Six months ago, I wrote on this blog about my son, Jeremy’s, departure for his Up With People (UWP) adventure.
Well, he had an adventure all right. A life-changing one. I’m going to give you a glimpse of his experience from a letter the students have written for all their parents. It’ll give you an idea not only of what they did, but who they became. (Here’s a pic of Jeremy in Japan with some of the local kids):
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and again and again: if you know anyone (or if you are anyone) between the ages of 18 and 29 who has the slightest inkling that they’d like to become a true, involved citizen of the world, tell them about this program.
By the way, Jeremy is leaving again on January 3 for the next UWP tour. This time he’s on staff.
I told you: life-changing.
Here’s the letter. It’s a little long but well worth the read. And, to me, it not only describes a great experience but captures the joyful spirit of the holidays as well:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Soon I will be returning home from probably the longest, yet the shortest 6 months of my life. I’m glad I got to do it on my own, experience new and totally different things, and yet, in a way, I wish you had been with me this whole time. Being home will be a hard adjustment for me; I won’t kid you about that. You see… in Up With People I’m working for my own self, and yet, none of us would feel right unless we were all working together. And it’s a scary feeling to be alone again. So, please understand if I start crying for no reason at all. It might be that I will miss someone, or that even though we complained every day about the long hours of strenuous work, my body may yearn to do everything all over again.
I can’t forget the times we really pulled together… like in North Platte Nebraska, having to say goodbye to two of our band members that had to leave the cast and then gathering ourselves together in that very first city on the road on show day to give a great performance to a completely sold out auditorium. Or perhaps when we just arrived in Europe after a long travel day and had a room full of eager alumni awaiting to impress with the new Up with People. Of course, there were many other days we thought we could never live through if it wasn’t for each other.
Yes, while at home, I might seem to begin crying for no reason at all but I hope you understand that there is a reason…
At other times, however, I may go to the opposite extreme. I suddenly may begin laughing after 15 minutes of complete silence, daydreaming about all those silly little things we used to do… like remembering Tyler holding the disco ball for over an hour at the dance in that Japanese university, or seeing the staff make their “pirates” or “kung fu-ninjas” skits to announce interns and assistants, or seeing Joern and Danni make their announcements using helium balloons. Seeing Kenzo slide on the giant banana spilt or remembering some of the crazy stuff that people did in our one and only expression session in Rostock, Germany… Yes, we have “eleventy billion” experiences inside us all, but you know Mom and Dad, it’s hard explaining what Up With People is. Where do I start? What do I tell you? It’s so much rolled into one. Maybe I can explain myself better if I share with you some of our times. Let’s see… What’s is Up With People?
It’s 4 weeks, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week packed full of JC and the Education team, and having some memorable speakers like Carolyn Lee and Mark Gerzen that for the cast really changed our cast culture. It’s learning the show from Nina, Mike Bowerman, Vero and Kristin. It’s walking into the Tivoli student union every day and realizing that yes, here we are in Denver in UWP!. It’s learning an African single word that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives! At times, it’s disliking the word “flexible”, and other times, being thankful that we are. It’s standing on stage with no place to hide. It’s being upset and having a fellow cast member help you through a bad time. It’s staying in a university dorm one city and a ten-bed room mansion the next. It’s sitting next to someone on the bus for the first time, having a great talk, and realizing that you’ve found a dear friend. It’s being hungry and walking up on the bus to find out that we have stopped to eat yet another ham and cheese sandwich courtesy of your host family’s sack lunch.
It’s learning than you are happy when you are busy, and sharing experiences with a family of people from 23 different countries doing thinks like learning the history of Buffalo Bill or how Asahi beer is bottled and being allowed one glass for taste testing, It’s rehearsing for hours in the cold and waiting few more hours until we got to perform during that Dakota Bowl half time and reflecting on the whole day while watching fireworks… it’s learning about the European Parliament and then having a walking tour of Brussels on high heels and suit and tie…It’s sharing tears with someone who just got bad news from home, and then going home at the end of the day and crying by yourself, whishing there was more you could do to ease the pain. It’s having your host siblings insist than they will sleep on the couch so that you can have a bed. It’s living with 89 others, all individuals, 18 hours a day, and learning tolerance, consideration, and essentially how to get along.
It’s sometimes feeling sorry for your self, not understanding why people don’t appreciate you more, and then, getting involved in all those communities, realizing that you didn’t actually know what real problems were.
It’s getting to “host pick-up” and realizing that your suitcase got left in the last city. It’s performing “one 2 one” in a Halloween festival in a Tokyo suburb for 500 people. It’s being on a super-crew and start setting up the equipment at 6:30am under the rain. It’s the never ending humor of Jeremy Farber. Or the time when we had our 36 hours travel trek to our first city in Japan experiencing our first airport operation as a cast and having that memorable overnighter in a Japanese youth hostel wondering if there ever was such a city, since the time there went so fast. It’s having 19 homes in 7 countries around the world, yet knowing that you really have only one home. It’s forgetting the words to a song you’ve been singing for the last 5 months,. It’s being tired of early morning set-ups, and then discovering a surprise set-up done by the staff in Ueda Japan, then by the boys in Bern Switzerland.
It’s learning that there is more than one way to sing “happy birthday”. It’s putting a show that makes people so happy that it brings tears to their eyes. It’s feeling accomplishment. It’s knowing that you put someone in next UWP cast. It’s singing “We’ll be There” at the end of each show or learning to sing a song in German. It’s performing “‘Sound of Peace” with kids from all over the world or screaming as the Seshun Amigo boys do their worm move and handsome poses. It’s doing the best show yet, but always knowing that it could be better. It’s having an audience of 10,000 people at the Dakota Bowl halftime show.
It’s going to stage to dance the swing dance and realizing that your partner didn’t make it from “quick change” on time. It’s sending your shoe flying into the audience during “Go Daddy Oh”, or having a ladder fall back stage in the middle of the show… It’s the excitement of seeing the cast after being on advance work for 2 weeks. It’s learning to eat fast, try to find a wireless connection, and apply show make-up all at the same time.
Especially, Up With People means encountering all possible extremes of
our emotional make up, it means coming to the not so-profound
conclusion that all the 6 billion people on this planet are basically
It’s pride Mom and Dad, its pride. It’s giving all you’ve got on back
to back days full of community involvement in each community we visit
and ending with sore throats, raspy coughs, colds and exhausted
So you see Mom and Dad, it has been a lifetime of wonderful learning
all rolled into one semester. The people I have met and the friends I
have made are quite indescribable and irreplaceable. I thank you for
helping me through this last 6 months, trying to understand, and
watching me grow. Thanks for being there when I needed you, and for
not being there when I must be on my own.
My Love Forever.
The child you helped to grow.
Lora Adrianse says
I love these updates! Thank You! I first learned about Up With People when I was 13. More than anything, I wanted to join the group and be part of the experience. Financially, it wasn’t an option, so I just forgot about it…until your first post about your son’s experience.
These posts bring it all back to me, and now I’m 51. I find myself singing the songs and remembering all the words (after all these years)!
Thanks for the inspiration! Keep posting about your son’s experience.
Until next time…Up, Up with people…you meet them wherever you go…
aww! I travelled with UWP last year (WorldSmart Aug 05) and I am the Era Rep for crews that include your son’s own. We too had a Mom & Dad letter, it seems to be a tradition! Oh the memories.
Thanks for the little reminder of the best time of my life.