Studying abroad in Cuba unpopular, yet worthwhile

Have you ever had to admit over the phone that you are about to do, or in most cases, have already done something only to enjoy a blaring silence at the other end that clearly communicates the listener thinks you’ve lost your mind? In the last six months that has happened to me twice: once when I told my mother I got my nose pierced (on a random Saturday) and once when I told my Dad I wanted to go to Cuba on a Quarter 3 course.

I’ll admit, in the first example this silence was expected, but the silence when I asked my dad, “So… how would you feel about me doing a study abroad trip to Cuba?” his silence scared me. Once the silence had stretched on to a socially unacceptable length he simply asked, “Why do you want to go to Cuba?” He said it like he was trying to diffuse a bomb.

The word ‘why’ has been thrown around quite a bit since I put down my deposit. When I could take a Q3 course to go to all kinds of cool places for spring break, why would I choose Cuba? My grandfather suggested that I could just go to Miami, after all there are just as many Cubans there as in Cuba, right? Yeah, he probably is right, but that’s not the point.

I’ve been planning to do a quarter course for a while. First it was going to be to Tokyo, then Buenas Aires, but when I picked up the final trip list from the study abroad fair, the GLS 100 to Havana, Cuba just called to me. I started asking people, “Oswego has never done quarter courses to Cuba before, right? Why can they do it now? Want to go with me? Oh my God let’s all go to Cuba!”

Most people shrugged me off, and by shrugged me off I mean laughed at me. I tend to get overly excited about things so I think most of my friends just assumed I was attracted to the idea, but that it would soon blow over and I’d spend the money I would have spent on a plane ticket at the bars some weekend. Needless to say, this was not some passing folly, and after a tentative okay from my parents I put my deposit down.

My jubilant Facebook declaration that I was going to Cuba for spring break garnered dozens of likes, but when I told people face to face I got some less than happy responses. For some, it confirmed their assumptions that I was, in fact, a communist sympathizer who spent my free time reading Marx. This is not true at all, and I can’t for the life of me, figure out why people think I’m a closet communist.

Worse still was my sister, who called me and said, “Why are you going to Cuba? You know you’re never going to come back right?” I’ve assured her that tourists don’t get kidnapped in Cuba, that’s Aruba, but she still gave me a big hug the last time I saw her and cheerily said, “You’ll probably die in Cuba and I’ll never see you again… so bye!”

So why am I going? First off, have you ever been to Cuba? Probably not. Do you know anyone who’s been to Cuba? Maybe, but I’m guessing that will have a low positive response too. I want to be everyone’s token friend who’s been to Cuba. How cool will you sound at a dinner party in your mid-thirties when you can say, “Oh yeah, I know someone who’s been to Cuba.” You’re welcome.

Really though, it’s an unknown territory for most Americans. Honestly, my picture of Cuba has been pieced together from watching Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights and reading a novel about an American woman of Cuban descent that was literally painful to read. What better way is there to learn about what Cuba is really like than going there myself? And really, when will I get the chance to go again? Who knows? Maybe never so that’s why I’m going to Cuba and I can’t wait to get there.

2 thoughts on “Studying abroad in Cuba unpopular, yet worthwhile

  1. You can’t just “go to Cuba on spring break” unless you fit into the restrictive categories of US legislation. Remember: most people in the United States are banned by law from visiting this country, for a raft of reasons. If you want to visit Cuba it’s probably the best if you go on an organized and licensed tour, unless your school has a licence and you can participate in that kind of program.

    May I say that I hope you’ll have a positive experience. I’m now in Cuba for the second month of what I expect will be a four-month research and reporting stint. For over ten years I’ve directed an electronic new service about Cuba, with lots of information from various points of view about life in this endlessly-interesting country.

    There is good and bad here, just like there is good and bad in the United States. No place is perfect.

    Leave pre-formed assumptions behind, be honest, be careful. You might want to do some actual reading about Cuba before you make practical plans to visit the place.

    Good luck.

  2. “I’ve assured her that tourists don’t get kidnapped in Cuba, that’s Aruba …”

    Dear Kylie, please do your homework. I’m an American who lives in Aruba and to my knowledge NO tourist has EVER been kidnapped here. One was unfortunately the victim of a serial killer whom she voluntarily was alone with and the other died while snorkeling with her AMERICAN companion. Aruba is a beautiful and extremely SAFE island and it saddens me whenever people (incorrectly) say otherwise.

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