Life on the Coast of Uruguay – Intern Experience
Amber Bortner is a social media and promotion intern for la Herradura Spanish Language school in Uruguay. She is from Pennsylvania, entering her last semester at Penn State in spring (2022) and majoring in Hospitality Management and Spanish with a concentration in Event Management.
Why I chose to intern in Uruguay
I have previously studied abroad in México through my university. It was a great experience, but I wanted to find a more independent, long-term abroad opportunity to better my Spanish fluency and gain international work experience. I thoroughly researched intern abroad programs in Spanish-speaking countries and found Adelante. They were one of the programs with more diverse internship options. After reading about Adelante’s Uruguay program and the country, I fell in love with the idea of going to Uruguay!
Arriving in Uruguay with Adelante
I arrived in Montevideo after a long day and night of travel. The program director picked me up, and we drove ~1 ½ hours to the house I’ll be staying in for the next 3 months. I was exhausted and had to take a siesta, but my housemates and program director gave me a warm welcome. That night, we went out to a bar to listen to one housemate play the guitar in a band, and the next day, we watched a horse demonstration in el campo or countryside accompanied with food and drinks!
Exploring the City
Our house is located in the city of Maldonado, which is a smaller city right next to Punta del Este; a seaside city that is a popular vacation spot for neighboring countries Argentina and Brazil. During my time, I’ve taken day trips to Montevideo, the capital city, and Piriápolis, a port town near Punta del Este. In Montevideo, my Spanish teacher and I visited the Visual Arts Museum, walked around Parque Rodó, which is similar to Central Park in NYC, and drove around the different neighborhoods looking at street art. In Piriápolis, we walked along the boardwalk, ate fresh fish at the docks, and visited an artisanal feria or market.
Taking day trips and exploring the city are lots of fun, but my favorite part of living here is figuring out daily life challenges. A big difference compared to US grocery stores is that there is more contact with employees (which means more Spanish!). When buying fruits, meats, cheeses, and bakery items, I often have to speak with an employee about what I want and how much (which requires lots of practice with the metric system). It’s intimidating at first to do simple tasks, like change money or order food, but the challenge of speaking in a different language makes simple tasks more rewarding. Now a month into my trip, I feel more comfortable living here and speaking Spanish to people. Most of my interactions speaking Spanish with locals have been positive!
Social Media Internship Placement
After meeting with my intern director, we discussed several projects I’ll be working on for the school. My tasks my experiences on the school’s social media and blog along with helping to translate their website to English. I also reach out to local hostels, hotels, and tourist spots to promote the school to foreigners in the area who would like to learn Spanish. I’m excited to start working on projects for my internship, continue exploring the area, and visit more towns across the country!
Going With the Flow in Uruguay
After I chose my internship in Uruguay, I began to read about the culture and history of the country to find out what I was getting myself into. Most spoke of gaucho culture and the high consumption of meat, linguistic differences like the use of vos, and mate. Although all are true- especially mate as it’s more likely to see an Uruguayan with a thermos under arm and a silver bombilla sticking out in the other than without-, I couldn’t get a feel on how life actually is here or what the people are like.
Learning the Culture
After meeting several Uruguyuans and living here for two months, I definitely know more about the people and have had a majority of good experiences interacting with them. An interesting cultural quirk of the people here is they love to lengthen the lifespan of any item. Ferias or markets are filled with items that would be thrown out without a second thought where I live.
Many people have been curious as to why I’m here from the US and want to speak with me about my experiences. When I speak in Spanish to someone, a lot answer back in English much to my chagrin! When I kindly tell them I want to practice Spanish, they typically switch back.
I’ve mostly met people from other places in the world, including Germany, Sweden, and Brazil. The majority of La Herradura students are adults who have moved to Uruguay to live rather than visit or vacation. It’s been interesting to hear about their experiences applying for residency and looking for housing in a language that they’re still learning. I’ve also met other people through asados or barbecues held at the school and going to see live music as one of my roommates is a musician.
Lifestyle in Uruguay
As my second month in Uruguay comes to a close, I understand the appeal of moving here, especially from the US. There’s a different pace to life that focuses on enjoying the day and spending time with loved ones rather than the work-eat-sleep cycle that many people close to me in the US have fallen into. Many businesses aren’t open on Sundays and close for several hours after lunchtime during the week. I’ll often see younger people gather with friends at the beach and workers take a long lunch eating in the park during this siesta time.
Adjusting to a slower pace
Despite this idealized view of a perfect, tranquil beach life; a slower-paced life does come with some cons. Coming from a country that prioritizes speed and doesn’t have much patience, inefficiency is one of my biggest pet peeves. We had to get a key replaced for our apartment, and after the third key from a key store didn’t fit in the lock, we went to two other stores before finally getting one made correctly. This isn’t meant to degrade Uruguay or the people in any way, I’m just taking notice of what I’ve experienced. It’s taken me a bit to get used to this pace to stop and smell the roses, but it’s a welcomed change compared to my busy schedule in the US. I especially like the slower pace of long nights out at bars as it truly is a marathon and not a sprint!
For my internship, I have been accompanying students with our teacher around the area for conversation classes in Spanish. We’ve been to local museums, driven around different neighborhoods, and visited several beaches.
Usually, my favorite museums are in smaller, lesser-known cities, and Maldonado is no exception! I visited a live theater museum that has antique puppets from around the world with a Brazilian student who is a retired theater professor. My favorite museum I visited was Museo Mazzoni. As I entered the colonial house filled with antiques and collectibles, it felt like I had stepped back in time.
Internship in Uruguay
The best part of my internship is flexibility as I don’t need to commute anywhere or work specific hours. I mostly work in the garden of the school creating content for social media and developing promotional materials while being able to speak with other students as they come and go from classes.
The last study abroad trip I took was 6 weeks, so I felt as though as soon as I became comfortable, I had to leave. Now feeling comfortable with my routine in Uruguay, I still have another month left to enjoy and a lot I plan to do, including going to Buenos Aires and trying out some wineries in the area!
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