Three Lessons in Self Love

by Silas, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Parque Rodó in Montevideo, one of my favorite spaces to relax and reflect. Photo taken by me. 12.02.2019

With the biting Vermont breeze a refreshing reminder of where I ended up after a week of mild chaos, I finally began to reflect on my time in Uruguay. As my dog ran ahead of me, I remembered some of the highlights of the year, laughing to myself, thinking of all the crazy things that had happened. I then found myself getting a little more philosophical, as I tend to do on my walks. I tried to piece together who Silas is after the experience and how he compares to Silas before the experience. Through lots of reflection, I realized how little self love I had prior to beginning my gap year. But that all changed in Uruguay. On my walk a few days upon arriving home, I tried to narrow down what catalyzed this change and I came up with three

1. Space for Reflection

When was the last time you tried to be completely alone with your thoughts?

I began to reflect at our orientation week at Tufts when Professor Talusan told us journaling would be an essential part of our class. Originally dismissing it as a useless formality, I grew to recognize the importance of devoting time to reflection as it was reiterated through activities and workshops. On our final night, our peer leaders, Daniela and Mateo, led us in a sharing circle, where for the first time, I worked to identify what drove me to take the gap year. This allowed me to know what I wanted to work on over the course of the year and gave me a way to gauge my progress. During the first few months of being in-country, I journaled nearly every day. Those daily 5-10 minutes helped me deconstruct what I felt that day, which especially helped through a period of intense homesickness. I obviously had felt sad, or angry, or scared, etc. before in my life, but I rarely gave myself the space to unpack it. In trying to keep up an always positive, happy facade I would not work on or even validate those feelings, instead convincing myself everything was fine, remaining ignorant of my own emotions. During the year, I devoted time to listen to myself instead, whether through journaling, meditation, or simply taking a walk. In the wake of being robbed, reflecting on those emotions helped me to not panic anytime a beggar asked me for change. During bouts of homesickness, reflecting helped me be more open and honest about how I felt, recognizing the sadness as a real and valid emotion. Giving myself the space to reflect has made me feel less like the product of other people’s expectations and opinions, as those are no longer the only feelings I listen to.

2. People

Who in your life do you feel you can be completely yourself around?

I’ve told friends I love them before and it has been true, but never has it held so much meaning as saying it to other gap participants on our last night. The end had come much sooner than we expected so these final moments made us reflect on our time spent together. Going through this experience with people was very powerful, as we were learning so much about ourselves, together. A friend once told me “It’s hard to change when the people around you are just gonna classify or treat you like the person they are comfortable knowing you as.” We, however, were all comfortable with each other while growing, so we were unafraid to show that development. What resulted was friendship based purely on love for who we were. Unlike some previous friendships in my life, there was little fear of judgment, meaning that as I learned so much about myself, I was able to show it wholeheartedly. Being vulnerable, and still valued by amazing people helped me value myself more.

3. Hell yeah, I just did that!

Do you know when you’re crushing it?

I’ve always had trouble recognizing and talking about my accomplishments because I don’t want to seem like an egotistical person. Not talking about them also meant I did not celebrate them myself. However, in Uruguay, I realized it was healthy to recognize accomplishments, no matter how small. Earlier in the year, I wrote about how I had discovered the most gratifying parts of life to be the small victories. Focusing on these little moments day to day helped me through some of the toughest times in Uruguay because even when all I wanted was to go home, I thought of the short conversations at work, the memorable nights with friends, the walks exploring the city, and I was reminded of the life I was building there. When we heard we would be leaving the program early, I was devastated, which surprised me, after spending so much of the year thinking about home. However, I had built a vibrant life on a different continent with all new people, in a language I couldn’t speak well before. That’s pretty amazing. I took initiative in getting to know the city, building a healthy routine, becoming an important member of my internship. Part of my journey to self-love was realizing that so much of the success of the year could be attributed to my own actions.

Perhaps the greatest lesson from the year is realizing the importance of growth. Through learning self-love, I grew into myself. On the first night of our Bridge Year orientation, another fellow asked me why I decided to do this. “I don’t know,” I said. “I just know something has to fundamentally change in my life.” I knew I was looking for something, but I didn’t know what. During the year, I found what I had lost: myself. Before the trip, I felt I had lost parts of what made me myself, or at least I failed to value them. The journey of self-love is certainly not over and neither is the journey of growth. All of life is an opportunity to grow and I hope to never stop.

A photo from our very special final night in Uruguay. Taken by Liani Astacio 03.14.2020

Coming Full Circle

by Giovana, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I walked into my neighborhood’s TATA (a supermarket chain in Uruguay) on the morning of my two-month early departure, due to the pandemic, to buy some Uruguayan essentials: dulce de leche, yerba, y membrillo. As I entered the store my attention was immediately drawn to the song playing on the overhead speakers. I started singing along in my head, “Caballero… Recuerde que el amor es lo primero.” My mind drew the connection instantaneously that the song playing was “Alegre Caballero” by Rubén Rada.

