Friday, August 31, 2012

Becoming Sra. Toro

It's official! I'm Sra. Toro.

Months ago, when I told my then fiance that I was going to take his name, he didn't understand why I would want to give up my last name. In Colombia, women maintain their maiden name even when they get married. If they want to add onto their last name, they could do something like "C. Berry de Toro". I didn't like that idea. Next, there was no way I was going to hyphenate my last names to become "Berry-Toro". It's sounds too much like "very Toro" which is a disaster waiting to happen. Plus, I work with students, and I do not want to set myself up for teasing. Flip the names around, and I could be a new type of fruit - the "Toro-Berry". No way. Finally, I decided that it sounds more professional to have just "Toro" as my last name. My fiance said, "Well, what if we go to Colombia? They will think that we are brother and sister since we have the same last name." There is no way that could happen since my husband and I don't look anything like each other. I think we'll be fine.

Most American women grow up knowing that the possibility of changing their last name exists which is a concept foreign to most Latina women who live outside the United States. It was a constant topic of conversation this summer. Once I met the man of my dreams and we became serious, I started to get used to my new identity which is why I jumped the gun on making the blog with my new name. I've had time to get adjusted to my new name just like new parents have nine months to get used to the idea of having a baby. Changing my name hasn't been such a shock to me. It's practically expected here.

As my husband sees me jump through hoops to change my last name, he asks if it is all worth it. In my opinion, it is. He is no longer the only Toro in the house. We are together now. I'm part of his new American family. Is it pain to change? Yes. Is it worth it? Without a doubt.

Here are some pictures of us and our name. Anything that resembles Toro or bulls we get it or take a picture. It's actually a lot of fun. We have plenty of stuff around the house, too.

Sra. Toro

Sr. Toro
For our Colombian coffee

Me = Toro on the outside, Irish on the inside

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My big fat Irish-Colombian Wedding

The best part about my wedding was how two very different families became one. It happened like this.

On Thursday, the men went to get their tuxes, and in no time, there was a mix of Spanish and English in the air. After, we bonded over pizza which make the rehearsal dinner the next night go much smoother since some people already had met.

On Friday, the rest of the Colombian family and friends were introduced, and they were the stars of the night. With everyone getting along so well, I knew that our wedding was going to be a great time. I was a bit worried about how the families would be, but Irish and Colombians are both fun groups so really I had nothing to worry about.

On Saturday, I picked up my sister-in-law for our hair appointments. One of my good friends who is also Colombian needed a ride down to the church so I picked her up, too. It was great because she could help my sister-in-law who spoke no English. I got back to my parent's house and got dressed. I was cool as a cucumber because I've never been one of those Bridezilla-types.

We made it to the church in time to hearing the bagpipes playing. My bridesmaids were all dressed in green because that was the color of my Colombian emerald which is also the same color that symbolizes my Irish heritage. My dress was Spanish inspired with lots of lace, and I wore a mantilla veil to match. Since both our families are Catholic, we had a full Mass. It was really meaningful to the both of us. My wedding band is actually from Ireland, and it is adorned with the Trinity knot. I love telling the story of my rings to people because it is so unique just like my husband and I. Plus, it's a way to carry Colombia and Ireland with me everywhere I go.

We had a great time taking the wedding party by limousine to the reception which was at the Westin Hotel. Again, the cultural theme was present throughout. The place cards were placed in trays and held up with whole coffee beans. The favors were spice jars filled with Starbucks Colombian coffee, and the tags said, "Thanks a latte". Our DJ lit the room up with a green backdrop, and he played American, Irish, and Latin music for us to dance to. Our cake also fit with the theme. The bottom layer was chocolate cake with Bailey's Irish Creme mousse. The second layer we offered our guests was a white cake with mango mousse. It was decorated with Irish shamrocks and coffee beans covered in chocolate.

My goal was to make this a wedding to remember. I wanted to highlight the things that make my husband and I special. I wanted it to be a learning experience for others as well. I think that I accomplished that. When I had the chance to observe what was going on at my wedding, it made me smile. Love broke down the language and cultural barriers that existed. People found joy in the universal language of love and celebrated by dancing the night away. I couldn't have asked for anything more. It was the wedding of my dreams.

