Magellan Project Leads Student to Chance Meeting with President of Uruguay

Created: July 23, 2015
Last Updated: July 17, 2020

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WASHINGTON, PA (July 23, 2015) – Traveling typically offers students an eye-opening experience of how others around the world live, and Washington & Jefferson College (W&J) student Elizabeth Bean ’18 could only image what that experience would be when she began her Magellan Project in Uruguay this summer.

A chance encounter with Uruguay’s beloved former president Jose Mujica was the highlight of Bean’s experience, and furthered her appreciation for a much humbler way of life.

“He’s unlike any other president, always dressed casually and does interviews in his front yard and at his kitchen table. He can talk about any topic without having any speeches prepared. He speaks his mind and he speaks it directly,” Bean said.

Bean, an Environmental Studies and Spanish double major from Millerton, Pa., did not go to Uruguay specifically to meet Mujica; she traveled there to complete her Magellan Project, “Linguistics and the Business of Art.”  In particular, Bean was interested in how ceramic artists make a living, and she knew that Uruguay has a strong artist community.

Finding the artists proved to be difficult due to a lack of internet presence, but she was able to find them through friends and traveling companions in Uruguay. Bean appreciated being able to communicate directly with the people of Uruguay and observe their unique dialect in order to discover more ceramic artists.

But her interest in the people of Uruguay stemmed from an interest in the politics of their president, who Bean hoped to one day meet.

“Most of the friends I made had a relative who works in making artisan crafts of some kind… I wanted to get to know the people because of their humble president, Jose Mujica. After observing the way he ran the country, I wanted an inside look at the results in the people,” Bean said.

Muijca became an interest to Bean after she listened to many of his speeches and interviews. Learning about his modest lifestyle, which includes donating 90-percent of his $12,000 salary to various charities, Bean set her plan of “Finding Mujica” into action.

She was successful on her first attempt; after finding his neighborhood, Bean and a friend were first turned down by a security agent in a booth outside of Mujica’s home, only to be surprised moments later when Muijca himself came out to meet them. Bean was not let down by the stories she’d heard about the genuineness of the former president. She told him what an inspiration he was to so many people and how important meeting him was to her. Though their meeting was brief, Muijca confirmed the high expectations Bean had of him.

“He really is the genuine man that all the newspapers write about, which I never doubted.  Talking to him is so pleasant and I’ll never forget the crazy adventure that was ‘Finding Mujica’,” Bean said.

Experiencing the much humbler lifestyle in Uruguay, Bean was able to appreciate the simplicity of life there. From the President to the people, Bean was exposed to a whole new way of living.

“Personally, I think my experience can be explained with the idea that the happiest of people don’t necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes their way … I lived the way they do which is a pretty simple non-materialistic way of life, both in the city of Montevideo and in more remote towns,” Bean said.

Bean hasn’t settled on post-college plans; however, her Magellan has shown her that she wants to open her own ceramic studio, maybe in Ecuador. Her time in the ceramic studio has taught her many new skills, but the most significant thing Bean has learned from her time in Uruguay was from President Mujica.

“Most importantly I’ll carry with me the way of life defined by Mujica,” Bean said.

About Washington & Jefferson College

Washington & Jefferson College, located in Washington, Pa., is a selective liberal arts college founded in 1781. Committed to providing each of its students with the highest-quality undergraduate education available, W&J offers a traditional arts and sciences curriculum emphasizing interdisciplinary study and independent study work.

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