Up-with-People-StarYou Meet ‘Em Wherever You Go!

Categories: Up with People
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Published on: February 28, 2013
This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series Up with People
Nathalie from Up with People
My “host sister” Nathalie gets acquainted with my Parents.

Like many young people, I graduated from college without a really clear picture of what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Unusual, huh? I took odd jobs, including substitute teaching and managing a book store while I tried to figure it out.

A few years after graduation, we had an opportunity to see an Up with People show for free. My Father worked for an agency that was sponsoring the show, and was thus entitled to tickets. Unfortunately (for him) he had a meeting the night of the show and was unable to attend. Mom and I went instead. The show, Beat of the Future (I think, it was a long time ago and it’s hard to find a good chronology of Up with People shows online), was fun, uplifting, energetic, and well, fun (yeah, I said that twice). We really enjoyed it and wished Dad had been there to see the show. Two years later, when a new troupe visited our hometown, he got that chance.

The year was 1989, in November, and Up with People was coming back into town to perform Face to Face (I’m sure of this one!). Again, Dad’s agency was sponsoring, and again he was given tickets. This time he was also asked to host a student from the program. We welcomed Nathalie, a Norwegian/Canadian into the family for a few days. Since I was still very undecided about what to do with my future, and since I had been so impressed with the program two years previously, I decided to ask Nathalie about what requirements there might be to join Up with People. She was more than happy to talk about her experiences, and invited me to spend the day with the cast as they went about their activities. I sat in on discussions about what was going on in our community, and in the world. You see, there was a minor event unfolding in Germany on that date. After so many years, the Berlin Wall was finally coming down! That day! The International cast, which included a few students from Germany, was excited. It was a major event; one that impacted the entire world. Joining the cast on that day as they set up their stage, rehearsed, and performed their usual community activities, there was an electricity in the air. As the wall was coming down thousands of miles away, the German cast members were excused from their activities so they could run across the street from the theater where a local pub was playing the news on their TV set. I knew I wanted to be a part of that “family.” They were connected to history and knew it. It seemed that most young people I encountered barely knew what was going on within their own households. This group not only knew what was going on throughout the world, but they rejoiced in it. They embraced it. They lived it!

I went home to let Nathalie spend the rest of the afternoon preparing for that evening’s performance. At home, I discussed my plans to join Up with People with my family. Mom & Dad had been enthusiastic about my interest in the program (I think joining Nathalie for the day was actually their idea), but now that I was really serious about it, reality was sinking in. It would be expensive. Tuition at that time was around $10,000 for the year, and although UWP had scholarships and offered advice for collecting donations, it would not be cheap to travel with the program. I said I intended to interview after the show, as that was how new students were chosen. My parents agreed that I should do so, but were not terribly optimistic about the reality of actually traveling if accepted.

That night, as we arrived for the show, my Father was really hedging about the whole “join Up with People” thing. “We’ll see…” was the standard response. Then, the lights dimmed. The music began. And as a hundred energetic (heck, they were STOKED!), excited, enthusiastic “Uppies” ran down the aisle, singing about how the world would someday come together as one, my Father on one side of me and my Mother on the other were tugging on my sleeves in unison, tears in their eyes. “You get accepted and we’ll figure out how to pay for it, Diane,” they both said. “We don’t know how, but we’ll pay for it!”

Up with People does not require an “audition.” They aren’t looking for singers or dancers (thankfully as I dance like a sack of potatoes and they turn microphones off if I come anywhere near them!); they were looking for energy. For a desire to make a difference. They wanted people who were enthusiastic, and optimistic, and devoted. Singing and dancing they can teach. Optimism is one of those things you either have or you don’t.

I interviewed first with a young man from Japan and a young lady from somewhere I don’t remember. The young man spoke very limited English, so the young lady was there to assist him. The questions were enlightening. How would I use the experience? What hopes did I have for my own community’s growth? Why did I want to join? After answering their questions, I was told that a staff member wanted to interview me as well. I waited and was then re-interviewed by one of the UWP staff. The questions were similarly thoughtful; the emphasis was on my hopes for the future of the world and for my own future - with a few “do you like to sing?” questions thrown in.

