Archive for the ‘Interviews’ Category

 

Well, he’s not exactly a gaucho (you have to be born here for that), but Trevor from Oregon certainly has plenty of experience of country life in Uruguay, after four months living and working on estancias (ranches), working side-by-side with the gauchos, guides and other staff.

 He spent three weeks studying Spanish at the school in Montevideo, before undertaking internships at two estancias in different parts of the country. He’s studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at home, so this was a good way to combine academic progress with his thirst for travel.

It’s certainly an unusual way to spend your time abroad, and in this interview Trevor explains his reasons for choosing this programme, what exactly it involved, and his reflections on his time in Uruguay. 

 

Why did you choose Uruguay?

Because it seemed off the beaten path, progressive, and I’d never been before. I chose to work at an estancia because I liked the idea of being out in the country and doing something completely different from my normal life. I knew it would be more peaceful than working in the city.

 

Can you tell us a bit about the ranches you worked at?

Estancia La Paz and Estancia El Ceibo are both beautiful rural hotels that offer outdoor activities like horseback riding, hiking, bird watching, and fishing. La Paz is located near Paysandu and El Ceibo is near Florida. Tourists from all over the world visited the estancias to enjoy the peace and quiet.

 

What was everyday life like on the ranch? What were your responsibilities?

The workdays in the country are long, but fortunately there was a variety of jobs to do which kept things interesting. Sometimes I would work with the tourists as a server or translator, other times I would help in the kitchen or do landscaping.

 

What were the biggest challenges of the program?

Being out in the country was a drastic change from my usual lifestyle. I think it was especially challenging since I didn’t have any peers with me, but thankfully everyone at the estancias was really nice and made the effort to make me feel at home.

 

What were the best moments?

Galloping on a horse for the first time, learning to drink mate, going to Carnaval in Paysandu, and watching the amazing thunderstorms.

 

You already had a good level of Spanish when you came to Uruguay, so doyou think your Spanish course benefitted you?

Absolutely. The Spanish classes helped me adjust to the Uruguayan dialect, and I had a great time at the school with all the other international students.

 

Do you think working on a ranch helped you with your Spanish?

It really helped me because it was the first experience I’ve had where I was truly  immersed in a Spanish speaking environment, where English was not even an option. After a while I lost my fear of making mistakes and now I feel much more comfortable with the language.

 

What advice would you give to someone considering doing this kind of program?

If you have the opportunity, go for it. Don’t have too many expectations, just enjoy the adventure.

 

Did you have the chance to travel around Uruguay? Which areas would you recommend to travellers?

I didn’t travel around as much as I would have liked to. But I would recommend spending time in some of the smaller towns in the interior. I was constantly impressed by how friendly people were in the country.

Estancia El Ceibo, Florida, Uruguay

Estancia La Paz, Paysandú, Uruguay

If Trevor’s experiences have inspired you, have a look at the internship programmes offered at La Herradura, or you can enjoy estancia life (without so much hard work!) on the Spanish and horse riding programme.

Staying at an estancia is an excellent way to get to know the Uruguayan countryside, and can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. It makes a beautiful weekend break from the city if you are studying Spanish here and, as Trevor said, you can really immerse yourself in the language and customs of the warm and welcoming countryside people.

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Jenny and Ryan completed the Spanish and volunteering programme in Montevideo in February 2010. Here they share their experiences and offer a few tips to anyone thinking about doing something similar. Jenny is an experienced volunteer, and spent a year teaching in Kenya as part of the Peace Corps. For Ryan, it was the first time he had volunteered and, as an IT professional, admits that he had previously had “way more experience working with computers than with kids”! For both of them it was the start of a big adventure, as it was the first step in making Uruguay their new home for the time being. Currently living in a beautiful beach town with their St Bernard dog, they plan to stay in Uruguay for a year or two.

What made you pick Uruguay?
Ryan:
We picked it over other Latin American countries mostly because it is one of the cheaper countries to live in that is also still stable and secure (low-crime). I’ve so far fallen in love with it. The people are very friendly and very laid back.

Why did you decide to combine volunteering and a Spanish course?
Jenny:
Volunteering is a great way to learn about the culture, language, and give a little bit back to the community.

Can you tell us a bit about the project where you volunteered?
J:
We volunteered with two groups. The first group worked with underprivileged youth ages 12 to 18. We met them at a lake once a week and helped them with boating, swimming, and working out strategies.
R: The other group was the Juventud Por Cristo which is an organisation focusing on after-school programmes that provide kids with some life skills as well as combating abuse.
J: We met the kids at the youth centre three times a week and either played games, did art projects, took dance lessons, or went on an afternoon outing with them.

What was your role?
J:
Basically just to help supervise and teach the youth about life in the U.S. It was fun to interact in a positive environment with the youth.
R: As far as working directly with the kids, my role was minor. Our language skills weren’t up to par to enable us to interact with the instructors or kids much. However the Juventud Por Cristo did require a database to manage their inventory, which they sell to other anti-abuse organisatins around Latin America. This was a specialised project which used my skill set directly.

What were the biggest challenges of your volunteer placement?
R:
Finding a way to make an impact. These organisations plan projects based on their more permanent volunteers or paid help, and one month of volunteering was not enough for them to plan or schedule projects around us. I had never volunteered before, and this hindered my ability to jump in and help. It was hard for me to understand the type of projects I should/could create for the kids.

What were the best moments?
J:
The dance class was a lot of fun. An instructor came to the youth center and taught the kids once a week and it was a lot of fun making mistakes and learning with the kids. Another good moment was taking boats out with the kids and playing in the lake
R: Playing on the rope swing (over the water) with some of the high-school boys. We were showing off various flips and jumps between all of us.

Do you think volunteering helped with your Spanish?
J:
Yes, in the afternoons at the school we would often speak in English with the other students, but being forced to speak in Spanish while volunteering definitely helped with my confidence and speaking more regularly.
R: Yes, and I think that the more Spanish you know, the more impact volunteering will have as far as helping your Spanish.

What advice would you give someone considering this kind of project?
J:
If you have at least an intermediate level of Spanish, then this is a great way to improve your Spanish, get involved in the community and learn more about Uruguayan culture. It is also helpful if you come with some ideas of good games, songs, or other ways interact with youth.
If you only have a basic level of Spanish, plan on this being a little more difficult and be ready to be outgoing and play charades.
R: These organizations are small organizations. That’s good and bad. It’s great because most of the people in the oganization work directly with the kids (where as larger organizations spend a lot more time on administration and methods to get donations). It’s bad because they don’t spend as much time on administration and their projects are too small to effectively absorb random volunteers.
That means, come ready to be flexible and work with them in the very beginning to define a project which you can run yourself or with a little help. These organizations want to provide kids with life skills and your project could be a mini-version of some of the projects the organization already does. The Juventud Por Cristo taught the kids cooking, gardening, dancing (salsa when we were there), computer skills and many other things.

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