Before this year, I had only come to Uruguay once 5 years ago with my sister and dad, and we had listened to that song on repeat because it was the only CD in my Uncle’s car. I stopped in the middle of the aisle and allowed myself to embrace all of the nostalgia in that moment. It felt as though it was this perfect paradox: Where the in-country exploration of my Uruguayan culture/heritage had begun and ended.

I had always felt that I was lacking a personal connection to the country, preventing me from claiming my “Uruguayanness.” It had always been a place of relevance but one I couldn’t fully grasp. Both my parents would talk about how our culture and their experiences living there influenced them deeply but without further explanation. Beginning this bridge-year, I had this expectation that I would leave fully feeling confident to claim my Uruguayan identity yet it became so much more than that.

In October I met two people who became my closest Uruguayan friends throughout my bridge-year: Marcelo and Agustina. They both allowed me to connect intimately to Uruguay as a country, by being a platform to meet more local youth and subsequently deepening my connection to the language. The more time I spent with each of them the more I learned. Sometimes Marcelo would say things like “manzana” (apple) accompanied by a hand gesture, and claimed he was teaching a very slang version of Uruguayan Spanish. He advised me to never use it in a formal context, which eventually became an ongoing joke that I would later tease him about in the months following. Agustina would always invite me to cool “underground events” which allowed  me to uncover deeply the city of Montevideo and take advantage of everything it had to offer. These friendships created a foundation and a tangible connection to Uruguay. Such experiences allowed me to construct a Uruguayan life of my own, independent from that of my family.

Once I had that foundation and felt increasingly comfortable in the life I was constructing for myself, I began to understand my own upbringing better and the references my parents would make. I can picture my dad taking a bus from the countryside into Montevideo to sell fresh fruits and vegetables in the local ferias on the weekend. I can picture my mother at her boarding school, looking out her window into her ocean view. It’s simply being in the country and picking up the customs, and hearing the day-to-day noises in the environment that brings more awareness and understanding of my roots.

After spending 7 months in Uruguay, I realized I grew up more “Americanized” than I thought and learned to embrace being a yankee (gringa), or as some of my friends called me, “Uruguaya-yanki.” Before this year, I would’ve gotten defensive about being called these names and would’ve felt invalidated of my identity but instead, to my surprise, this year taught me how to embrace it. While it still may take time to fully embrace myself as a Uruguayan-American, I left making a home of my own, feeling more connected to my roots, and confronting parts of my identity that used to make me insecure. There is so much more reflection about my experience that I anticipate having and unpacking throughout the next few months and beyond, but I feel more confident than ever of who I am. The song Alegre Caballero” by Rubén Rada, will forever be an ironic symbol making my own identity out of a collective one and mark a place of my own in Uruguay.

3/15/20: With Agustina and Marcelo on my last night in Uruguay.

Quantifying an Experience

by Madeleine, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Since coming home to Maine, I’ve been asked “How was Uruguay?” a million times. I hear it from neighbors, friends, and relatives, all meaning the best, but not understanding that I still don’t know how to answer. I know what everyone wants to hear:

“It was amazing! My host family and internship were awesome, and I made so many friends and saw such cool places!”

This is the response I first used and, to be fair, it’s all true. But it’s hard for me to group so many memories, conversations, adventures, and emotions into a sentence like that. You can’t know a book without reading the whole story, and obviously, a one-sentence summary does not suffice.

Being asked this question and never knowing how to respond made me wonder how I would measure the seven months. Meaning, answering “How was Uruguay?” not to an outside party, but only to myself. My first instinct was to take tangible parts of my experience, assign value based on how many times they occurred, and in this way, determine significance. The most significant things would be what I could measure my year with. I soon realized that I was basically rewriting “Seasons of Love” from Rent ( The song brings up a good point- it’s surprisingly hard to take such a concrete amount of time and define it by something else. I could define it more generally by how many bus rides I took, how many times I traveled, how many friendships I made, how many sunsets I watched. I thought that those would be great, universally understandable and beautiful memories, but they lacked a certain emotional value. Using these experiences to quantify my time didn’t feel complete- it was too general, too normal, and left out too much.

Then, I began thinking of ways to incorporate that personal side that I felt was missing. I could use dozens of personal ways to quantify my time with memories specific to my friends, family, and internship. However, I realized that these experiences, though meaningful to me, were too specific to quantify in a general statement. I think they will hold more value in a journal entry for myself than in a blog post, or in my short answer about my experience abroad.