Sr. y Sra. Toro

Exactly how I imagined

My unique rings

My favors
The cake

By JClements Photography

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Colombia in the House!

I've had quite a summer!
I have saved a description of my final week in Uruguay, but once I got home, I was bombarded with wedding plans, and I couldn't finish my post. I have been trying to tie up loose ends and make sure that everything got done. It wasn't easy.

Now, there are less than 3 days until the wedding. Today, our family arrived from Colombia. Between sightseeing and wedding stuff, I have been quite busy.

I promise to finish my Uruguay post, tell how the wedding went particularly how we incorporated our two cultures together (Irish-Colombian), and then how was Puerto Rico/Vieques.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Countryside and Coast/El Campo y la Costa

My second weekend was amazing!! A truly unforgettable experience. There are so many pictures that I will just choose the ones that best describe my experience.


On Saturday, we were invited to a birthday party in the department of La Florida in a town called Fray Marcos. I truly was in the country, and I loved every minute of it. Because I didn't know much about Uruguay before my trip, I did not have any ideas of what it was going to be like. I have traveled to the Andes Mountains before, and if anything, I was surprised to see a country that had no mountains at all. If anything, it's very flat which is great because you can get a great view of the sky. I was going nuts using the sunset setting on my camera.

This totally captures the campo!
The countryside
Having fun!
A modern day farmer (gaucho)

I have never seen a peacock before although it refused to open it's tail.
Also, we were truly at a working farm, and I got to see them milk cows. The milk they produce is for Conaprole, the major milk industry in Uruguay. It was such a cool experience. It was nice to relax and just enjoy the peace of the countryside. I was so happy I got the chance to see the Uruguayan countryside.

Seeing it in action!

Talk about fresh milk!!

Sunday - Piriapolis, CasaPueblo, and Punta del Este
On Sunday, we decided to go to the coast because a trip to Uruguay isn't complete with out a trip the famous seaside resort of Punta del Este. First, we started at one of the balenarios that had this house that was in the shape of an eagle, thus el aguila. We didn't stay long because it was soooo windy.

 El Aguila

Then, we headed to the town of Piriapolis. For lunch, we had gnocchis since it was the custom to eat them the 29th of every month. For good luck, you are supposed to put a coin under the plate of gnocchis. While eating them, we were watching Uruguay lose to Senegal. We walked around the port and then took the car to the top of the hill to get a great view of the town. My host said that it is a place that most middle class people can afford compared to Punta del Este which is more for international multi-millionaires. The town was so nice, and I could only imagine how much more beautiful it is when it's summer.

Ten pesos

 Noquis a la bolonesa

Uruguayan Olympic soccer team
At the port


What a view!

Then, we headed to the house of Francisco Piria who is the namesake for Piriapolis. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation, but it was fun to see his house. I guess there are all sorts of legends and urban myths regarding the house - none of which I can remember. It must have been some house way back in the early 1900s.
House of Piria

We then continued up the coast because we were headed to Punta Ballena where CasaPueblo is. I am a big fan of Samantha Brown, and when I watched her Montevideo episode, I saw CasaPueblo for the first time. I was like I HAVE to go there. I also read an article on Veinte Mundos about Carlos Paez Vilaro, who had a friend in Pablo Picasso. Veinte Mundos - Carlos Paez Vilaro My host, her family, her boyfriend, and I began to walk in, and I was in awe. As I looked out over Punta Ballena, I got chocked up. I couldn't believe I was in Uruguay, and specifically, CasaPueblo. It somehow made the trip all a little more real. It was funny too because we bumped into 6 other Fulbrighters who also thought that it was a good day to go to CasaPueblo. I bought a copy of one of Paez Vilaro's works to hang up in my classroom.


His inspiration

The view of Punta Ballena

Happy to be there surrounded by beautiful art work

We finally made it to the last stop in our day trip - the famous Punta del Este. I have never seen a seaside resort like this before even here in the U.S. Stunning! Lots of beautiful high rise hotels and houses with an amazing views of the Rio de la Plata (tan ancho como mar). Like most seaside resorts it was quiet since it was offseason, but it was great to be there nonetheless.

Very nice hotel

 The Marina

 Momument to the Ahogados (the drowned ones)

We had such a great day. We ended it in a park drinking mate and eating pasteles de dulce de leche. Can't get anymore Uruguayan! 

