They showed videos of the previous Dancefest entries (theirs and another college’s); I kept mentally comparing it to what we did in our Up With People adventures.

The show is a key part of the Up With People experience. Even during the WorldSmart days it was still consistently there – we worked hard on getting all the songs and the dances and the other things we did right. Cast P in Denver was even more immersive and strenuous – we had to learn about 10-15 different songs and 5-7 dances in two weeks. At least on WorldSmart we had 18 weeks to work kinks out.

The WorldSmart Celebration performance and the Cast P performance were very different. The WorldSmart one was smaller, not quite as polished; it was mainly a bunch of kids having fun. It was a lot simpler, and also a lot more abstract in places – we had quite a number of interpretive dances, and a good amount of acting.

The Cast P one was a lot more musical – more songs, with the dances accompanying the songs – there were only two songs that were just dances, and one of them was only performed by 4 people. Even “Go Daddy-O”, which is just that line over and over again, had some singing. Cast P didn’t have any acting or pantomime, unlike the WorldSmart show. Of course, Cast P also had involvement from outside performers, which WorldSmart didn’t have – so the WorldSmart celebrations felt more intimate in a way.

I noticed a stark difference between the WorldSmart Celebration and the Cast P show in terms of rehearsal. The WorldSmart crew weren’t too hung up on being “perfect”. We just did our best, laughed when we goofed, relaxed a bit more. We didn’t hang everything on the show; some nights were not as good as others, but we let those go. In contrast, the Cast P crew seemed to be very concerned with making the show perfect – even though the main teaching crew (such as Michael Bowerman, who handled vocals) emphasized that he’d rather see energetic flaws than stoic perfection. Still, there were people so preoccupied with making everything correct that it affected the energy a little.

Energy is the one thing that brings all the shows together. It can make or break a show. It’s the force that keeps all the performers moving, motivated, motivating the audience. Our job there was to inspire the audience, to show them different cultures, to share the world; we needed energy to do that.

Some people may question the need for a musical element in Up With People. Why hang on to the past? What’s the point? Well, as is often said, music is the universal language; just the tone of voice and the keys of the music can say a lot about mood and meaning. What more the words and the dances!

Also, it is a great community activity; the whole town comes together to see something they’ve probably never seen and will never see again, and they get to share in the magic for once. We saw this very strongly during the WorldSmart tour; it was the smallest cities, like Murou, that gave the biggest support. They were still not jaded from constant similar entertainment, unlike bigger cities like Tokyo or LA; performances like these were like magic to them, and everyone craved magic. We all do.

If you’re ever in an Up With People host city, please come by to watch! We love audiences and we get such a buzz from being there. Be responsive too – applaud, laugh, clap along. Interactive audiences are the best audiences. And the best thing? We’re still down-to-earth, so you won’t need to go through bodyguards to get photos or autographs! 😉

The show, the rehearsals, even the backstage Huddle (my most FAVOURITE part of the whole program); all of them are so much fun, so energizing, and such good bonding activities. Do come by and share your support!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #35 – Songs Review 2

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Here are more reviews of the Up With People songs I have on offer in exchange for sponsorships and donations:

Does It Really Matter? – Listening to it right now. It’s one of a handful of songs that reference or sample Martin Luther King’s speech. The lead is very exaggerated and dramatic, like he’s acting a role. The song’s about whether race or skin colour should determine your character. (I think there’s a few songs released about the same time, since there’s quite a few songs with the “does your skin colour matter” theme.) Theaterical.

We Are Many, We Are One – about diversity: different cultures, different places, but all equal. Sounds like those old-time TV sitcom jingles, like “Brady Bunch” or the sitcom Michael J. Fox was in when he was younger.

Give The Children Back Their Childhood – another Carpenters-esque (or ballady ABBA) song urging the world to think of the kids when it comes to war and strife. Has a very war-protestor feel to it.

Standing On Up – also mentions the Lord, which suits the style – very gospel. Another Martin Luther King song, so you can figure out what it’s about by now.

Room For Everyone – a contemporary, pop-py song about diversity; we’re all different but there’s still room for everyone to live together. One of the few songs where you can’t really tell which era it’s made in (seriously. A lot of Up With People songs you can tell right off the bat when it was made. It personifies the era.).