I came to the conclusion that I could not use numbers to determine significance. I had more general experiences that were vast in amount, and I had specific experiences that were too isolated, too small, and therefore, I couldn’t possibly group them together. Throwing numbers out of the equation, but still thinking about significance, I found a solution. The answer was to quantify my experience with concepts- things like beauty, joy, and love. I found that using such concepts as a way to quantify my experience to answer that question adequately incorporated the complexity of my time in Uruguay, as well as simplified my answer to be appropriately short for the prompt. These feelings were present in every experience I could describe as general, as well as every isolated moment. All of them were so present in my seven months, yet all numerically unquantifiable. When I think of my time in Uruguay, there is beauty, there is joy, and Rent was definitely onto something, because there is, most importantly, love. The most significant part of my experience was that I grew love for my family, my internship, my friends, the city, my home, the language, and myself.

And now, I ask myself, “Maddie, how was Uruguay?”

“There was beauty in every moment, and my days were filled with love- I will be forever grateful.”

My first and last photos from my seven beautiful months in Uruguay.

Success is Made of Small Victories

by Silas, Tufts 1+4 Participant

Kids mixing cement as part of a crafts project to make lamps at my internship. I got to use my experience from past jobs to help them learn how to mix and how much water to use.

In a new place, I find myself fixating on even the littlest events as wins or losses. Noting a small victory is the most encouraging part of life here, no matter how small. Redefining my idea of success was a source of the never ending culture shock of this unfamiliar place. I arrived with big goals of understanding all the bus lines, having long, in-depth conversations with my host parents, or helping a kid with their math homework at my internship. A month in and I still use apps on most commutes, I bumble awkwardly through conversations, and I’m lucky if a kid wants to listen to me. But I have found motivation in the smaller wins while building towards my previous goals.

Usually they are events that I would not have even noticed back home, such as a simple conversation with a kid at my internship. On a beautiful Saturday, I found myself sitting on the sidelines of the kids’ soccer practice. I could not see my skills matching up to the young Uruguayans so I chose not to participate. One of the fifth graders, Tomás, joined me sitting on the stoop and started asking me about my pets. As I told him stories of my dog, George, of his hatred of mailmen, his fear of other dogs, and his unusual preferred treats, I noticed I was not having to plan out what I said, as I usually must with Spanish. Lucas loved it and then loved telling me about the strained relationship between his cat and his dog. Though the conversation lasted just a couple of minutes, I continue to think about it, a testament to how powerful these small victories can be.

Not a day goes by without small defeats, too. Similarly, usually they are things I would not have noticed back home but here, they amplify the general feeling of being a foreigner. Not understanding the layout of a grocery store and then not knowing how to say the ingredient I’m looking for, the interactions made awkward by my repeating of “¿Qué?”, or when the person I’m talking to must ask, “¿Qué?” because of my accent. When these build up, it can be demoralizing,making personal progress feel stagnant. However, it’s important to recognize these as a natural part of life here so they do not cause actual stagnation. Instead, I choose to focus on the absence of small defeats. In my first week, they seemed to far outweigh the small victories but as time has gone on, they inevitably have grown less and less frequent. For example, when Uruguayans ask, “¿Qué hora es?” (“What time is it?”), they blend all the sounds so it comes out as one syllable. This led to me having to ask them to repeat it every time until I began to learn and now I no longer experience this small defeat.

The first meal I cooked for my family, spanakopita. I loved bringing one of my favorite dishes from home to them and though they considered the cheese to be ​picante​, they loved it, too.

My time in Uruguay in the end may be defined by big successes such as becoming fluent in Spanish, making meaningful friendships, or completing a long term project at my internship. But until I am able to look back on it all, my time is defined by finally mastering the secret handshake my students taught me.

Connections on the Commute

By Madeleine, Tufts 1+4 Participant

A photo of me, Tufts 1+4 Fellows Gio and Silas, as well as our friend Sophia, on a crowded bus

Being from a small town, the longest daily commute I had faced was the ten-minute bus ride to school in junior high. Now, my daily commute involves two buses and over two hours round trip to and from my internship. When I first began riding the bus alone, I was a little nervous about navigating the bus system efficiently, and for good reason- the number of times I’ve had to give up on the bus system and Uber for at least a part of the trip is embarrassing. Beyond the complicated bus routes, however, I was nervous about being bored senseless during the ride. On my first few times riding the bus alone, I downloaded movies to watch, wanting to enclose myself in a bubble of entertainment and familiarity. One day, my bus was overcrowded, and I had to stand, as there were no more seats left to take. When I’m standing on the bus, I usually don’t like to hold my phone, because the often bumpy ride can make me drop it, and since I hold on to a railing or post anyway, I don’t have a free hand. So, there I am, sandwiched between a few others, and through the crowd of people, I noticed a baby staring at me, wide-eyed and adorably fascinated. I stuck my tongue out at her, a simple way to charm most infants. After about a minute, she stuck hers out at me, as if she was proud to have gained a newfound knowledge. Her mother’s eyes widened and she smiled warmly, telling me that was the first time her baby had done that. From then on, I made a more conscious effort to be more present with the people around me on the bus, even if they were strangers, because even a small interaction like this one was so much more valuable than another minute scrolling through social media.

