Uruguay’s embrace: A long-awaited homecoming.

by Naomi Sheather – YFU Returnee Exchange Student Australia to Uruguay

From the moment my exchange year ended and I bid farewell to Uruguay in 2020, I knew my return was imminent. Although, back then, it felt no more than a distant dream.

At the end of 2023, almost three years after leaving, I received an unexpected text from my host sister inviting me to her Quinceañera – a traditional celebration of her 15th birthday. Within a week, I had secured a ticket to Uruguay and spread the news to my friends and host family – I was coming for a three-week rendezvous over January and February of 2024.

Touching down in Uruguay and being greeted by an old friend it felt like stepping into a warm embrace. For the first few days, while struggling to get over jetlag, I was also overcome with constant waves of disbelief and awe – I was truly back.

I was fortunate to have old friends in the capital who graciously shared their city’s gems with me. With extreme luck, I was even able to embark on a small getaway with two of my fellow exchange students, who also happened to be revisiting at the time. In the quaint coastal town of La Pedrera, we spent our days lounging by the beach, playing card games, and partying into the early morning while reminiscing about our shared past and marvelling at the serendipity of our reunion.

Then came the heart of my adventure, the long-awaited reunion with my host family. Emotions ran wild – excitement, nerves, and a flood of memories. My host sister, once 12 and now 15, seemed to grow before my eyes. Walking through the halls of my former abode felt like stepping into a cherished memory, a dream I’d held close since the day I left. Reconnecting with my Spanish teacher and catching up with old school friends added to the joy of the experience, and I even had the chance to attend the renowned Carnaval festivities in my small town of Guichón.

As my time in Uruguay drew to a close once again, I couldn’t help but reflect on the journey that brought me back to this beloved corner of the world. Reuniting with old friends, rediscovering familiar streets, and reliving treasured memories filled my heart with overwhelming warmth and gratitude.

To my fellow exchange students out there, I say this: hold onto the connections you’ve made, cherish the memories you’ve created, and never underestimate the power of returning to a place that was once home. As you evolve and journey through life, your home away from home will inevitably change, but its essence will always remain, patiently awaiting your return.

Boarding the plane to head back to my home in Australia, I carried with me not just alfajores and dulce de leche, but a renewed sense of love and connection with this beautiful pocket of South America I am lucky enough to call home. Uruguay will always hold a piece of my heart and I know that someday, I’ll find my way back again. Until then, I’ll hold onto my memories and the promise of countless more to be made in the future. Chau, Uruguay! Until we meet again.

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