Rhythm Of The World – this one samples MLK’s speech, as well as a few other pop-culture things. The lyrics’ gone through a lot of changes, but it’s generally about how human diversity can be compared to an orchestra; we are all different instruments. There’s a long drum instrumental in the middle because during the show, the MC steps in and gets the audience to clap to the different rhythms; there is also an African chant in there.

Beat of the Future – similar to Rhythm Of The World in using music as a metaphor for humanity. Sounds like late 80s rocks.

Unspoken Words – This song, if released to radio now, has the best chance of being a commercial hit. A contemporary pop-rock song about body language; often performed with sign language and intepretive dance (very pretty to look at). The singer sounds like a rock-ier Clay Aiken; maybe he should cover this one.

More songs coming up – and OK OK, I’ll get back to proper posts in a bit.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #34 – Songs Review

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

If I’m going to be offering songs for donations, I might as well tell you what the songs are about! So here’s the first set of the Songs Review:

Ayiko – an African-influenced, very upbeat song about working together as a community (“Ayiko” means “to pull together”). The metaphor used is one of a fishing village, catching and sharing the fish together. In the original show, Roads, this was the name of the youth group in the center of the story. A fun groovy song.

It Takes A Whole Village – another African-inspired song, but a lot more laidback and slower. It’s basically about the proverb “It takes a whole village to raise a child” – how communities should, again, work together for the common good. The version we performed in Denver in April is more upbeat and fun – has a jungley vibe to it. The one I have is the original.

One 2 One – no this is not a Prince song! The song tells a few stories about people helping each other in circumstances where others may just ignore them. (pulling a man up from the street, for example.) A ballad, often perfomed with sign language during the chorus.

Can We Sing A Song Of Peace? – another ballad, more of a “power ballad”, asking about whether we’ll ever see peace in this lifetime.

Live It Live – I’m listening to it now for the first time! About living life (think those “high on life” adages). Has a Beatlesque/Fleetwood Mac vibe to it (akin to the songs from that era). Positive and upbeat.

We’ll Be There – one of those ballads you use to close a show for strong effect (that was what we did for the Denver show). The power builds up over time, and the choirs are let loose by the end. Very hopeful; if you see it live you may go “whoa” by the end.

What Colour is God’s Skin? – also listening to it now for the first time. Probably the only UWP song that’s really “religious” due to references to God. A piano-based song, almost Carpenters-like, about a boy who asks his mum “what colour is God’s skin?”. The idea is that “everyone’s the same in the Good Lord’s eyes” – all humans are equal. Apparently this song’s really popular.

More song reviews coming soon!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #33 – Oh The Memories

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

I just got this in my Google Alerts: Simon Gade’s photos of the current UWP tour. Simon is one of the road staff on tour with Cast A this year.

I travelled with some of the people in the photos…DeeAnn, Danni…helped Kerri-Ann our in April…sigh, sweet memories. I wish I was there (at least to figure out what’s with the piratey costumes!).

Also check out Gaby’s blog at MacGaby.NL. He too is a staff member and I travelled with him last year. Such a sweetheart. He and I were the two geeks in the crew!

Oh, the memories.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #32 – What I Strive For 2

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

The link led to a website for the “WorldSmart Leadership Program”, which I gathered at the time to be an off-shoot of Up With People. The website advertised international travel, community service, and leadership training. Googling Up With People turned up information on their history of big musicals related to culture and peace and understanding. I had read on their website about something called a “Celebration”. Two and two were put together. I immediately applied.

My parents thought I was crazy. They weren’t paying for it! It’s US$14,500, that’s ridiculous! Why do I want to do such crazy things?! I needed Dad’s credit card to pay the $50 application fee they had at the time. My dad told me “this is a waste of time”.

I did get frustrated but I didn’t want them to stop me. Something inside me was feeling very determined about making it to this program, making a dream come true, earning something. I wrote letters to everyone I could think of that could give me money. None was forthcoming. I didn’t stop.

