A bison abroad | Interview

Q&A with Jaelyn Lardy in Uruguay

Jaelyn is pictured in Ushuaia, Argentina in Patagonia. Ushuaia is commonly referred to as “the end of the world.”

Q: What’s your major? 

A: Spanish Education and Spanish.

Q: Where are you currently studying abroad? 

A: Montevideo, Uruguay.

Q: What has been your favorite experience so far? 

A: My favorite experience so far was having the opportunity to visit Iguazu Falls in the northern part of Argentina. Iguazu Falls have the largest set of waterfalls in the world and it truly is a marvel. I went on the trip with my program and I will never forget the feeling of seeing the massive waterfalls in front of me. It was recently added to the seven natural wonders of the world and I can definitely see why. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Q: What made you make the final decision to study abroad? 

A: As part of my major, I am required to study abroad. However, it wasn’t just the academic requirement that made me want to study abroad. I have always had an inkling to live in another country but have always been scared to commit to the idea. I can’t lie, I put it off for a semester mostly because I was scared to go. But eventually, I convinced myself after hearing about other students’ study abroad experiences. I knew it would be a challenging experience, but I also knew that I would enjoy it overall.

Q: What has been something that’s been hard getting used to? (i.e. something different in everyday life that you didn’t expect.) 

A: I am still not used to the concept of time here in Uruguay. People here are late to almost everything because the idea of time is more relaxed. Usually, our classes at the university even start late. When meeting up with a friend, you have to plan for a half an hour grace period, because chances are you won’t meet up on time.

My classes usually start an average of 10 minutes late (usually more) and without fail, meeting up with friends never happens at the time that we agree upon! For example, last week I had plans with a friend at 3 p.m and we didn’t meet up until 5:30 p.m. because it kept getting put off! As you can imagine this is very different from the United States where punctuality is valued.

Q: What has been your favorite dessert, meal, delicacy that you have tried so far? 

A: There are too many to decide from! If I had to pick, I would probably pick “Yerba mate” (pronounced sher-bah mah-tay) which is a warm herbal tea that is very popular in countries such as Paraguay, Argentina and of course, Uruguay. “Mate” in Uruguay is more than just a tea. It is a social tradition that has deep roots in the history and culture of the country. I love the significance of this seemingly small drink and I love the way it brings people together. Uruguayos drink mate on the streets, in their homes, with their family and with their friends. Mate is a very special part of the culture here.

The way it works is this: one person has the mate cup and drinks one “mate” or one full cup of the drink. When he or she is finished, they pass the cup to the next person in the circle and the drink is shared out of the same container and the same straw. If someone shares their mate with you it is an honor. “Mate” is an extremely special tradition that I’ve been able to take part in.

Q: Have you done anything that was at first out of your comfort zone?

A: One thing that was really out of my comfort zone was putting myself out there and applying for an internship while here. With my internship, I work in an orphanage and I work with kids from the age of three to twelve years old. I have experience working with kids in the past, but the orphanage is a different situation. This has been a great opportunity to practice my Spanish, learn more about the culture, spend time with kids and hopefully help the community out a little bit. At first, going to the orphanage was intimidating and definitely out of my comfort zone, but now it is one of my favorite parts of my week!

Q: What is public transportation like? 

A: In Montevideo, public transportation is a public bus service. The bus is called many names here including the “omnibus” and the “bondi”. The way it works is you pay by the hour. You can purchase a bus card that gives you a cheaper rate on the buses, too. When you get on the bus, you tell them how many hours you want to pay for and then either pay in cash or scan your bus card. The bus system was surprisingly easy to figure out. The city has a couple of apps that you can use to find the bus routes and there is even an app that will tell you which bus number to take based on your location and your desired destination.

Coming from Fargo, North Dakota, the bus was one thing I felt really worried about learning in the big city. It took me a couple of days before I even dared to step foot on the bus, but once I did, I caught on quickly. When you are coming up on your desired destination, you have to make your way to the back of the bus to exit. There is a button by the door that you must push before the stop so that the driver knows you want off. It takes time to learn the ins and outs of public transportation, but once you learn the little tricks it becomes easy!

Q: What is your housing situation like? 

A: I live in a homestay with a host mom and a roommate who is a part of my program and is from California. My host mom is 70 years old and she has three children and one grandchild. She prepares two meals a day for me: breakfast and supper.

I love living in a homestay because it gives me the perfect opportunity to practice my Spanish and it also gives me a first-hand look into the culture here in Uruguay. Study abroad programs do an excellent job of finding homestay families who really do care about you. My host mom always wants to know how I’m doing and always tells me I am “like another daughter to her.’ If I am having a bad day, she can always tell. I’m really grateful for the support system I have in Uruguay.

Q: What is the most interesting thing you learned about the culture? 

A: One of the most interesting things I have learned about the culture here is that most people do their produce shopping at the “ferias” which are the fresh markets. Grocery stores are expensive, and surprisingly food in general in Uruguay is very expensive, so to reduce some of the burden people get their fresh produce for cheaper, at the “ferias”.

The “ferias” can be big or small and there is at least one “feria” every day of the week although they happen in different parts of the city each day. We have one that happens two blocks from our house every Wednesday and the larger “ferias” usually happen on the weekend. They also sell household essentials. People plan their entire week around when they can get to the “feria” to buy their goods. When I first arrived in Uruguay one of the very first things my host mother said to me was to never buy produce in the grocery store and to always find a “feria” to go to.

Q: What is one thing did you expect that wasn’t actually true? 

A: When I signed up for the homestay option, I automatically assumed I would be placed in a home with parents and children. Whenever you hear the word “host family” it always makes me think of a traditional family. The reality of homestays is that this “traditional” family is usually not who students get assigned to in a homestay option.

Most of my classmates have one single host parent and I would say they all average above the age of 60. For example, my host mom, who is seventy, signed up to host students because her husband passed away a few years ago and none of her kids lived with her anymore. She wanted to host students to have people in and out of her house and she wanted to have someone to cook for again.

That being said, most host families choose to host students for similar reasons, therefore, meaning that if you choose a homestay option you might not necessarily have the “traditional” family. However, although this was unexpected, I am by no means upset with the outcome. I love being in a home with just a host mom and the homestay option has really been a great experience.

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