In 1987, 22-year-old Rich Calabrese traveled as a cast member in Up with People. During his time on the road, he stayed with a host family in Hamme, Belgium during their European tour. This is where he met the VanHoof family who was once his host family and has now become a part of his life-long, chosen ‘family.’
We wanted to find out about his experience staying with his host family, and how he still manages to keep in touch with them after all of these years.
What was your initial meeting experience like with your host family?
“Very pleasant. I took some photos and signed an autograph for them. We spoke for a long time.”
How do you still keep in touch with your previous host family to this day?
“Occasionally we speak on the phone, maybe once or twice a year. When I was in Belgium about 15 years ago for a fellow cast member’s wedding, I was met at the airport by the VanHoof family and they enthusiastically and warmly greeted me. Before we went to the wedding destination, we were able to spend some time catching up. We even met up again in Brussels after the wedding.
Aside from using the phone, we will also video chat and we absolutely send hand-written letters.”
What lessons did you learn from your host family?
“I learned that simple interaction with another person may leave a lasting impact. Not just when it comes to staying with a host family, but making friends along the way.
Several of my best friends are castmates I traveled with and we are still in close contact. About 15 of us gather every autumn for a reunion in Long Island and we travel from several countries to attend.”
Why is staying with a host family important while traveling?
“Being immersed in any family’s culture can be an eye-opening experience. Learning about their traditions, favorite foods, holidays and their way of life gave me experiences that I could never duplicate today. In fact, some of my experiences I still talk about to this day.”
Anything else you would like to share with others about your experience traveling in Up with People?
“Traveling in Up With People will impact your life. You’ll leave with memories and experiences to tell for years to come. Occasionally there were times that I didn’t realize what I had learned until several years after the tour ended. They were all “ah-ha” moments. I remember watching TV with my family when I heard “Nkosi sikelel’ Afrika” during the TV show. We sang this during our international segment of our show!
I kept a daily journal throughout my year which I strongly encourage. Nowadays, everything is instantly online 24/7. My family and friends back home didn’t know what city we were in and what we were doing daily. I promised my Mom before I left that I’d write at least one page a day, which was easy to do because of our busy schedules. By the end of the year, I had six completed journals and more than 800 pages were written.”
“It’s an unfinished world
And it’s still in the making.
It’ll take all we can give
‘cause together we all live
In an unfinished world.”
Unfinished World © Up with People
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Topics: Gap Year Abroad
Up with People is a global education organization which aims to bring the world together through service and music. The unique combination of international travel, service learning, leadership development and performing arts offers young adults an unparalleled study abroad experience and a pathway to make a difference in the world, one community at a time. Click here to learn more about the internationally acclaimed program, Up with People.