I remember being in Dhaka for a family visit. The stress of finding funding was getting to me. I wasn’t getting anywhere with the money and was at a loss for ideas. I ended up having a panic attack, the first in a long while; the stress was too much. The next day my dad called and said he’ll pay if I get in. Perhaps a relief, but I wish it didn’t take a panic attack to get that response. (My mum later tells me that my dad was willing to pay all this while. Why give me grief about it then?!)

The interview took place the day after college restarted. I couldn’t really care much about college at that point. The WorldSmart program was taking up my energy. I waited anxiously for a response. 3 weeks passed before I looked into my mailbox one night and saw a letter from Up With People. I tore it open outside my apartment block. I couldn’t believe it.

I was accepted.

The next day was full of joyous excitement and random yelling at people on the phone and online. FINALLY! I succeed at something! I earned something! Now it was time to prepare. Oh all the things we had to do…visas, paperwork, insurance, tickets, packing, it went on and on. I applied for deferment from college since I was taking a semester off to do this program. I wasn’t sure if I’ll be back, I thought I would be.

The week before I was supposed to leave, I was one of the 50 top students who were told that one of our essays needed a rewrite NOW. AFTER we already have our marks. I asked why. The lecturer said that due to a lack of in-text referencing in certain pages, my paper was “too risky”.

That’s when I knew I was never going back to that college.

I randomly added a reference here and there and sent it off. I didn’t care anymore. I have this amazing world trip ahead of me and I’m not going to let anything stop me. So we packed (at the last minute), went off to KL, and I said goodbye to my family to board the plane to the USA…

I felt myself change.

It was an amazing, amazing trip. I travelled with 55 of the most awesome people on the planet; people who inspire me, who bring so much awe. I got to do things I never thought I’d do. I got to explore so many places. I befriended all sorts of people. I got to perform – yes! the dealmaker! I got to learn so so much about so so much. And yes, there were down days. There always will be. But those down moments were so worth it, because the whole trip itself was fantastic.

It was not a waste of time. It was everything I ever wanted. It was all my dreams come true. It was perfect.

I got into a bit of a crisis when I came back. Now what? After some checking and talking, I decided to take up a job in KL – mainly to get money to fly to Denver in April to volunteer for an Up With People relanunch. I applied for an Up With People job. The tradeoff with the parents was that if I don’t get this job, I’ll go back to university. I picked Australia, mainly because they deemed America too expensive and I deemed it too confusing.

I got to go to Denver. But I didn’t get the job.

It was a blessing in disguise in a way; the job eventually disappeared due to budget cuts. But at the time I was very upset. The one thing that makes me happy…and I can’t have it anymore? Will I ever have the chance? What did I sign away my life to?

But apparently I had promised before I left for WorldSmart that I would finish university. I don’t remember making that promise. But I had not much of an option.

I went to Denver in April and had a grand time. I volunteered in their office for a week; then and there I knew that this was definitely the place I want to be. Perfect atmosphere, everyone was friendly and helpful, it’s all just right. Too bad it’s now the place I wasn’t to be in. The show itself was tons of fun – performing is such a thrill. And it was such a huge audience, I don’t know how we pulled it off.

Right now I am sitting in my dorm room in Australia. Part of me is wondering why am I even here. I know where I’d rather be but where I’d rather be won’t take me now. I’m taking classes that are way over my head so that I could take the classes that would most help me in a future UWP job (and also because I was told I’d be good in logistics). Part of me wonders if I will get that happiness again.

And it still keeps on wondering. But in the meantime, I’ll still keep on doing my research. Because you never know what you may find.

What do I strive for, then? Originality. Community. Understanding. Creativity. Acceptance. Love. Happiness. Dreams Come True.

I strive to be me.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #31 – What I Strive For

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

The Blogathon front page has this question now:

What do you most strive for in your life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?

Let me explain this by writing a little bit about how I got involved in alternative education.

School was a mixed bag of experiences for me. On the one hand, there were some good times. On the other hand, those “good times” were vastly overshadowed by the terrible experiences I had – being an ultimate minority, facing racism, being ostracised because this “lain-lain” (“other”; i.e. not Malay, Chinese, or Indian) somehow did better in exams than the rest of the school population. I started being apathetic towards academics – what’s the point in trying to score straight As if you get hated for it? I was scoring them anyway, without even trying.

