Taking time to travel and experience a semester or gap year on the road can be scary. For over 50 years young people from across the globe have taken that leap. Up with People now has over 22,000 alumni scattered around the world. The benefits of this formative time are many and blend together across multiple areas including soft skills that are in demand in the worldwide job market. In the first of a new ongoing blog series, we interviewed Up with People Alumnus Joris Van Doorslaer to gain insight about what he gained from his time on the road and where he is now.
When did you travel in Up with People (UWP)? What was your role?
In 2008 I traveled as a student. In 2012 I returned as an education staff member and in 2014 I became the cast manager until 2016. It was an honor to lead the cast during the 50th Anniversary of Up With People.
What is your current position now? What does that entail?
After getting off the road I started at Google, running an educational program aimed at transforming the access to digital skills for everyone. Within the amazing culture they have built, there was one lesson that stood out: “Dare to think 10x bigger,” if you only change incremental pieces, it limits your out of the box thinking.
It was the lesson of thinking big that pushed me to practice this within my own life. A realization hit me that the world is changing technologically so fast that we all need the ability to adapt to change and have the opportunity to tap into new opportunities. The counter side is that these changes are also creating the feelings of choice stress, burn-out, depression, feeling stuck or unclear what they really want. Deep diving into this question led to the insight that many people need to re-discover the potential within themselves.
Sanne (my girlfriend who worked for Up with People as well) and I decided to create an organization called “Unleashing of Potential” aiming to use experiential learning to let people re-discover the potential within. For the last year we have been traveling the world organizing workshops and retreats to let people experience the practice of “Being Present and Being Alive.” When you practice this skill in your daily life, it transforms your whole way of being. Our goal is that people walk away with the ability to steer their own self-development process, a life changing process because every day you live with yourself.
How did traveling with Up with People prepare you for this position?
Up with People is a series of experiences, a constant learning environment. Leaving your comfort zone has been a necessity in both Google and being a starting entrepreneur with Unleashing of Potential. Especially in shaping our own workshops and retreats, to make them logistically happen is basically a city setup. Creating new experiences comes natural because within education and as a cast manager, I was able to test many different ideas with enthusiastic cast members. And when I coach people, dealing as a cast manager with very difficult conversations has made me more ready to face the deep subjects and given me an incredible amount of experience to pull from.
How did Up with People impact your life both personally and professionally?
Personally, 4 years of my life were spent on staff. I developed layers within me that have become part of my core identity. My relationship with Sanne was tested on the road and has made us even stronger. It is, however, great to have now more time together. Still I talk often to friends all over the world.
Professionally, in interviewing at Google it was easy to pull out examples. For a question like “what is a crisis you have dealt with,” I could easily pull out examples such as facing the government authorities in Cuba. My interviewer was like “Oh wow, those are real crises.” The whole program provides so much experience that is so applicable professionally. And now as an entrepreneur, I constantly need to go beyond my comfort zone and use the skill of flexibility to adapt to the changing circumstances. Up with People has given me an additional drive for creating true impact in the world, there is a reason we travel the world with our organization. It pushes us to develop content that can work all over the world, cross-culturally and going to the core of us as human beings.
What advice would you give our youth in pursuing their passion / career?
“Follow your passion” can be an overwhelming question. It can falsely give us the feeling that one job needs to contain it all. Remember that you are developing yourself your whole life, the people with extraordinary lives go out of their ways to keep growing. Fill your life with experiences that complete you. Within yourself there is an amazing amount of potential, some of that naturally shines but even natural talents can only become extraordinary with practice. Use experiential learning in your life, constantly reflect and make use of the resources of this world. And life is not only sunshine, it is in our shadow sides that we can discover true beauty and creativity. Allow everything within you to be seen and heard.
Did you always know that this is what you wanted to do?
No. The beauty of life is that it unfolds along the way. For a long time I tried to predict where my life would go, a method that more led to fear of failing or the unknown. Right now I live with intention, not an exact scheduled plan but a direction on where to go. I constantly need to remind myself to just trust my abilities, when I leave my fears to the sides it makes room for seeing the opportunities that come my way.
What was your favorite moment when you traveled in Up with People?
Impossible to define a favorite moment. My favorite part of Up with People is the people. Both cast members as well as host families. Within every cast I also have a special place in my heart for the staff, a unique set of individuals who come in every day with an unbelievable willpower to do good. All the people in Up with People have showed me the importance of giving, true happiness for me is so connected to this.
What would you tell someone who was considering traveling in Up with People?
A program like UWP is amazing for people who want to develop themselves in a short amount of time. After 6 months you walk away with a new perspective on the world and a skill set that has all the elements for you to succeed in life. School can give you textbook knowledge, UWP can give you tangible life skills. If you can be a leader or communicator within the diverse environment of UWP then you are ready for any challenge that comes your way after. As a bonus you get to travel the world and have friends all over the world.
What are the top 3 things you learned during your experience in Up with People?
- When you have a difficult conversation, start with the worst part.
- Great for you if you have extraordinary abilities, the true power to create change lies within the collaborative effort of the team
- The world has far more perspectives then black and white, go meet the people who have different views and seek understanding
How do you keep hope alive?
It is easy. I have met thousands of people who are keeping it alive every day. The sum of my experiences has given me evidence that the world is on the right track. Of course the world has challenges, I see them as a test for all of us to learn from.
I’m not ashamed to sing of peace & love,
Not afraid to say ‘I care’.
One thing I’m guilty of:
Believing that hope is more than air.
I can feel it in you… in me… it’s everywhere…
I Will © Up with People