Discovering Uruguay by helping others

Joaquín Moreno Head of the International Buddy Program explains that the focus was volunteer work

In 2015 Joaquín Moreno was awarded an ELAP scholarship to study one semester in Canada. As happens to many students, the experience marked a before and after. This year, he was appointed Head of Buddies in the International Affairs Office. 
After graduating in Economics and in Business Administration, Joaquin focused on motivating the international students to participate in volunteer activities in order to get to know a part of Uruguay that they may not discover otherwise. “The idea was that they could discover more of the country and bring home with them a deeper message. I think that volunteering activities are the best memories that you make on exchange”, he said.
Moreno said that the results were very positive. The international students were grateful and happy to give their time to different social projects. One weekend, they helped out in construction through the Techo Foundation. They also provided assistance at the educative center Los Pinos, and, through the UM Volunteer Program (VUM) they taught English at Sophia Foundation’s Don Bosco Social and Educative Project, through the Intercultural Contact program. VUM coordinator Maximiliano Pombo explained that one of the exchange students worked voluntarily in the Center for Support in Integrative Development (CADI).

“It was quite an intense experience” recalls Joaquín in relation to the work done at Techo, “especially for those who are not used to seeing these realities in their countries. Many said that it was one of the most impacting things they have lived.”
One of the exchange students who participated in Techo was Tino from Finland. He was impressed by the generosity of the family that they helped. Such as many other students, he affirmed that by giving, he received even more.
They also organized trips around Uruguay, such as the sea resort Solís, the Sierra de las Animas, Cabo Polonio, and a sports weekend excursion to La Paloma, in which they participated in a festival organized by the Udelar, the State University. On some of these trips, UM Sports Director Raúl Guerra accompanied them, with the idea of providing the students with “integration tools”.

In a world of conflictive relationships between countries, Joaquín indicated that in these types of integrational exchanges the students learn to mix with many different people. This allows them to learn about other people and their cultures. In the farewell dinner held in November 30, students brought a typical food from their country to share.
Although international students come from different places, they come together because they share something similar: trying to “survive” in a country in which, in many cases, they know very little about and to “make friends, which are what everyone needs”. In this way, you naturally connect with others.  In addition, they formed strong links with the Uruguayan students -- in more than one case ending up in marriage -- especially through the Buddy program, in which one UM student accompanies an international student during one semester, helping them adapt to the country and whatever else they need, and to make them feel at home.