I love to learn. Even now. I loved reading – I taught myself – I love computers, I love science museums, I love exploring and finding out things and learning things. However, I did not enjoy school’s idea of “learning” – rote, restricted, standardized. Barely room for creativity. Think out of the box and you get told off. No encouragement, only belittlement.

Secondary school was marginally better. There were a few teachers that recognized my potential and encouraged me to go further (I would like to acknowledge one here: Ms Navinder Kaur. Thank you so much for everything. You rock.) and I kept myself busy with various activities – debate, choral speaking, English club, etc etc. Things took a turn for the worse when, in my final year, I was diagnosed with panic disorder and depression. I had panic attacks at random and sometimes had to skip school. The headmistress was symphatetic, but not the other admins; they all thought I was making it up, that it as all “in my head”. No one really cared. All they wanted was grade cattle. I was top of the class, without taking extra tuition (useless, anyway) and I’m told that I’d be so much better if I showed up. Yeah right.

I was in the Humanities class in Form 4 and 5, and seeing how the Humanities students were treated made me even more cynical of the Malaysian school system. We were treated like nothing. Dunderheads. Too stupid for Science. (I was offered a place in the Science Stream but wanted Literature instead; I was told that I was “wasting my As”.) No one cared about us. One other girl was going through hysteria and had to move schools temporarily. ne teacher’s response? “I hope she doesn’t take her exam here, she’ll bring down our perfect score.”

All this over an exam that becomes immediately useless! I took a month off before the SPM exams – I would have taken the exams off too, but my parents insisted that I just get it done and over with. I got 5 As. Top of my class. Any honour? No. I’m not Miss Straight A, I’m not a Science student, who cares? Even my friends in the Science stream stopped talking to us as soon as they got their results. Strange and pathetic.

I knew I wasn’t in top condition to go straight to college – and I didn’t want to. The only reason I ever applied in college to begin with was to appease the parents. I initially got a half-year off; I wasn’t completely happy but what could I do? I took dance lessons and travelled to the US for an American Idol concert: it was there that my dad called, said that due to construction issues it may be better for me to defer to the next year. I wasn’t too happy at him (NOW you tell me) but eventually I was happy with the decision: I have my year! I travelled more, joined a young journalists’ group, did a radio DJ course, and basically relaxed for the first time in 11 years. I even came off medication too.

I entered college but spent a lot of my time and energy outside the classroom. I interviewed the Malaysian PM and the Leader of the Opposition Party, I volunteered with Amnesty International, I got highly involved with the Student Clubs. I was busy, busy, busy!

I also tried my luck at various auditions: Akademi Fantasia (Fame Academy). Malaysian Idol. Neither came to fruition. One audition I was hoping to pass was for Nescafe’s Kickstart, a TV show that provides seed money for your own projects. I wanted to be a travelling writer. I didn’t hear from anyone afterwards. I saw the finalists being filmed in my college. I knew then that I didn’t get in. I also was a semifinalist for a radio DJ competition, and was a strong contender…but was outvoted by the 3rd day.

I was feeling very frustrated. So many opportunities escaped from me (not just TV things). Will I ever pass an audition for once? I knew in my heart that I was looking for something extraordinary. Something out-of-the-box, creative, unusual, interesting, one-of-a-kind. I had long harbored a dream to be a exchange student (I applied to be one but got rejected at 16) and the dream was coming back. I needed to get out there. But I didn’t know where to start.

I asked around online for ideas of programs, activities, things I could look at and try. I was willing to consider anything and everything. One day I got this LJ comment in my mailbox…

I have friends who travelled with Up With People and they had the time of their life! It sounds just like your kind of thing!

So I clicked on the link…and everything changed.

