You’re going to Uruguay? Hmmm…
Ever since the news broke that I was heading south, I’ve received many questions regarding how this opportunity came about and, “Why Uruguay?” of all places.
I have dedicated this first post to helping inform you about this small country that few know anything about, and explain why I have elected to spend roughly 250 days of my life there. Enjoy.
1. Why Uruguay? I get this question almost daily and there are plenty of reasons why I chose to apply to Uruguay, so let me start by saying that Fulbright applicants may only apply to one country. From day one, I only considered Spanish-speaking countries. Having visited Costa Rica and Perú, I wanted to experience life in another part of the Spanish-speaking world. Uruguay stood out because ETA’s (English Teaching Assistants) receive two placements, meaning I will spend four months in the country’s interior, and four months in the capital city on the coast: Montevideo. This geographic diversity is coupled by the opportunity to work in multiple settings: K-12 schools, universities, and teacher training facilities.
If you’re curious about the actual Fulbright ETA application process, you can read more about it here: Application Process
2. Where is Uruguay? Don’t feel bad for not being able to place Uruguay on the map. No, it’s not in Africa. No, Uruguay is not a state. Uruguay is in South America.
Uruguay’s capital city – Montevideo – is nearly 6,000 miles from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. To put that in perspective, it is nearly 2,000 miles closer than London and nearly as far as Tokyo.
3. What are you going to be doing and where? Following a week of orientation in Montevideo, I will head six hours north to Rivera, Uruguay, where I will work as an English Teaching Assistant in public high schools and local teacher-training facilities for the first four months of my grant. At a population of roughly 65,000 people, Rivera is the sixth largest city in Uruguay, and sits on the northern border of the country. It is possible to enter the city of Santana do Livramento, Brazil, by simply crossing the street. Together, the combined population of the metropolitan area is roughly 200,000 inhabitants. I will live and work in Rivera until June 30.
Following my time in Rivera, I will report to the city of Tacuarembó, where I will visit schools and work with local teachers for two weeks. At this point, I will have reached the midpoint of my grant period and will participate in the Fulbright Regional Enhancement Conference, a week-long professional development conference in Brazil (City – TBD).
I will then return to Montevideo, where I will work in similar settings for the remaining four months of my grant.
Throughout the experience, we are encouraged to get involved in the local communities through volunteering with various outreach organizations, tutoring students, and establishing any English conversation groups or after-school programs of our choice.
4. Is there a time change? Yes! Uruguay is three hours ahead of the Midwest.
5. How small is Uruguay? The graphic below shows the size of Uruguay compared to the Upper Midwest. It is second only to Suriname as the smallest country by square mileage in South America. Wisconsin is roughly 65,000 sq. miles.
6. What is the population of Uruguay? As of July 2016, the population of Uruguay was 3.4 million people. 95% of the population lives in urban areas with nearly half the population living in and around the capital city of Montevideo. With respect to racial demographics, 88% of Uruguayans are white, 8% are Mestizo (Indigenous/European mix), and 6% are black.
While Roman Catholicism dominates much of Latin America, just 47% of Uruguayans identify as Roman Catholic. It’s worth noting that 23% consider themselves nondenominational and 17% identify as agnostic/atheist.
It’s worth noting that Uruguay is home to over 12 million cows. Yes, cattle outnumber people roughly 4:1 – which places Uruguay #1 in the world in terms of cows per capita.
7. What will the weather be like? With Uruguay being in the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons are flipped and “winter” runs from the end of May through August. In terms of annual precipitation, Uruguay is very comparable to the Upper Midwest other than the fact it will never snow.
8. How do you pronounce Uruguay? Uruguayans say, “oo-roo-gwhy.” It’s worth noting that Uruguayans are known for their accent, which involves several distinct markers. For example in most Spanish speaking countries, the letters “y” and “ll” are pronounced as “y”, as in “yellow”. In Uruguay, however, these letters are pronounced with more of an “sh” sound.
For example, pollo (which means “chicken”) is pronounced [po-sho] in Uruguay, whereas in Spain, Mexico, Costa Rica, etc., it is pronounced [po-yo].
9. Is Uruguay a “third-world” country? Whether Uruguay is considered “developed”, “developing” or “underdeveloped” is tough to decide, so I’ll throw some numbers at you and let you choose for yourself.
- 18.6% of the population lives below the poverty line. (USA = 15.1%)
- 99.7% of Uruguayans have access to clean drinking water.
- Life expectancy is 77.1 years. (USA = 79.8 years)
- The literacy rate is an astounding 98.5%.
- At $21,600 Uruguay is 84th in the world in terms of GDP per capita.
- In the annual Quality of Life Index, USNews.com ranked Uruguay #40. This puts them behind India (#26), Mexico (#31), and Greece (#36), but ahead of Brazil (#43), South Africa (#49) and Egypt (#57).
- It has legalized both same-sex marriage and marijuana.
10. What is the education system like in Uruguay? The table below shows the progression through the Uruguayan school system. School is free and compulsory beginning at age six. Students are required to stay in school until they are 14 years-
Beyond secundaria, education continues to be free at the country’s only two public universities: La Universidad de la República and La Universidad Tecnológica del Uruguay. There are also 4 private universities in Uruguay.
It’s worth noting that in 2010, the Uruguayan government implemented Plan Ceibal, in an effort to increase the use of technology in the public schools and make technology accessible to all. The Plan Ceibal initiative delivered 450,000 laptops to students and teachers at the primaria level and no-cost internet access to the entire country. Uruguay is the first country in the world to provide a laptop to all elementary students.
Thanks for reading!