November 19, 2017

Mis queridos urugayos,

Over the past eight months, you have taught me many idiomatic expressions: remar en dulce de leche (literally, to row in dulce de leche) means to be stuck in a difficult situation and tomar el pelo (to drink one’s hair) describes pulling someone’s leg.

I’ve taught you all my fair share of these popular sayings, as well, and today – on my final day in Uruguay – I will share one of my favorites.

The hay is in the barn.

It’s an expression used by farmers in Minnesota to say they’re prepared for winter; All the hay (heno) has been harvested and stored away, leaving the farmer with nothing left to do but wait for winter.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been like the farmer, working hard to wrap up projects, making final school visits, preparing final presentations, etc.

4 Fulbrighters + 2 incredible Staff members!

All the while you have all been there to lighten the load and remind me of all the things I needed to take with me: mate and yerba, my collection of Uruguayan clothing and alpargatas, plus plenty of souvenirs and, of course, a healthy stock of dulce de leche.

I’ve received many thoughtful gifts the last few weeks, as well: a white Providencia school polo, a CD of my favorite Uruguayan band, and an unbelievable amount of candy. I’ll treasure these things for the rest of my life… well I’ve already eaten all the candy, but you know what I mean.

But those aren’t the only gifts I’ve received. I’ll be taking lots of Uruguay back with me! I’ve collected recipes (torta frita, milanesa), accumulated over 200 new songs on Spotify, and even learned how to play truco, the most traditional (complex) Uruguayan card game there is. I can’t wait to share these things with my friends and family in the Midwest.

Only cried once!

Other gifts are less tangible, like all the words you have given me, and I’m not just talking about the countless letters, thank you cards, and text messages of well wishes. Collectively, you have changed the way I speak Spanish. How cool is that? I have added hundreds of words to my repertoire thanks to all of you. I consider it a gift, and an amazing one at that.

Guillermo deserves a quick shoutout for being my unofficial language coach, correcting my repeated mistakes and helping me grasp how to use all your quirky expressions. Although I still confuse traer and llevar from time to time, I’ll never forget the cheer Guille let out when I successfully used, “Sos un ordinario”, in reference his brother Diego. ¡Bien, Joel! ¡Bien!

Words are just the first of many intangible and unintended gifts for which I am appreciative. It’s true, in fact, that many of the best gifts I have received over the last eight months weren’t meant to be gifts as all.

You gave me your curiosity, for example, all the times you asked about my home, my family, my hobbies, my future plans, etc. You took an interest in my life when you didn’t have to, making me feel welcome from the very first days I arrived in Uruguay. You can’t possibly know how much I enjoyed answering all your questions and hearing your commentary.

You could have brushed me off as “some foreigner” living in your country, but you didn’t. You listened. You gave me your attention and a platform on which I could teach you about what life is really like in the United States.

A handful of my awesome mentors!

You’ve given me your time. You’ve given me a seat at your tables, a desk in your classrooms, a spot on your courts and fields, and in the case of my incredible hosts, a place in your home. You’ve given me rides in your cars, invitations to parties, and given me stories I will be telling for the rest of my life.

You’ve given me encouragement, and praise, and hugs when I needed them and when I didn’t need them. You’ve given me a team to cheer for during the rest of the Clausura (¡Vamó arriba carbonero querido!) and of course during the World Cup this coming June in Russia (¡Celesteeeeeeeee soy yoooooo!)

You’ve given me lessons about Uruguayan culture, geography and music. You’ve made me smile, you’ve made me laugh, and you’ve left me with lots to think about. You’ve given me feelings of fulfillment. You’ve given me the greatest adventure of my life, to date.

You’ve given me eight months of love and a lifetime’s worth of memories.

You’ve given me something so incredibly difficult to say goodbye to.

No more school visits. No more conversation clubs. No more crowded bus rides, nor late night bike rides home from IPA. No more trips across the street to the grocery store. Man, I won’t even get the chance to beat Guille in conga anymore. And who am I going to share all my REALLY FUNNY Spanish puns with? (Te voy a extrañar, paiaso.)


I’m left with memories: soccer games, concerts, family birthdays, sunsets on the Rambla, meriendas compartidas, pick-up basketball games, and mates. All I will cherish until the end of time.

If you asked me whether I was ready to go home, I would have told you, “the hay was in the barn“, but nothing could have prepared me for the difficulty of saying goodbye. Man, it hit me like a ton of bricks.

I know we will remain in touch, but that doesn’t make saying goodbye any easier. If I were only leaving a place it would be easy, but I’m leaving people and that’s really hard. My fondest memories in South America involve all of you, and what you have all given me has been far more spectacular than any waterfall, beach, or skyline ever could.

Estoy sin palabras. I’m speechless.

La estadía en Uruguay ha sido espectacular. Probé cosas nuevas, aprendí pila y más importante que nada el pueblo uruguayo me hizo sentir bienvenido desde el principio. Me quedo con recuerdos innumerables, cuentos inolvidables, amistades inquebrantables y un amor profundo por este paisito y su gente. Muchísmas gracias a todos.

¡Uruguay nomá!

As always, I remain a las ordenes.

Algo bueno – I have an incredible barra of family and friends waiting for me back home. I have missed you all and your support has been overwhelming. Thank you!
Algo emocionante – I’m an uncle! Can’t wait to meet my nephew: Declan Neal Roth.


Algo malo – It’s still impossible to be in two places at once.
Algo curiosoI’ve now officially left Uruguay more times (5) than I have left the United States (4). The adventures in South America are far from over… I’m in Buenos Aires with some of the best friends a dude could ask for!



2 thoughts on “Uruguay nomá!

  1. Joel, I think the feelings are mutual. That farewell meeting we had demonstrated how much we love you and how important you are for us. You have been family for some Uruguayans, friends for others and that is not common, even with previous ETAs. Good for you! It’s important to walk life with integrity, passion and good will in order to build this kind of rapport with people. I am sure you will keep on having great experiences and the doors from our country and houses are wide open. When I visit Chicago I hope we can meet at least half way so I can give you the dulce de leche I will take you 🙂
    Enjoy your time and the beginning of a new chapter in your life.


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