Part 2 of this story is coming next post.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #29 – The People I Know 2

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Thank You buffra! – Sponsor Me

Here’s some more highlights of the superstars that are my WorldSmart August 2005 crew:

Eli is from Ecuador but is based in Jordan now. She, like Myoungshin and Elizabeth, is also working with the United Nations, and I think she too is developing leadership programs. She’s very passionate with world issues, especially international conflict: lately, she’s been sending in her thoughts about the Lebanon-Israel crisis and how the Middle East is coping with it from her point of view. She’s also a very talented dancer, and has a very strong sense of grace.

Reuben pretty much named our group. Halfway through the tour, he taught us a Singaporean cheer, the crux of it being “Solid Solid We So Solid” (we’re reliable). Somehow he singlehandedly managed to get people from 27 countries all singing in Singlish. Thanks to him, we are now the WeSoSolid crew. The name isn’t his only contribution though; he has an amazing talent of turning even the simplest moment into a life lesson. Whenever he is City Coordinator (handling the morning meetings) he will always close off with some bits of philosophy he gathered from watching a waterfall, or something. Such a sweet guy.

Andrea is from Puerto Rico (but is based in the US now) and seemed to be the quitest person in our group. She would often sit alone, listening to her iPod in solitude, instead of hanging out with others. I suppose being one of the youngest people in the crew had a bit of a toll on her. However, she is making quite an impact her own way. She’s very interested in modelling, and last we heard she won a modelling contest organized by Seventeen magazine. I think she’ll be the one person who will take us completely by surprise by our next reunion in 2010.

Sammy is one girl that took us all completely by surprise during the program. She started off being very quiet and shy; she found a best friend in Rie, and hung on to her a lot. By about a couple of months she slowly came out of her shell and became more involved; she was getting into the spirit of the program. When we were in Japan, we added “Shima Uta” to our songlist, and she becamse our lead singer for that – which boosted her confidence some, especially since she joined Up With People for the music. When we were in Osaka, she took the week off and went home; she came back and she was a changed person. Her tight curls were now sleek straight hair, and her confidence and self-esteem went through the roof. Such a transformation! We got to see the real her – fun, funny, energetic, sweet, enthusiastic. Who know someone could change so much in such relatively little time!

Miho is someone I’d call a “cili padi” (a type of chilli). They may be small, but they pack quite the punch! Her aim in life is to combine the best of business and non-profits and find ways of bringing them together, to find the methods that work and share them with each other. She was in the process of taking tests for a business job during our tour and passed them all – go girl! She’s very friendly and enthusiastic and has a very strong sense of spirit. I think she will save the world someday with her business methods.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $76 – Sponsors: 6 – Thank You buffra! – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #24 – Re-Entry Shock

Sponsor Me – Raised: $61 – Sponsors: 5 – Thank You Anon1 and Anon2! – Sponsor Me

Lorelle suggested I write more about re-entry shock – “culture shock” that happens when you go back home after your long trip (whether with Up With People, or some other study abroad program, or some form of international travelling). I briefly mentioned it in the Culture Shock entry but it is something worth mentioning on its own.

So you’ve been out of your hometown for a while. You’ve gone through the culture shock cycles a few times and you’re used to it. You’re enjoying your travels, but now it’s time to go home. Or maybe you’re not enjoying your travels and you really want to go home. Either way, home’s for you.

You think “oh, it’s home, something familiar, I’ll be fine”, right? Think different. You might surprise yourself with the amount of shock you feel upon re-entry. Suddenly the country feels very different. People aren’t what you remembered them to be. The food doesn’t taste as nice. Everything’s suddenly different. What changed?

You.

Of course, it’s not just you. Life back home doesn’t sit in a vaccuum waiting for you to return. It moves on, and in moving on a lot of things would change. Personal issues, nationwide issues, politics, the environment…so many things. You won’t have been able to gradually adjust to the change; it’s all sudden for you. Like an overnight swap.

But you’ve also done a lot of adjusting. Through all those travels you have internally adapted to the cultures you were in, living their lives, sharing their souls. You may not have noticed it, but they have influenced you…so now, when you return, it feels like you really just left home.

I had a horrible re-entry experience. My family came to pick me up at Rome after my tour. First mistake. It was too sudden a transition, like I was rudely awakened from a pleasureable dream. The family insisted on sight-seeing; I was very moody and exhausted, and I already went to all the same places the day before anyway, but I had no choice but to trail them along. I was already going through the stages of grief and was on the brink of tears; my sister told me not to cry because it didn’t look nice.

