Student performs with international study abroad volunteer group
Miranda Hamilton always knew she wanted to study abroad, but now she is doing that and more thanks to Up with People, an international non-profit performance and volunteer program.
Hamilton, a junior majoring in theater, is only the second student from The University of Alabama to tour with the group. This year’s cast features about 120 members from 21 countries. They travel to different cities and volunteer with various community service organizations, and at the end of the week they perform their show “Journey On,” which celebrates Up with People’s 50th anniversary. All ticket sales benefit their charity of the week.
“Being a theater major, performance is my life – it’s what I love to do,” Hamilton said. “Getting to do that but knowing it’s for such an amazing cause and all the money we’re making is going somewhere – it’s wonderful to know I am doing something I love but still helping people.”
In January, the cast met for the first time in Denver for five weeks to rehearse the show. Since then, they have traveled to Farmington, New Mexico; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Tucson, Arizona. Over the next few months, they will travel to various places including California, Mexico and Europe. Hamilton said she is excited about the traveling since she has never left the country.
“The rate you get close to this group of people is remarkable,” she said. “I’ve been with them not even seven weeks, and I can say that every single person in there is a family member. They are very, very close friends, and I know I can trust them with anything.”
The whole trip lasts six months, but students have the option to stay with Up with People for a year. Hamilton chose the program’s study abroad option, so she takes classes from Florida Southern College between volunteering and performing. By the end of the semester, she will receive 12 hours of class credit, which she said is great because the total cost for the program is roughly $17,500 – a little less than her UA tuition costs for a semester. She raised half the money for the program and worked last summer to pay for the rest. Costs cover transportation, food and luggage, but lodging is provided by host families.
“One thing Up with People loves [is teaching] other people about our cultures because we come from so many different places and then [letting] the people in those places teach us about them,” she said.
Host families vary from large families to single adults, small homes to mansions, neighborhoods to Navajo academies. The host families help with transportation to and from events, and cast members spend their evenings getting to know their host families.
Hamilton said she plans to return to the University after this semester to finish her degree but said this experience has changed her future plans. Initially, she said she wanted to focus on theater after college but now hopes to someday return to Up with People as a cast or staff member.
“I think one of the most important things about being a team member is participating and Miranda does that with a lot of energy,” said Tom Husson, a cast member originally from Belgium. “She also succeeds at keeping the focus of the team on what’s important.”
Hamilton said she hopes to encourage other UA students to apply for Up with People once she returns to campus. The program is open to anyone ages 17 to 29 who can speak English. Participants must fill out an application and go through an interview.
“Performing experience is not something that is a requirement,” said Paulina Meza, the education coordinator for Up with People. “We are more focused on the openness to new cultures, flexibility and the desire to make a difference.”
Despite just beginning this semester’s tour, Hamilton and Husson both said they have learned from the people they have met and the experiences they have had so far.
“I feel part of something that actually makes a difference,” Husson said. “That with every city we go to, we leave our imprint. And it’s that imprint that often sparks communities into action and into the community wanting to actually make a difference and fill in the needs of their community.”