Drinking mate and eating pasteles de leche!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

School Week in Uruguay!

These will a hodgepodge of different things that happened during the school week.

Tuesday - Visit to Escuela Primaria Simon Bolivar

In the morning, we went to visit a local primary school which teaches grades 1 through 6. My host chose this school because it was the primary school of most of her students. We sat with the principal, and she told us some interesting things about the school. After, we got a tour.

The thing I will take away from her chat is the involvement of outside actors in the school. The most important group is the parents. It's kind of an interesting topic for any teacher in any part of the world to discuss. Parents run the spectrum of being too involved in school to not being involved enough. What it seemed to be here is that parents at the primary school level were very involved, but in a positive non-overbearing way. For example, while we were talking to her, a parent came in with some money that she had collected from the parents in the neighborhood. She does this on a weekly basis. The money can go to a variety of different things that are going on at the school. My host said she wished her parents were more involved at the secondary school level.

Although the school is secular, there was a minister that got involved in helping the school especially with maintenance and things of that nature. Also, Venezuela has also helped the school out because well it's name after Simon Bolivar, a Venezuelan military leader. Kinda of shocking that the country of Venezuela would take such an interest in a little primary school at the other end of the South American continent.

These three actors have allowed the school the chance to give the students a good education. The students in one math class, we saw were so cute and enthusiastic. I saw that this elementary school teacher is no different than any American teacher. You could tell she loved being there, and the students showed her the same love back in return. These kids were just so excited to learn which is sometimes is an energy not always found in teenagers.

I love this one!
Love the tunics!

Explaining angles and lines to 3rd graders

One thing that is different is the heating. Sadly, most of the schools in Uruguay do not have heating in the school. Most of the students (and teachers!!) in these pictures are wearing many layers to keep themselves warm. Before the trip, I was so concerned because I had been warned of that, and I am glad I listened to the advice and bought the boots. My Uggs came in handy! (Now, that I look at my suitcase, I wish I never brought nice shoes, I didn't need them!! I'd much rather have art or books or more alfajores to bring back than shoes I never wore which take up way too much space.) Again, I take my hats off to these teachers in Uruguay. They are very special people.

I had worked hard to prepare the presentations I was to give to the students. I gave one about a day in the life of a typical teenager. After, my first one my host said, that it was probably a little too over the heads of kids in ciclo basico, and to rather spend more time on New England instead. I made one about the New England region on Prezi primarily using photos so then I could use it in either language. Plus, I think that the students have only a general concept of what the United States is like. We, Americans, know that there is a cultural different between Northeast, Southwest, Mid-West, South, and Northwest, but the students don't know that. It was much more interesting for them to learn about the US at a regional level. Later, they said they loved the part about the snow, how big the apples are that you pick at an orchard, and carving pumpkins for Halloween.

Click on this link to see pictures of me giving my presentations.

English classes

My host is an excellent English teacher. She speaks in the target language as much as she can to make the class communicative. We are very similar in our approach and thoughts on teaching languages. We enjoy working in themes, try to make all the activities connect to each other, and maintain a high expectation of the students. She also likes to use music and culture to motiva

Our big difference is technology. Although her students do have computers, unfortunately, the internet is not so stable and can not support so many computers at one time because of the bandwidth I'd assume. There are no language labs with recording software and Smartboards.

Also, she struggles with the textbook because it is very outdated. The pictures are from a long time ago and she has to use an audiocassette tape since there are no CDs. If there is nothing in the book that she can use, she has to make up a lot of it on her own which is difficult when she has over 230 students and long days.


What else I enjoyed was participating in her classes. I would walk around helping to answer students' questions or help correcting their work (or just correcting them in general. I can't help it I'm a teacher) After being in her class, I felt excited about returning to my classes in September and incorporating all that I have learned into my lessons. I'm glad I have a month before I see my students so I can really do justice to what I have experienced in this program.


Friday, August 3, 2012

Welcome to Uruguay!/Bienvenida a Uruguay!

It was interesting to wake up in the morning, and not be really sure what to expect from the students or the school. What an adventure I was about to embark on!

The exchange was about to begin. My host and I had shared and compared a lot when she was with me, but there is no better way to understand her reality then to accompany her throughout her day.