A week after we reached home, we were visited by my cousin and his family. I was going through major jetlag so I wasn’t really awake when they were (I slept till mid-afternoon) and I couldn’t really entertain them because I had no energy left.

A week after that, we went to Dhaka for another cousin’s wedding…TORTURE. Her wedding was actually pretty cool; however, it was just too many relatives at one go, too much to process. I still hadn’t processed my Up With People tour, never really got to think about it, and now I had to deal with hundreds of people (I come from a large family). My mum wanted me to stay for 3 weeks, even though the wedding was over by the first week…in retrospect I should have listened to my instincts and said “No”, and come home. Instead, I spent most of my time on MSN, chatting to one of my crew mates as we built our crew website together. It was the only way I could cope.

Some people deal with re-entry shock better than others. Being a frequent long-term traveller may help, though it’s not a guarantee. We all have our own coping mechanisms. What’s important is that we take care of our own needs – re-entry shock can be quite a disturbance to all our systems (mental, physical, emotional) and not having enough time and space to process and work through the changes will only harm you in the long run.

It could take years, it could take minutes. Whatever it is, deal with it like you would culture shock anywhere else – keep yourself busy, stay healthy, get some rest, talk to someone. Take care of yourself. Once you’ve back in balance you’re ready to take on home – and the world – again.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $61 – Sponsors: 5 – Thank You Anon1 and Anon2! – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #23 – How Else To Help Up With People?

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me

There are more ways to help out Up With People, not just through monetary donations! Here’s how:

Apply as a student – Up With People aims to have around 100 people per cast starting 2007 – that could be between 200-400 people for the whole of ’07. To do that they need people to apply! Just go to their application form, fill it up, and send it in! It’s free to apply. Fees are US$11,800 for a semester and US$19,500 for a year, which includes internal transport (plane, bus, train, etc), lodging, meals, opportunities, staff services, and a lot more. Scholarships are also available so don’t worry about the price tag! It’s cheaper than a lot of similar programs anyway, but such a great deal.

Come to the show – Up With People needs audiences for their weekly Celebrations/shows. Most of these will be benefit concerts, with all proceeds going to a local charity. If you are in the following cities during these dates, keep an eye out for an Up With People cast near you:

North America

Denver, CO July 8 – Aug 6

North Platte, NE Aug 7 – Aug 13
Kansas City, KS Aug 14 – Aug 20
Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN Aug 21 – Aug 27
Mankato, MN Aug 28 – Sept 3
Sioux Falls, SD Sept 4 – Sept 10
Waukesha/Milwaukee, WI Sept 11 – Sept 17

Asia
Omura, Nagasaki, Japan Sept 18 – Sept 24
Ueda, Nagano, Japan Sept 25 – Oct 1

Suita, Osaka, Japan Oct 2 – Oct 8
Uda, Nara, Japan Oct 9 – Oct 15
Toyota, Aichi, Japan Oct 16 – Oct 22
Tama, Tokyo, Japan Oct 23 – Oct 29

Europe
Bruxelles, Belgium Oct 30 – Nov 5
Nijmegen, Netherlands Nov 6 – Nov 12

Rostock, Germany Nov 13 – Nov 19
Köln, Germany Nov 20 – Nov 26
Bern, Switzerland Nov 27 – Dec 3
Modena, Italy Dec 4 – Dec 10

Be a host family – being a host family lets you host some Up With People students (you can choose how many) and teach them about your life while letting them teach you about theirs! It’s a very rewarding experience and often you will end up being family anyway! All you’ll need to provide is a week’s worth of lodging, evening meals, transport to and fro the facilities (or at least assistance with it) and packed lunches for travel days. One day each week is a designated Host Family day, for you and your host kids to get together. You don’t have to be a “family” – previous host families included gay couples, singles, students, cohabitants, housemates, young adults, and so many others! If you’re interested, check out the Host Family page for more information and contact details.

