When I sit down to write a blog post, I reflect upon the previous week or two-week period and think about all the things I did, the places I visited, the people I met, the foods I ate, etc.
Most importantly, I try to reflect upon what all these things made me think about, and how they made me feel. From there I’m usually able to find a general theme or storyline that fits my narrative, and the ideas flow together smoothly. At first, this week was no different.
I went back to Rivera to participate in the Regional Seminar, an annual professional development conference for Uruguayan English teachers. The presentations were dynamic and stimulating, plus I got to show my Fulbright colleagues the city that had been my home. Not to mention the fact that I was treated to the best Uruguayan asado to date.
And there was the Noche de Nostalgia, an annual celebration of “the glory days”, where bars and nightclubs play music from the 80s and 90s. Uruguayans of all ages go out for a good time.
And there was Uruguay’s Independence Day on August 25. A mid-afternoon bike ride through a very quiet Montevideo gave me the chance to snag some photos of the city.
But this narrative just wasn’t doing it for me. It didn’t capture all that I was feeling during what was a turbulent and trying period not only for me, but for our world.
Charlottesville. Barcelona. Trump, North Korea, and nuclear weapons. ISIL attacks in Syria. Flooding in Uruguay. A typhoon in India. Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Closer to home, many in Red Wing, Minnesota are grieving the loss of a mother/grandmother who tragically passed away far too soon.
After some reflection I opted to scrap the 1200 words I had written and start a new. As much as I wanted to finish the original post, I couldn’t get myself to do it. It didn’t feel genuine. My heart wasn’t in it.
The first draft included some “Uruguay” issues I was dealing with, but failed to neglect more “human” issues I was going through such as the absence of professional fulfillment and reaching the end of a relationship.
Some issues were trivial, including when a pedal snapped off my bike off as I labored up a hill. And when I made a special trip to the US Embassy only to find out that my fingerprint appointment had accidentally been cancelled due to a clerical error by the administrative staff. And when I stumbled over a cord in our apartment, disconnecting the WiFi right in the middle of a fantasy football draft.
Other challenges frustrated me on a deeper level.
For example, I was without work for over a week when the student union at Instituto de Profesores Artigas, a teacher-training center, voted to hold an ocupación, a protest demanding an increase in funding for public education. Even more disheartening, while the demand was valid (education receives just 2.9% of Uruguay’s budget) very few students actually showed up to the demonstrations.
Another example would be the inefficiency of city life. My weekly 36-kilometer (22 mile) trip to Salinas takes well over an hour due to frequent stops, and to make matters worse, scheduling difficulties and midterm exams at the high school further cut into my time with students.
I even felt my patience growing thin with regard to the classroom climate in Uruguayan public schools. Attendance is less enforced, homework is all but nonexistent, and students are able to get away with far too much for my liking.
I just felt unfulfilled. I was anxious for more opportunities to work with students, yet at the same time drained from dealing with all the nuisances. I longed for the discipline and structure present in the States.
So the plan for the blog was to reiterate a narrative that you’ve all heard before: Living abroad isn’t always perfect, and it can be tough to live in a culture that is not your own.
But that story is very linear: someone goes abroad for a while, has some good times, has some bad times, and comes home. That type of narrative would suggest that this chapter of my life in Uruguay is somehow isolated from my life in the United States, and that’s simply not true.
As of late I’ve felt the line between my Uruguay life and my US life start to blur, and the reality is that the problems I was facing are universal. Lack of fulfillment? We all feel stuck from time to time. Relationships? People come and go throughout the course of our lives, playing unique roles in our story along the way.
Uruguay reminds me of that every single day, and if there’s one thing to take away from this blog it’s not that my run here in Uruguay has had ups and downs, but rather that experiencing life with others simply makes us better people. Even the simplest of interactions can make a big difference.
For example, take the man who was busy laboring in his repair shop when I wheeled in my rusty, pedal-less bicycle. He stopped what he was doing, got me what I needed, oiled up my chain, thanked me for my business and sent me on my way. He provided a simple solution to a simple problem, yet it made my life infinitely better at the time.
hRegarding my meaningless trip to the US Embassy, it didn’t turn out to be such a waste of time, as I ran into Marcela, who helps coordinate Uruguay’s branch of Education USA. I had offered to volunteer for the organization, which supports international students seeking college education in the US.
She was grateful for the offer and I was thrilled to know that there were people I could start to help as I waited for classes to get underway following the protests. Our quick encounter provided me encouragement and gave me a sense of fulfillment.
Around the same time, I discovered another way I could use my skills, which happened when I paid a visit to El Comando General del Ejército, the Uruguayan Army’s training center. More specifically, I visited the Army’s Language School (Escuela de Idiomas). The school is directed by Colonel Hornos, but to me he’s Gerardo, one of many cousins I have here in Uruguay.
I took Gerardo up on his offer to assist with the evening English conversation club whenever I’m available. Basically, my role will be to make conversation with senior military personal, men and women who have completed humanitarian missions in some of the most destitute places on the planet. Their stories are fascinating.
One man has made half-a-dozen trips to the Congo. Another is preparing for a second trip to Pakistan. Others traveled to India. Brazil. Cyprus. Turkey. Greece. Haiti.
It’s mutually beneficial in every sense. They practice their English and while I get to hear amazing stories and learn from their experiences. I offer help with vocabulary when necessary and get to ask all the questions I want.
The conversation group has somewhat of a revolving door, as people are constantly coming and going due to their military obligations. This week I met – and said goodbye to – George, who is heading to Congo next week.
I may never talk to George again, but for one hour we had each others’ undivided attention. We told stories. We listened. We laughed. We wished each other well. We went on our way.
And that’s life! We keep moving forward.
Fortunately all the pieces for the next three months are now coming together. I’ve now met all the English-education students at the IPA, and I’ve established a full schedule in Salinas thanks to my awesome mentor teachers. My students are a lot of fun, and I haven’t even gotten to mention some of the upcoming projects I have been working on. It’s going to be a good second semester.
But the highs and lows will continue; they aren’t unique to my experience here in Uruguay. For that I’m incredibly thankful to family and friends ( 🇺🇸🇺🇾🇧🇷). Your messages, abrazos from afar, and continued influence in my life is so very much appreciated. ❤️
A las ordenes.