When I returned to my family after the interview, Nathalie was there waiting. “Well, how did it go?” she asked. I told her about my multiple interviews. “That means you’re IN!” she announced with a shout!

After Nathalie left to go to the next city on the tour, I sat down to complete the application procedure. UWP required a written essay, asking again about my reasons for joining the program and my plans for after it completed. I mailed it in and waited.

And waited…

And waited. I somehow knew that when the answer came, a large envelope would be good news and a simple letter-sized envelope would be bad news. Big manila envelopes contain booklets, and instructions, and forms to fill out. Letter-sized envelopes contain letters. Rejection letters. Not what I wanted! I waited some more.

On my way to work one day, I stopped at the mailbox to get the mail. In the box was a bulky, manila envelope. The envelope had the UWP logo on it! With shaking hands I opened it. I was in! I immediately drove back up the driveway and ran into the house to call my parents at work!

In the months leading up to the start of my program, which would begin in the summer of 1991, I had a lot of planning to do. I organized my life. I made arrangements for my car and my pet salamander (Yes, I had a pet salamander. His name was Nemo!). I arranged to quit my job. And I began fundraising! Lots and lots of fundraising. I spoke to nearly every Lions Club, Rotary Club, Kiwanis Club, and every other club in town. I sent letters, lots of letters, looking for corporate sponsorships. I did receive a small scholarship from UWP themselves, and a fairly sizable contribution from my local church who considered my tour, although non-denominational, to be a form of missionary work. Friends and relatives donated. Organizations and clubs donated. It was hard work!

There’s also the myriad of things one has to do when one is going to be traveling all over the world. I had to get a passport (I look terrified in my first passport photo!). I had to get vaccinations and physical check ups. I had to get a suitcase! The suitcase was one of the more difficult items to get. According to the information I had been sent, I had to limit my belongings to one suitcase, a small garment bag, and an even smaller carry-on bag. That was it! For a whole year of International travel. We would be in Tuscon, AZ in the summer, and who-knew-where in Europe in the winter (Poland, Germany and Denmark as it turned out!). We would be doing community service activities that involved dressing up (visiting nursing homes and hospitals for example) and dressing down (we cleaned trash off the streets in Belgium!). We would also be responsible for carrying our own show costumes; and makeup; and shoes. We would need toiletries for a year. And shoes to go with each outfit. And music to listen to on the road. And books. And everything else one keeps with them when they travel. In one suitcase. One! It turns out, I found the perfect bag. It was tiny. It looked like a miniature suitcase. It was really a fold out garment bag! It held everything, and since most of my clothes were unfolded, it had lots of nooks and crannies for shoes, and toiletries, and even a stuffed Ewok (I’m a Star Wars geek – so sue me!). For the rest of the year, people marveled at how I fit an entire year’s worth of stuff into that tiny suitcase — until I’d open it up. Then they’d say “AH!” and understand!

In July of 1991, all of the preparation and anticipation were over. It was time to leave for summer staging in Tucson, AZ. It was cheaper to book a round-trip flight in those days, so I left with two tickets in my pocket:  One for going out to Tucson, and another “just in case it didn’t work out.” I was nervous. I was excited. I was nervous. And nervous. And excited! I don’t remember much of the trip (well, except the layover in Chicago where Jane Curtain walked past me in the airport!), but I do have one last memory of my pre-Up-with-People days: I was heading through the gate to the plane. I made the mistake of looking behind me as I went. There were my parents. My Father had tears on his face. I’ll never forget it! It’s hard to start a journey like that. Leaving home is difficult, and this was going to be a full year away. I would be in another country (countries) for half of it. I would be halfway around the world. But what an experience it would be!

I would never be the same!

Nathalie and Diane – Host Sisters!

(Next post in the series:  Summer staging in Tucson!)





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