As a young woman in the 1980s, my mother traveled with an international service and performing arts organization called Up with People. She sparingly packed a single checked bag and hopped on a plane to meet 99 other folks aged 17-29 from all over the world. Together, they spent a month staging a variety show of dance and music in different styles and languages celebrating multiculturalism and interpersonal generosity. Then, they took this show on the road.
Every week, these 100 young people–UWP '87 Cast E–traveled to a new city. They'd spend four days providing labor and smiles to a local service project, set up in conjunction with the community by a fellow cast member the week prior. The next two days were show days, full of rehearsal and performances, and they spent Sundays with their host families.
These people shared their experiences, exchanged cultures, lived and ate and worked and sang and danced and played together for a year. They spread messages of hope and participated in on-the-ground work to lend a hand to communities all over the world.
After 21 years of hearing stories about Mom and her "Uppies," meeting many of them when I accompanied her to reunions or visits, it's my turn to travel with Up with People. From July to December of 2018, I will be singing, dancing, and volunteering all over the world with Up with People's 2018 Cast B.
This organization means so much to me. In a divided world wracked with violence, it can be easy to put the savior complex and cultural isolation in a binary with each other. That is, sometimes it seems like the only way to avoid disrespecting other cultures is to avoid trying to participate in them. However, I believe wholeheartedly in multiculturalism: in learning about each other's cultures through empathy, immersion, and relationships.
We have so much to learn from each other's ways of life, but we can't learn about people from textbooks or scholarship. We can't be so afraid of appropriation that we close ourselves to that learning. By beginning with interpersonal relationships with fellow cast members and host families, I hope to develop a genuine and nuanced understanding of more people's stories, and I hope to share my own.
In the words of Up with People's self-titled song: "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."
Because we spend our time volunteering, Uppies don't make money on the road. We each pay $17,450 for the six months of room, board, and travel. I am fundraising $10,000 of that cost. The program cost is actually less than the program's expenses, which total around $32,000 per participant, but Up with People generously covers the remaining cost.
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