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  • Sarah Ellis

Montevideo: A Generous Welcome!


I cannot think of a more welcoming group of people than those who I have encountered in the first few days here in Montevideo, Uruguay. Greetings are warm, and with a kiss. Our Fulbright cohort arrived here in Montevideo this past Sunday evening and the last two days have been non-stop learning.


Yesterday we started the day with welcome remarks from Fulbright, the US Embassy in Uruguay, the Bureau of Cultural Affairs, IREX, ANEP & MEC. Then there were presentations on the Uruguayan Educational System, Innovation in Uruguayan Education, Elementary schools for arts education, CEILAB, UTEC, a safety and security panel from the embassy, a cultural awareness presentation, a city tour, and now on to a welcome reception at Fulbright Uruguay's executive director's home.


My takeaways from yesterday's presentations:

1.) The educational system in Uruguay is innovative. There is a focus on STEAM projects. Art is just as important as science. Learning is student centered, and students learn by doing. Ceilab/Ceibal is an amazing model for PBL (Project Based Learning). I must investigate this more.

2.) Language learning is communicative and "glocal." There is an emphasis on all ways of speaking, no accent is deemed as less than.

3.) Teachers create the textbooks. In fact, our Fulbright host wrote one of the lessons.

4.) Intercultural communication is a discipline/skill that starts with understanding where a culture falls on the spectrum of high to low context. For example, in Uruguay there is a tendency to be less direct than in the U.S. and more personal, a high-context culture. There is closer physical contact and interpersonal space use than in the U.S.

Today we visited Escuela Tecnica, an innovative public high school. We met several teachers and students, were presented with various gifts that the students made, visited classrooms, and were served a 4 course lunch by students studying gastronomy.


The students did a spectacular job serving us, we learned that everything we ate today they made from scratch, including this pistachio flavored flan (they even made arrangements for my gluten intolerance).


After several hours at Escuela Tecnica we then visited a rural elementary school, Escuela Rural No 88 Alfredo Nobel. Here we saw presentations by each grade and every student spoke. I was absolutely blown away by the poise, confidence, and delivery of the students.




Student presentations/projects in 6th grade were all on Carbon footprints. They were able to eloquently describe the Carbon cycle, their data collection, their visual representation of global warming, as well as measurements for their own personal Carbon footprints. After the presentation I spoke with one of the presenters, and told her that she could be anything she wants to be, perhaps a president or a Nobel laureate. Come to find out I wasn't the only one in our group to tell her this.


Everyone we met at this school was so invested. Parents came at the end of the day to share a merienda with us. Something that I found very unique was that the principal lives at the school. Sometimes in the U.S. that might be a joke, but it is a reality in Uruguay. The principal has a small house on the premises. He was so genuine and proud of all his students, I can only imagine what students could be if they were all met with that same compassion and dedication.


You can see the method above, 1) Purpose 2.) Learn 3.) Make 4.) Communicate 5.) Evaluate.

In all of the presentations the students started by investigating their own surroundings. There seemed to be a lot of autonomy in the production of their presentations as well.



Last year their focus project was on monarch butterflies and students created a book based on their field research on what types of plants the monarchs are attracted to.



Grades 1 and 2 presentations were on ants, and they each had interactive roles in describing their life cycle.





Grades 3 and 4 students showed us the success of the workshop model in their presentations on the solar system.



In both schools today there were murals on nearly every wall, visual evidence of the importance of the arts in their communities.


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