Be a community partner – the host cities are run by LOCs (Local Organizing Committees), which manage Up With People’s arrival into the city and arrange for their activities, facilities, and so on. Typical LOCs consist of a coordinator, an Up with People alumni, city government, sponsor, media, education and community partner. This is completely voluntary, but very interesting – you’ll get to meet regularly and arrange the arrival of people from all over the world! Make your city famous! Their LOC page has more information.

Be a corporate sponsor – corporations and companies today have Corporate Social Responsiblity, which makes sure that the corporation gives back to the community and to society. Here’s one way for your company to do just that! Up With People is looking for corporate sponsors for future tours – one major sponsor of theirs has been Toyota, which even publicizes Up With People in their Aichi showhouse! Here’s more information on corporate sponsorship.

Be a university/college partner – Up With People is constantly looking out for opportunities to make it easier for college students to participate in their program. Currently they have agreements with Hawaii Pacific University and Carroll College to grant full credit for specific courses based on their Up With People participation. They are also looking for university affiliates, who will help promote Up With People and coordinate students’ interest and preparation. More information on being a University/College partner

Donate resources – Are you a restaurant willing to feed 80 hungry youths? Got some space in a building you can lend for a week? If you think you can contribute something in kind, please contact Up With People! They’d really appreciate it! Check out the Donate page and contact Linda Farley at the address given.

There are plenty of ways to help out Up With People, not just through donations. However, that doesn’t mean I’m not still looking for sponsorships…so SPONSOR ME!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #21 – Life Philosophies

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me

One very memorable Community Impact project we did during my WorldSmart tour was in Antwep, Belgium. Called “Life Philosophies”, this project had us exploring different faiths by visiting their houses of worship and talking to them about what they believe in.

We started off with a Holocaust detention center (one step away from a gas chamber), where the guide became an SS agent and randomly yelled abuse at us in German so we could understand what it was like. Pretty harrowing as it is – now consider that one person in our group was German, and understood every word and its implication. I don’t know how she coped. I saw a bouquet of flowers near the shooting grounds and I broke down in tears.

We spent lunch in a Hare Krishna center (which puzzled a lot of people), and then split up – one group went to see a Buddhist temple, another group (mine) went to an Islamic community center. We talked with some young men from Morroco about religion and nationality and personal issues. They were fun; very friendly. Even got a tour of the mosque they were building! Not quite like the Malaysian domes, you won’t even have known it was a mosque if you saw it from the outside, but it’s the intent that matters when it comes to prayer.

The second day, while the first group went to a Catholic church, our group went to a Freethinking Humanists center. The discussion got pretty interesting very quickly: our guide insisted that believing in God was already a form of manipulation, and we couldn’t get a clear answer over how just believing in something means you’ve been manipulated (and who by). We talked about beliefs, our own experiences, and Humanist thought. After that, we all went to a Jewish synagogue and learnt about Judaism; a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me, since anything remotely Jewish is forbidden back in Malaysia. And it turns out that the humanist, the priest, and the synagogue lady (argh…can’t remember what her title is) all know each other and meet up regularly, which made it even more fascinating.

That CI project left an impression on me. Rarely do we ever get the chance to honestly explore other faiths just for the sake of knowledge and curiosity. If anyone wants to visit the religious home of another faith, they are accused of being an apostate, of being a traitor (at least that’s the impression I seem to get back home). It amazed me that in Europe anyone can enter a mosque regardless of faith: in Malaysia you won’t be let into the grounds. Back in Malaysia there are tussles over freedom of religion and interfaith commissions – here’s a beautiful example of how it all works, how different faiths may not necessarily agree with each other but live in harmony and make the effort to LEARN about each other’s beliefs without judgement…why can’t we have this?

Many people believe that Up With People is a religious organization. (This may have something to do with them being affiliated with Moral Rearmament for a while during the 60s and 70s.) Up With People is religiously neutral – they never ask for your religion, and they never push any religion on you.

In our crew we had Christians (of all flavours – including one Mormon), Muslims, Jews, UUs, Buddhists, Shintoists, Sikhs, Hindus, Pagans, people with one-of-a-kind philosophies, atheists, and those with “their own beliefs”. We all practiced our faith freely, with no pressure from anyone. We were welcome to share them – indeed, in Murou some of us had a chance to talk about our faiths – and allow others into our religious life if we wanted, but there was no coercion, no force.