One big difference between the two of us is our schedules. To earn a good salary, she has to work in two different schools. This is how it works. In Uruguay, the schedule is divided into turnos - matutino, vespertino, and nocturno. In February, my host had to choose what school she wanted to work at and what classes she wanted to teach. All teachers are ranked based on their seniority and what score they received on an evaluation they are given by an national inspector. My host had a very high ranking so she had a better chance of securing the school and classes she wanted since she is at the top of the list for her age group. However, one issue here is that even teachers with low ranking still will get spots at schools because they are so desperate for English teachers. The only condition is that they will not be working at the schools of their choice or the classes they want.

My host has eight classes at one school and two at the private. Some days, she has to shuffle back and forth between schools. On Monday, she starts working at 8:30 am and doesn't finish until the afternoon. Then, since it's Monday, she needs to stay for a staff meeting which lasts until 8:00. We calculated how much actual hours she works with students versus how much I do. I barely make 4 hours in one day because the rest of the time is for planning, duties, or lunch. I will NEVER complain about my schedule again! I think my tolerance for complaining which is already pretty low will be even lower after this experience. These teachers here work, work, and work. It was very humbling to say the least.

Private Schools

We started our day at the private school which was a bilingual school. The level of the students English was very high. The cost of the tuition was about $500 per year. The level of the students is quite good, and students at level 1, 2, and 3 had no problem talking to me in English. 

The students made me this poster

Here is a picture of me talking to the girls of segundo ano.

It was lots of fun. Luckily, my host just received her license and got a car because we were able to drive between schools instead of taking buses like many of the other Americans. Very fortunate.

Liceo de Shangrila - My host school

I was greeted with open arms from my host school since my host has been there longer than she has been at the private school for only a year. They knew all about the scholarship and of my host's experience with me in my school. Here are some pictures from the welcome parties the students threw for me. It was so sweet. One student made this beautiful binder in Spanish all about her country. It truly brought me to tears. Another class made me a coffee mug with their picture. Another student had her mother make a cake for me. I felt so special even though I hadn't even done anything.

So cute!

So yummy!

So sweet!

Presentation of gifts to the school

We were given money to be able to buy supplies in the United States for our host schools. I got a wish list from my host, and I had a great time going to buy the stuff. I bought flashcards, educational materials, a picture dictionary, games in English, maps, and U.S. culture trivia. It felt great to bring all the stuff down for them. I wish I could have brought more down. I will promise to keep sending them stuff for them to use in their classes.

It was like Christmas!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First weekend in Uruguay - Colonia and Uruguayan asado

On Saturday morning, we all got up early to take a bus to Colonia del Sacramento, a historic town that has preserved some of the original houses from the 17th century.

Having fun at the back of the bus!
Heading to Colonia
One of my favorite pictures!

Calle de los Suspiros - Colonia del Sacramento

From Colonia, you can also take the ferry to Argentina. I just love saying "Buque Bus". It makes me laugh every time.

Buque Bus
Then, we had lunch together. Lots of yummy pizza.

Cheers to a great exchange!
After, we saw a Plaza de Toros which wasn't really ever used since they banned bullfighting shortly after. Now, it sits abandoned.

Former Plaza de Toros in Colonia
From there, we went to an artisan market where I got to buy some souvenirs to take home. At that point, we started to head back to Montevideo. I checked out of my hotel since I was going to be staying at my host's home on Saturday night.

On Sunday, we slept in and had bizcochos for breakfast. We did a few errands before heading to my host's parents' house for an asado. They made me try everything. It's funny how the still have asado even in the winter. For us, BBQs are only really for summer (for at least us New Englanders). It was delicious especially the homemade chimichurri sauce. The dessert was great, too! It was a crust topped with dulce de leche and then coconut. Yum! Then, we sat by the fire and talked.

Asado Uruguayo
 Chimneys or wood stoves are common in Uruguay since they have no heating system built into the house. In most of the US, we would die because there are so many places that get artic cold with heavy amounts of snow. I haven't sat by a real fire in so long since my parents switched to a gas fireplace years ago. I miss the real thing so I sat as close as I could (until I started to sweat). Great way to unwind after a busy week and to prepare for the week ahead at school!
Sitting by the fireplace