A few days ago, I was sitting next to a girl about my age reading a book so thick that she almost struggled to hold it open. Though I couldn’t see the cover of the book, I glanced over to see if I could follow along and, noticing the names Bill and Eddie, thought, “Oh, wouldn’t it be funny if she were reading ‘IT’ in Spanish.” Then, I began reading along, and saw several mentions of a “payaso,” which means “clown.” I debated for a minute whether I should venture into conversation with her, since I’m not really one for talking with new people, much less in a language other than my native tongue. I recalled how my interaction with the mother and baby before had sparked joy on the dreary bus ride, and I eventually mustered the courage to ask her, “Estás leyendo ‘Eso’?,” to which she responded, “SíSíSí! Es uno de mis favoritos!” My Maine-raised heart skipped a beat, pounding with excitement to have found a connection with someone, especially a connection over something so important to me such as my home state. I told her that I grew up in a town not far from the place where the book is set, and she began enthusiastically inquiring about the settings of Stephen King’s other books, prompting a fun and unexpected conversation discussing his literature. When the bus arrived at her stop, we shared our social media information, and as she walked away, she turned to smile and wave goodbye. Afterward, I felt so rewarded – because I had been present during what I thought would be a painfully mundane hour, I had been able to form a friendship.

Taking the bus every day can be boring, don’t get me wrong, but, I have found that being involved in my surroundings has allowed me to learn more about the people of Montevideo. I no longer “give up” when I face boredom during my commute, succumbing to the bubble of entertainment that my phone gives me. I have found that leaning into the boredom allows me to be with those around me, even strangers, and I have found those experiences so much more rewarding. Through my many trips on the bus, I have been able to make unlikely connections, and I feel lucky that I can continue to explore Montevideo in this way.

A Meditation on Birds

By Andrew, Tufts 1+4 Participant

I have always had an affinity for birds. In grade school I dreamed of working in a parrot rehabilitation center and poured love into caring for the hens I raised in my yard. Most days involved reading the field guide “Birds of Wisconsin” and my seasons were divided by patterns of migration. From loons at dusk to Eagles with prey; I would often sit and simply listen. These voices, I now realize, lectured many of the first of life’s elusive lessons.

Yet in adolescence I landed at a point where this appreciation fell away. There came a time when April chose to cut off from the oranges. I left purple years and Orioles without jelly. At life ́s heaviest, I saw the nature of Wisconsin as no blessing at all. Forests were cotton and trees swallowed each tick of my watch; I realize now I had set an alarm.

With adolescence came a longing to fit in and so I trained myself to see mass as the way. I was sure city was solution and took comfort in setting systems of equations that ate bigger numbers of people to produce higher chances of finding a flock. Happiness was a pseudo-probability derivative of people and punctuated by digits-calculations, constructions-as if science or statistics were the infallible variations of subtle math that neither lies. It was in these crowds that I envisioned each face gently weaving away to reveal my concrete perch while forgetting that systems and substitution were taught not only to solve for X, but importantly for Y.

Quite quickly what were once wishes transformed into reality, swift to unfold. I moved cities while traveling the world and was washed by waves of wonderful people. I was living what I thought should be my dream and though I would say I felt happier, life felt almost distracting. It culminated in academic pressure, a difficult relationship and friends with struggles of their own. After graduating completely exhausted, for the first time in many years, I allowed myself to embrace being alone.

Shortly after, the sky burst out in purple humming.

For so many years, the clattering of unhappiness forbid my mind from giving way to beauty’s songs. Yet the birds had never stopped singing. I had simply forgotten to listen. Perhaps in a world of frantic searching, it is the listening we need now most. For me, that meant to myself.

I had tried so hard for so long to fit into some mold that I forgot the simplicity of being myself. As we grow older we often lose touch with the joy this earth once brought us as children as we assume increasingly more imposed and inherited roles. For me, to listen to myself once again means beginning to learn to gaze through it all. It means staring so deeply that even the mud in the water eventually turns into love.

Ornithologists have demonstrated that birds can adapt their calls in both volume and style to adjust to acoustic terrain. So resilient are their hymns that they rely not on the world around them to be heard. It is in this resilient symphony where we can be magically reminded how love transcends sounds; words. We hear each call, and the differences combine. It is in the textured soundscape that we once again come to understand the way difference courts beauty.

This is an earth full of songs always singing, let us learn to let these voices be heard.