This post is courtesy of Kristin Noval, ASU Study Abroad alumni. During spring break 2016, Kristin studied in Cuba on the global intensive experience GIE: Cuba Reintroduced. Kristin was also a recipient of the SAO Travel Grant.
On the morning of my last day in Cuba, all of us ASU students took a side trip to a local beach just outside Havana. As I lay on a lounge chair in the sun, listening to the sound of the waves, I found myself putting down the book I had brought as my thoughts were much more lovely. The past eight days had taught me so much about myself and not only how I view the world, but how I wanted to view it as well. Cuba was like an onion that had to be peeled away layer by layer. Although I only scratched the surface, I found that the Cuban people were both joyful and frustrated, both innovative and complacent, and both boisterous and deeply pensive. As Cuba opens up, part of her mystery may fade, but the experience in person is strikingly unique. We visited museums of art and museums of rum. We toured 16th century cities, danced salsa, and visited organic farms. Although lacking in resources, Cuba is rich in culture.
Our accommodations in Cuba consisted of casas particulares, which included living with a family who provided us with rooms and meals. In no time at all we had an abuelita who asked us about our day, chided us if a hem was too short, and loved on us like we were family. These small interactions turned my halting Spanish and frantic gestures on the first day into conversations with true idea exchanges by the end of the week. The Cuban people are well-informed of world and U.S. politics. I found that most want a good relationship with the United States. José Martí, beloved in Cuba and akin to George Washington for Americans, espoused the idea of war without hatred. He implored the Cubans not to hate the Spanish as they fought for their independence. It is a sentiment that is deeply needed today.
Visiting the Cuban countryside during an excursion to Santa Clara and Trinidad gave us yet another view of Cuba. The poverty was hard to take. I have had times in my life when my electric was turned off and all I had to eat was ramen noodles, but I knew that the situation was temporary. In America, we expect that things will get better. In Cuba, the chance to change your station is very slim. The Cuban people have been through so much, from the native inhabitants who were exterminated, to the Africans brought there to be slaves, to imperialism from Spain and the U.S., wars and revolutions, and social experiments under totalitarian rule. Yet despite all this, the Cubans I met were happy people. They are also nationalistic and proud. These people have lived under harsh conditions for a long time, and we could learn a thing or two from their hustle. I know I did. I suggest you go and see for yourself. I guarantee you will come away changed in more ways than you could anticipate.