Every day is full during an Up with People tour — full of travel, volunteer activities, and cultural experiences. It is an opportunity unlike any other. Twice per year, each fall and spring, young adults age 17-29 from a variety of backgrounds have the opportunity to travel the globe with our organization, bring positive change to the world and encourage others to do the same.
But what makes Up with People unique? Let's explore and breakdown how service, culture, and performance are just a glimpse of what makes Up with People different from other gap year programs.
Layering of Cultures
Cast members fully immerse themselves in the culture of the people they are visiting throughout their tour. "You build your cultural competency," says Ellen Enebo, curriculum manager, and former cast member. "It's an important life skill to have." The longer a cast is in one country, the more diverse and deeper their understanding is of the various cultures within that area. For example, the cast tours Mexico for several weeks, typically staying with a different family each week. "The experience is unmatched," she says.
Not only are our cast members exposed to the cultures of places they visit along the tour — typically, at least three countries in two regions of the world — but they are also exposed to different cultures within the group. Any given year there are approximately 20 countries represented within our cast. As they travel and live together, they learn more about one another and the culture they come from. Over the 19-week tour, cast members form a tight bond with each other. "It's the richest and most long-lasting kind of friendship," Ellen says.
Host Families and the Host Code
To enhance the gap year experience, Up with People's cast members stay with host families at each destination on the tour. While at their host family's house, members experience discussions in the native language and indulge in authentic food. When possible, our staff can even pair a cast member interested in a certain professional career with someone who works in that industry.
Up with People also has a unique way of pairing cast members to their host families. It's called the Host Code. Each host family is given a name, word, or phrase that correlates to the overall theme of the visit. A theme can be based on what the city or state is famous for, or something fun that is chosen at random. Host families can then get creative with their assignment, making artistic signs or dressing in costume. When the cast arrives, they are given the same name, word, or phrase, which helps them find their host family. "It's a fun icebreaker to meet your family," Ellen says.
Performing Music that Matters
A gap year program that incorporates performing arts the way we do is rare. "It's not just the performing arts element, it's the art with the message," says Ellen. "Music reaches people in a way that words by themselves don't."
We don't require previous music experience but rest assured, every member of our cast will be on stage performing if they travel with us. Cast members will also have the opportunity to potentially work in other areas of the production, like lighting and staging. "It's built in a way that you get to be successful on stage," Ellen says. Individuals who have experience and excel at learning the music and choreography can earn a solo or be part of the front dance line.
We also cater our show to the country we're in. At each stop along the tour, we perform a song or medley specific to that country. "It shows we care and are interested in the places we visit," she says. The main language of the show also changes depending on the country we're in. For example, in Germany, we will have a German-speaking cast member emcee the show.
At Up with People, we offer an opportunity unlike any other with the hope that each member who tours with us becomes an advocate for positive change.