If you’re looking to do an internship during your study abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay, there are a variety of options available. One option is with Proyecto Colibrí where you have the opportunity to work with children from vulnerable neighborhoods in Montevideo. Through recreational activities, local children and young volunteers from around the world create a socio-cultural exchange.
Murphy Sharp is a USAC alumna who interned with Proyecto Colibrí during her time in Montevideo. She would travel every Saturday for her internship. Below are several excerpts from her diary about her experience in this internship.
Saturday, Sept. 2
Going to the bus stop the first morning of Colibrí, my internship site for the semester, I couldn’t help but be a little bit nervous. It was the first of many Saturdays where I would be traveling to one of the more impoverished parts of Montevideo for the day to visit school children. Although I had met with other volunteers the week prior to plan activities for the children, my less-than-perfect Spanish skills left me more-than-confused about the happenings for the visit. Walking to the parada (bus stop) that morning, I had no idea what to expect. Empanadas and snacks in hand, I stepped up to the bus, greeting my new friends as I entered. The bus ride was long and bumpy, but everyone still seemed to have a smile as we drove along. When we arrived at the school, the kids were ecstatic. Immediately, they ran over to us, greeting us with hugs, high-fives and besos en la mejilla (kisses on the cheek).
I remember being really surprised about the neighborhood surrounding the school. It was clear we were in a different world now; the streets were not as clean as those in Montevideo, the houses were not as nice, the animals even seemed skinnier. This stark change really surprised me. It inspired me to want to do some more investigation on the poverty within Montevideo and Uruguay in general, as well as the division amongst the rich and poor in the country.
After greeting the kids, still a bit unsure of what was happening, we gathered into a circle and were instructed to say our name, country, and the names of the people before us. I must have repeated “Hola! Me llamo Murphy. Soy de Los Estados Unidos” a million times in my head before it was my turn. Because of that, I completely forgot the names of the people before me. Everyone just laughed, however, like it was no big deal.
From what I gathered from the meeting, the theme for the Colibrí program this year is “around the world” since there are so many international students working with the program. For the first Saturday, we all traveled to the land of Alemania, or Germany. There were around six or seven German girls in Colibriibri group. We sang, dance, and played german games. The most fun and confusing part was when we taught the kids german words. It was hard for me because we were translating from Spanish to German!
One thing that really surprised me was the difference between the program and kids in Uruguay and the United States. It seems as if everything in Uruguay is more free-form– the people, the plans, and the ways we spend our time together. Sure, we spend a good amount of time planning activities for the kids, but Uruguayos are way more flexible with it than I realized. When one of the games wasn’t clicking with the kids and was too hard to explain, we just shrugged and played something else. The kids happily moved on to the next thing.
From my perspective, this is crazy. I feel like in the US, we would find it very difficult to deviate from the original plan. The kids would fixate on learning and understanding the original game. Here in Uruguay, everything is much more tranquilo (relaxed). I feel like this is a really good observation for anyone thinking about working in an international environment. It’s important to realize that the American way of doing things isn’t the only way. It’s also not necessarily the best way. You have to be willing to adapt yourself to best serve the people in the culture in which you are present. Overall, I had a nice time at Colibrí on saturday. It was difficult at times, but I am looking forward to building relationships with the kids and improving my Spanish.
Saturday, Sept. 16
This Saturday was the one we have all been waiting for: USA week at Colibrí! I had a lot of fun teaching the kids about my country and planning activities! The other interns and I planned to create necklaces for the kids, each with a different state of the USA and each child would be a state for the day! We would then teach each kid a fact or something fun about their state.
We were also responsible for coming up with games for the kids that are typical of our country. We decided to begin the day by teaching the kids one of the US’s most typical dances: the cha cha slide. After we gave the kids their states, we turned on the music, got on the stage and danced. I’m glad they all have a sense of humor because it was a laughable experience! We also played the all-American classics, Capture the Flag and Red Rover. The kids really loved both games, and they both provided additional opportunities to learn about their individual states. I noticed that another group played Down by the Banks which was one of my favorites from childhood. Finally, we taught the kids Duck Duck Goose and did some more dancing to American music.
It was really fun being able to share the games and traditions from my own childhood with these kids. I remember playing Red Rover and down by the banks in the schoolyard in the USA like it was yesterday. To see the laughter and joy on their faces was truly special. I was also really surprised at how educated and interested these kids are about the US. They are so bright and energetic, and it makes me sad that they come from a “tough” neighborhood in the city. I hope the best for each one of them because they have such a deep, inspiring curiosity about the world.
Through my own travels, I have also realized that children look up to those who are older than them. At Colibrí, I make sure to share my own personal curiosity about the world and love for education with the kids, to highlight the importance of these things. This is also why I love that we chose an international theme at Colibrí this year. I hope it helps spark interest in these great kids. I hope that they can discover how great and smart they are, and that their world is a lot bigger than their small Marconi neighborhood. I am definitely looking forward to the next week. It was really fun planning activities and teaching the kids a little bit about my country. I hope to have even more fun next time!
Saturday, Sept. 30
Today I had the opportunity to visit a different school with Colibrí. The project operates at two separate schools and last week the kids at the second school didn’t have USA week, they had a different country. This week, we switched schools to allow the other children to experience USA day. The only difference was this week I was the only American present for the games.
At first, I was terrified. Normally, at Colibrí I have the other interns to lean on if I am insecure with my Spanish, or if anything else goes wrong. This week, I was solo. Thankfully, Orlando (a USAC staff member) accompanied me to ease my fears. Still, I was responsible for teaching the kids (in Spanish!) the American games and dances we were going to play.
After getting off the bus, for some reason, I felt calm and not anxious at all. Maybe it was the fact that Orlando was there to help translate, or maybe it was just the feeling at the school in general– but for the first time in Uruguay, I truly felt tranquilo. I shrugged, sighed and thought “well what happens, happens.” And it was the best time I’ve had at Colibrí yet!
I got up on the stage all by myself and I danced! I taught the kids the cha cha slide and the electric slide. I sang songs with them and played games. I had no idea I could do this–especially with my level of Spanish. I felt really comfortable. Other weeks at Colibrí were fun, but I always had a little bit of anxiety; how am I going to communicate with the kids?, I would think. Everyone else here speaks perfect Spanish and they’re all international too, I’m the slow one. But this week I realized: The kids don’t care; they just want to run around, laugh and have fun. Sure, it’s nice to speak the same language, but there are other ways to connect with people. Today I learned this super important lesson– and I’m grateful that Colibri gave it to me.
Since Saturday, I’m learning to apply this lesson to all of my experiences in Uruguay. Of course, I’m going to continue studying Spanish, but it’s okay if I’m not perfect. There are definitely other ways to connect with people in this country. Sometimes connection surpasses language. For example, this morning I went to a coffee shop and connected with a stranger about our mutual love for coffee. Using smiles, laughs, broken Spanglish, and many hand gestures, we connected.
This was the thing that was so special about Colibrí this past week for me– I connected with the kids without the barrier of language. It went so well, in fact, that the principle of the school personally invited me to come to their school’s spring festival. I am so happy that this happened. I’m excited to continue to grow with these students through this internship.
Murphy Sharp is a University of Loyola, Chicago student. She studied abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay for the Fall 2017 semester.