Monday, November 6, 2017

Grant and General Artigas in Uruguay!

¡Hola desde Uruguay! My name is Grant and I am a Junior Information Systems and Supply Chain Management major, Spanish minor. This semester I’m studying at La Universidad de Montevideo, a university in the capital city of this small South American country, tucked between its much larger neighbors of Argentina and Brazil. As my first time outside of the United States, my term in Uruguay has been full of new, sometimes amazing, sometimes exciting, sometimes stressful, experiences that have left an unforgettable impression upon me.

A pleasant surprise in the Piedmont Triad Airport as I prepare to board my first flight.

My first dinner in Uruguay was a chivito, a Uruguayan staple made of thin-cut steak with ham, bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and mayo on a non-sesame seed bun.

US Embassy in Montevideo, one of the largest embassies in the country.
I will say the first few days were rough. My “what the heck am I doing here” moment occurred when I arrived at my hostel. It was an unusually mild weather Saturday for the Uruguayan equivalent to late January. The adrenaline rush from arriving at the airport, clearing customs, and seeing the city for the first time from the inside of an airport taxi had worn off. I had checked into my hostel a little earlier than originally planned and was directed to the parlor while the staff flipped my room. As I sat there, I began to think about things lying ahead I had yet to do: line-up permanent housing, readjust my class schedule, seek out the local stores and street markets, and most importantly, learn the 30-minute walk (one-way) to the university before Monday, in a country with a different language. All that piled together would make anyone’s head spin. Ask anyone relatively close to me and they will also tell you that I am naturally “wound tight”, so you can imagine that calmness wasn’t exactly my forte in that moment.

This is Sopa, the very loving dog found on the streets of Montevideo by the owners of the hostel.  He keeps things lively as he barks at passing people and dogs, protecting the hostel and his family.

My LIHC dragon, General Artigas, and I at the International Student reception at La Universidad de Montevideo.

Me behind the newly installed Montevideo sign.  One must wait in a queue for 10 minutes to get a picture here because it is so popular.
While I had intended to stay at the hostel only long enough to find somewhere else, the manager of the hostel and I struck a deal for a monthly rate. Because Uruguay is in the Southern Hemisphere, I arrived in the middle of Winter, leaving the hostel relatively empty. Though we had guests come through, it was nowhere near the numbers seen during the summer. That left many nights where it was the hostel caretakers, another monthly guest, and myself. I came to really enjoy those quiet evenings, as us four would talk and laugh about cultural differences, world politics, or any number of things, in a very mixed up version of Spanglish, as the fireplace crackled in the corner and Sopa the dog tried begging for somebody’s after dinner leftovers.

The Ombu tree, a rare tree half a block from the hostel.  There are only two of these trees in the city, so they are used with giving directions because everyone knows where they are.

Sopa asleep on the couch across from the fireplace as the rest of us hostelers engaged in our "fireside chats."

An Uruguayan asado (barbeque), complete with steaks (on platter) and Uruguayan sausages, during an Independence Day party at the hostel.

It’s a joke in Uruguay that with its small population, somewhere in the neighborhood of 3.44 million, you’ll always run into someone on the streets that you know. Furthermore, Uruguay is known for its tourism in South America; so much so that not only did I learn about Uruguay, but also about Argentina, Brazil (while I can’t speak it, I can now identify Portuguese), and Chile. Maybe both explain the friendliness of the culture. In my experience of Uruguay, almost everyone has been very friendly and open, always willing to explain directions, give suggestions on places to visit, even if you are still learning Spanish. My friends at the hostel were prime examples of Uruguayan friendliness. Should I have any question about anything at all in the country, they would go above and beyond to help me in any way they can. It was through the hostel that I learned, on a side street around the corner from the hostel, a group of vendors would set up and sell fruits and vegetables in a government sanctioned, Sunday market known as a feria. Supplement that with the supermarket two blocks down, my worries about getting meals were done. I do not regret staying at the hostel, both on the personal growth and financial sense terms.

Me, Mar, and Lucia (the hostel managers) after they baked me a dulce de leche cake for my birthday.  It was a very tasty one at that!
A photo from my room window of the first of two holistic health fairs hosted by the hostel.  A very fun and informative festival that I enjoyed both times.

The statue of General Jose Gervasio Artigas Arnal, a Montevideo-born military figure who is know as "the father of Uruguayan nationhood." The statue, and the adjoining mausoleum, are major tourist attractions and national landmarks in La Plaza de Independencia in the Ciudad Vieja neighborhood of Montevideo.  General Artigas is the namesake of my LIHC dragon.

Of course, I cannot forget the university. La Universidad de Montevideo is well known in Uruguay for its amount of international exchange students. I met students from Germany, France, United Kingdom, Russia and many other countries. The Uruguayan students at the university were always welcoming towards us international students, knowing we were all figuring things out as we go. It was a terrific thing to be in class discussing the issues of today, with opinions and theories from all over the world, whether it be about politics, the economy, or pop culture. In comparison to UNCG, UM is very small (no more than 2000 students in total); it doesn’t take long to meet people and make new network connections.

The Uruguayan national soccer stadium, built in the 1930s, located 4-5 blocks from the Universidad de Montevideo.

The Montevideo sign decorated for the Spring season.

The Presidential Building facing La Plaza de Independencia, the Uruguayan equivalent to the White House, except it serves only as an office building, not a residence.

General Artigas on the sidewalk of La Rambla, a street that runs alongside La Rio de La Plata.  Pictured in the background is the neighborhood of Pocitos.  The World Trade Center Montevideo and BBVA Uruguay buildings are in the skyline.

I can honestly say that I have thoroughly enjoyed myself and my only regret is that I don’t have more time to explore this small on population, big on personality country. It has been the time of my life learning how to live in a new country and discovering the multiple ways one may live their life. Uruguay’s very progressive democracy provides for the opportunity for many walks of life, such as holistic and alternative medicine, but also the traditional Roman Catholicism that Latin America is famous for. Uruguay is a crossroads of many cultures, with a special twist that makes it special. If I had to choose where to go to study abroad all over again, I would choose Uruguay without batting an eye. I cherish my memories from my time here so far and I am excited for the ones yet to come.
If you have any questions about Uruguay or La Universidad de Montevideo, feel free to send me an email:


Grant Harris
La Universidad de Montevideo, Uruguay