Friday, November 7, 2008

Colorado Springs, Colorado

After experiencing cast B's week in Colorado Springs, I felt as if I had experienced the cookie cutter week of Up With People; my experience was a perfect example of an UWP tour week. We arrived in Colorado Springs at five o'clock on October 6th and had our Allocation Meeting at the Crowne Plaza, just outside of town. We were then told that the week ahead of us was all about honoring our US military families. The majority of our cast is made up of students from other countries so it was important to point out the fact that this week was about family and outreach to those who are doing things for others. Our goal was to acknowledge the US military families, but also to promote universal compassion from so many international students.

We met our host families at 6:30 PM and little did I know that I would be staying in a "Little Home on the Range." My Colorado host mother worked as an event planner for military families, so she personally had a lot to do with Up With People's visit to Colorado Springs. After telling her how honored I was to be performing at the Fort Carson Event Complex, she told me some of the history of our show venue. We were performing on a stage that had held many stars over the years including Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and Alan Jackson numerous times. She remarked how pleasant it was to be working with UWP and how she could not wait to pick up her host sons Vitor from Venezuela and Russ from Baltimore, Maryland. Our host dad was a retired firefighter and ex-rodeo rider who enjoyed teaching us about the prairie and taking us for a horseback ride! Ye-Ha!!

On our regional learning day, the cast and I toured the USA Olympic Training Center and visited the Garden of The Gods park. Each week, a member of our cast gives a cultural presentation of their home country. Since our group represents 22 different countries it is important for us to learn about each other's international backgrounds.

During the week in Colorado Springs, our Swiss UWP students gave a presentation of Switzerland. The country covers an area of 15,942 square miles and is only twice the size of New Jersey, USA. Some of the largest cities in Switzerland are Zurich, Geneva and Basel. The capital is Berne. With a population of 7,290,000 only 20% are foreigners. About 65% of all those in Switzerland speak Swiss German, 18% speak French, 10% speak Italian and 1% are making other choices. Citizens are mostly Catholic or Protestant.

The first of August is the anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Confederation and is a large day of celebration. The yodeling festival is held in Lucerne. Switzerland is made up of 26 cantons. While each canton has its own constitution and laws, national laws are above those of the canton. Education in Switzerland seems to be very practical. Students start out in elementary school and then move into apprenticeships during high school. There are apprenticeships in America, but those of Switzerland are much more common and carry the majority of students into the work world. Just like America, their highest level of education can be found at universities. Switzerland's government is made up of seven counselors and one federal secretary. Every year one counselor stands as President of Switzerland and the seven counselors rotate annually.

The Swiss are very independent, responsible people and are very proud of their heritage. Three kisses are given on the cheek when two people meet on the street. The Swiss love their meat, cheese, potatoes and lots of coffee and tea, but just from being a member of Up With People, I can tell you that the Swiss girls hold chocolate to be above everything else. Switzerland has many issues that are similar to America. There are problems with immigration, drugs and drinking, but for the most part Switzerland is a very safe place. Social etiquette and respect is very similar to the United States. Friends are excited to see one another and people are respectful to individuals they do not know. Gwen, a cast member from Switzerland, told me that many individuals in Switzerland do not use the phrase "I love you" as much as Americans do. She noticed that Americans seem to throw around the phrase quite commonly. They will say things like," Oh thanks for doing that for me, I love you!" Gwen told me that such a phrase is held with much importance and is only used when it is truly meant.

Cultural presentations are an excellent way to better your relationship with cast members and to develop your global understanding of others. Listening to other students tell about their home cultures is an experience that affects me more than others may think. I love to watch students tell about the things that make them passionate. Cultural presentations have given me the opportunity to better my lifelong listening skills and witness the life of others.

After our cultural presentation, military officials joined our cast and the students of UWP were able to attend a military panel at Fort Carson. Being in a room with international representatives and members of the United States Army was an opportunity of a lifetime. With so many global issues going on in our world right now, I was able to be a part of promoting mutual understanding at a UWP gathering of diversity.

Our Colorado Springs community impact took place in the elementary schools on Fort Carson. On Wednesday, October 8th, Up With People taught Stand For Peace lessons at Mountainside elementary. Thursday’s classes took place at Abrams elementary and on Friday were at Patriot school. To find out more about Stand For Peace please visit my Arizona blog.

Stand For Peace is an excellent example of Up With People's drive for helping others to develop. It is an awesome experience to be a part of UWP's ability to reach all ages with a motivational message. Imagine the impact that 94 international teachers have upon one school. With our appearance at the three elementary schools, thousands of young students could witness our message of unity throughout the course of just three days. Our students became very involved and seemed to be very eager to learn about international opinions. At the end of each Stand For Peace day, our cast performs a mini show in each school's auditorium. To hear the roar of 700 elementary schoolers is like being at a Beatles concert. Students get very in tune with our colorful presentation and the energetic delivery of our message. These mini shows bring hundreds of students to our primary performances and make for an excellent demonstration of calling students to action and influencing their interests to learn.

Our Colorado Springs show was our second in Colorado and was greatly received and appreciated by hundreds of military families. Our backstage tour had an awesome turn out and the cast had a blast in that night's performance.

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