Upon our arrival, as well as our first few days in Montevideo, Afnan, Elise, Roberto and I often joked that this summer would not be anything like “the field” we had been preparing to work in for the last semester. This felt especially true when we would sit on our terrace on the 10th floor with a view of the sea (or river actually) and its nice patio furniture and bar-b-q. I often thought to myself, “I could get used to living like this.” In fact, I had wanted to live and work in Latin America upon graduating from my Masters program…
Fast forward, three weeks later (three LONG weeks without the internet) and this experience may have knocked that idea out of me! My family will be pleased! Our first visit to the Liceo was not the one that shocked me the most, though their library certainly did, but subsequent visits would. The library is little more than a dark room with sets of text books stacked all over the room. Never mind my childhood memories of the quirky librarian with the funky earrings and the cat obsession. Here there is no one librarian, only teachers that have certain shifts in the “library,” which they likely accept in order to supplement their income. There is no room in this library to sit comfortably with a book or wander the corridors of books, there are no corridors. Oh, and there is very little comfort to be had at the Liceo anyway. I am not referring to emotional or social comfort, because it actually seems that most of the teachers and students are in fact friends, but of the physical kind. They weren’t kidding when they warned us of having to wear our coats all day! The Liceo is frigid!
The next shock was when I learned that the teachers had to carry around their own toilet paper because the school could not afford toilet paper. I later came to the conclusion that one of the teachers must have bought toilet paper the day of our reception, no doubt trying to make a good impression. During our interviews, we also learned that teachers have to
pay for their own copies of materials and as a result don’t end up giving many hand outs, but instead write assignments on the chalkboard that the students copy into their notebooks. This was quite a shock for us and saddened us, knowing that the teachers do not have many resources of their own to begin with. My greatest shock, however, came when they brought out the “Archive” of old exams for us to choose an exam to conduct our “pre-test.” The “archive” was a beat up binder with typed and hand written exams of previous years. I am not sure why this took me by such surprise, the rest of my colleagues didn’t seem as surprised, but I could not believe that such records are not maintained better. Having attended the largest high school in the U.S., with more than 5,000 students, and having worked with another high school that faced many social problems, I didn’t think it possible for me to be so shocked, but such is the innovative student experience, iSTEP!
Another shock that has had a more direct implication on our personal lives is how expensive everything is here! I don’t know how people do it! The cheapest meal you can find is $8, and we’re talking burger and fries here, and forget about bringing home some Uruguayan clothes! I am finding things are definitely more expensive here than in the states. We have learned from our interviews and interactions with Uruguayos that many of them work more than one job just to make ends meet. For example, our first friend, and our driver, Jorge, works as a driver for ANEP all week and then in his vocation of electrician on the weekends. When I asked him when he gets to spend time with his family he answered “We make the little time we have together worth it!” While I have no doubt this is the truth, it sure seems like a lot of time to be spending away from home. Another contact we made has a PhD and still finds it necessary to work more than one job! What we have concluded that there is just a high standard of living here and that people have to do what they can to live up to it. Therefore, I am left with a lot to reflect upon regarding my future career and still eight weeks to go to soak up everything I can! “A lo Uruguayo!” 🙂