Sure, we had quite a number of churches as facilities. That’s because they’re usually free. We even performed in one (pretty interesting – mainly because it was a tiny stage). I’ve lived in host families that shared their faiths with me – I went to two different churches with two different host families in the USA, and I lived in a temple owned by a family in Japan. It’s a great way to explore other religions firsthand; the energy is the same anywhere.

Everytime I visit a religious place (especially in Japan where temples are everywhere) I say a prayer, regardless of what faith it is. The energy is the same. It’s all an expression of hope and faith and mercy and request. Positive vibes. All very powerful.

Up With People, while not being religious in the slightest, became very spiritual; our shared rituals and faiths became nourishment for our souls, symbiotically exchanging personal power.

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me

Blogathon: #19 – The People I Know

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me

Earlier I had posted a tribute to my WorldSmart August 2005 crew for our one-year anniversary. My crew consists of some of the most amazing people I have ever known; people with dreams, with ambitions, with goals. Here’s a sampling.

Katie is an aspiring performer and filmmaker based in California. She’s very vocal about women’s rights – she had been involved in a book project, “Women in Shadow and Light”, about women who survived rape and domestic abuse. She’s also constantly updating us on her new adventures in showbiz and entertainment. During our tour she filmed us all for a documentary she was making. She manages to pack so much into so little time – singing, production for MTV, women’s rights work, SKG work, and loads more. She’ll be running a marathon for charity soon – I don’t have the link with me now but I’ll share it when I get it.

Elizabeth defines the word “traveller”. This half-Italian half-English lady spent most of her educational life travelling – before coming on Up With People she was in Spain for her Masters. After Up With People she was accepted into the Peace Boat as an English/Spanish teacher, and travelled all over the Southern Hemisphere with people from all over the world, exploring cultures and sharing her knowledge. She would regularly send us updates from her diary that she kept while on the boat – her writings have the spirit of a gypsy, contemplating her travels, seeing the magic that lies behind every step and turn. I don’t think she’ll stop travelling and I hope she never does.

Eston came into Up With People fresh out of MIT with plans for opening a leadership school in his native Kenya. He was quite the funny guy, with his ideas and his way of interacting with people. After Up With People he worked in the World Bank for a while, but a day or two ago he just wrote to us saying that he’s started work on his dream. Now this is a guy with passion.

Myoungshin was full of ideas and plans during our Up With People tour. He and Eston started Project Kaizen, which aimed to analyze Up With People’s strengths and weaknesses – their findings led to some of the changes that affect Up With People today. He was constantly analysing, relating our experiences to what’s going on in the world, giving ideas on how we can make a difference. He’s worked as a peacekeeper in the UN and is now there working on leadership programs. I think he can take over the world if he wanted to!

Bally is the upcoming Prime Minister of Great Britain. Mark my words, she will be. She took no nonsense and looked for the real story behind everything; she wasn’t prepared to take things at face value. She’s very honest; if there’s something she’s not happy about, she’ll say it, but she’ll also say it if there’s something she’s quite happy with. She was a video intern during our tour and was always seen with a camera; she definitely made us all look good on film! She’s very trustworthy and fair; I’m sure that when she gets her Politics career started (that is what she’s interested in) she will be a hit with her constituents.

Jessica is the human personification of sunshine. Literally. She GLOWS no matter what the situation. Even when she’s sad she’s shining. She’s the only person I know who can make a migraine sound happy. She has the purest soul of anyone I know. She’s willing to help out and reach out to someone in trouble. She’s never judgemental of anybody; she regards everyone as beautiful in their own right. She turns rainclouds into rainbows. She sees the best in every situation and doesn’t let anything get her down. She’s an AMAZING singer, and she loves working with kids; during the program she had an epiphany to take up music therapy. I’m sure she’ll shine!

There are so many amazing stories of the people in my crew; perhaps I’ll share more if I have the time. They rock!

Sponsor Me – Raised: $36 – Sponsors: 3 – Sponsor Me