Two months in Uruguay have came and gone. I cannot believe how quickly the time has flown by and I’m slowly coming to the realization that in just a few weeks I’ll have to leave Rivera. That day will be difficult.

Autumn in Rivera

There is a difference between traveling somewhere and living somewhere and I’ve gotten very used to living here. When I see people in the streets many greet me by name, and others feel comfortable enough to affectionately refer to me as gringo. I know what bus I need to take to get home from the schools on the edge of town. I’ve gotten used to seeing and hearing carros and caballos passing through city streets.

Free Parking: Carro y Caballo

One sure sign of living in a place is the ability to recall the names of streets. I can do that in three towns: Red Wing, Eau Claire, and now Rivera, Uruguay, despite the fact that a handful of months ago I didn’t even know this city existed. With each day I’m feeling more and more at home. I think it’s easy to get accustomed to the subtle abnormalities because of how similar day-to-day life is compared to the United States.

I have routines. I run errands. I got my haircut! Although that required a little bit of wandering due to the fact that many businesses and stores are not listed on Google Maps.  I literally stumbled upon Peluquería La Romana as I was walking back to the main drag after a failed attempt to find a different barbershop that no longer exists. It was a classic case of “don’t judge a book by its’ cover” as the barbershop’s exterior looks like something out of a horror movie. Nevertheless, my man Silviano hooked me up!

I’ve come to frequent almacenes, which we might call “mom-and-pop shops” in the United States. When I do go to a bigger grocery stores I know to place my backpack in a locker prior to entering the store. I’ve gotten used to seeing prices in pesos – and Brazilian reais for that matter. I measure distances in meters, ask for my deli meat in kilograms, and say the temperature in Celsius. I’ve even started stating the time on a 24-hour or “military time” clock.

I can tell you the names of everyone in my family, which is no small task considering there are between 30 and 50 relatives here in Rivera at any given time. I’m able to do this thanks in large part to Sunday afternoon asado, which quickly became part of my routine here in Rivera. I can even say that these asados have enabled me to get used to eating the “weird parts” of the cow, including: stomach, intestines, kidneys, liver and tongue. We eat plenty of ribs, steaks, and chorizo, too, so don’t worry!

Asado with Notes.pngScreen Shot 2017-05-28 at 11.40.11 PM.pngEven the linguistic intricacies have started to become second-nature to me. For those who are familiar with Spanish I can provide an example. In the United States, we teach and learn that there are two ways to say “you”, being tú and usted. You use usted with adults and anyone whom you’d call “mister” or “missus”, and tú for everyone else.

In Uruguay, however, most people use vos as the second-person pronoun. As a result, “¿Cuántos años tienes tú? and “¿Cuántos años tiene usted?” are replaced with “¿Cuántos años tenés vos?” to asking someone how old they are. Likewise, “¿De dónde sos vos?” is used in place of “¿De dónde eres tú?” and “¿De dónde es usted?” to ask someone where they are from. This phenomenon – commonly referred to as voseo – is exclusive to the Spanish spoken in Uruguay and Argentina.


The students are always great about teaching me phrases, too, especially idioms. If someone is “pulling your leg” in Spanish, they are “tomando el pelo” or “drinking your hair.” If you’re “left hanging”, you’re “dejado plantado” or “left planted.” And being around students and teachers allows me to hear my fair share of “fofoquera” or “gossip.”

What I don’t hear in school is any ill-talk from teachers despite the lack of resources compared to what is available in a standard classroom in the United States. I think as teachers we love to complain about having to buy supplies on our own dime – which is a valid grievance – but Uruguayan teachers have it far worse, and I’ve gotten used to doing more with less. 

Awfully tough to see the screen from the nosebleeds

Whereas in the United States teachers have their own classroom, in Uruguay it is the students who maintain the space and the teachers who move from place to place. As a result, teachers don’t have the luxury of presenting posters, bulletin boards, realia, etc. for students to use. Through two months of working in the schools I’ve visited just one classroom with a projector. Teachers in Uruguay pay their own way for everything, including copies. Imagine using 15-20% of your salary to use a copy machine to print materials for students.


Like I said, I’ve gotten better at doing more with less, and it’s definitely shifted my perspective. In the US we freak out when the SmartBoard has to be reconfigured or when the queue for the copy machine is 3-4 people deep. I think the absence of technology in the classrooms down here has improved my ability to lead on the fly, and helped me become a far more creative planner. More than anything, it’s taught me that you really don’t need all that “stuff.” School becomes way more about the students when there aren’t so many distractions.

Anyways… life is good in Uruguay. I really appreciate the love you all showed me this past week in particular. Texts, emails, messages, etc. Even my grandma was able to make a comment on one of my posts. I appreciate your thoughts and hope you’ll continue to ask me questions. Your interest really means a lot to me.

I’d specifically  like to thank the teacher(s) who shared my blog with students via Google Classroom. I hit over 1000 views this month (!!!) thanks to you and your students. Students, I hope you enjoy your last few days of school and continue to follow along with my adventures this summer. Thank you.

A las ordenes.

Tres Cosas
Algo bueno: Saturday I went horseback riding with Diego & a friend, Juan. 
Algo malo: It has rained every single day for the past two weeks.
Algo curioso: If you have “goosebumps”, you have piel de gallina in Spanish: chicken skin.
Diego and I 




7 thoughts on “Feeling at Home

  1. Joel I am so impressed with the way you have adapted to your new way of life.
    I’m really enjoying your posts. Thanks for sharing your experiences.
    When will you be back in Red Wing?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Joel
    It’s been so fun to read your blog! I’m sure you’ll leave a lasting impression on those you’ve met as they will with you!
    It’s fun to see pictures of food – I’m curious what is put in the intestines when they grill them? Do they taste like chicken;)lol
    Continued blessings on your journey in uraguay! Love Maureen


      1. Thanks Joel
        So another good question
        How much of the octopus did you actually eat? Just tentacles or the head part too?
        The pics are nice too – what a beautiful country!


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