Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Week One (Primera Semana): Maintaining Sonrisas

Time February 8th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

My Cuban host father picked me up in a black Led Zeplin t-shirt and what appeared to be a pair of new, dark-brown Timberland’s. His wife, my new host mom, emerged from behind him, a giant, welcoming smile — “sonrisa” (I love this word because it sounds like they refer to smiles as sunrises) — in tow. I ran to them and awkwardly planted the traditional Cuban-one-kiss-greeting on their cheeks as we embraced. This is mi familia for the next four months, along with their twenty-five year old daughter, Nelli, and two adorable dogs: Sombra (Shadow) and some other name I have yet to make out (it starts with a “C” I think, but only those with an ear for the Cuban accent can confirm, which is not me — at least, not yet).

I live in the most amazing old casa. The ceilings are so high I get dizzy looking at them, the long halls are stacked with painting after painting (in which I find a new detail each time I pass), and the sound of birds chirping on the red-budded tree outside the stain glass window in our room greets my roommate and I each morning. I am immediately filled with questions about how a family living off of the equivalent of twenty dollars a month can afford such a beautiful home, but maybe it is government owned or maybe they are able to afford it because they are paid so much to host us (and in the past, tourists). And what are the homes of other Cubans like? I want to ask about my host dad’s job with the radio station — whether he can broadcast whatever he wants or only what the government tells him — and I want to ask my host mom about being a woman in Cuba and what she has done with the prestigious, free education she has benefitted from. I want to know the word for every foreign object and type of food, the instructions on how to unlock the front door (I’ve been fumbling with that), and the biographies of every human who seems to come and go daily from this big ol’ house. Most of these are questions that I expect to either find out the answer to myself in the coming days, or questions that I feel can only be asked after a close, trusting relationship has been formed. My host padre has already said that he is here to answer any and all of our questions — just not to comment on politics. We’ll see. Read More »

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Pre-Departure (Antes de Cuba)

Time January 24th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Cuba | No Comments by

I wake to tiny flickering lights tens of thousands of feet below me; a warm glow reflecting off the oval window pane and into my eager eyes. I’ve always loved flying, ever since I was a little kid. Christmas flights to Nana’s house in Arizona were arguably something I looked forward to more than the holiday itself (shh, don’t tell Nana that). I loved the people watching in the airport, the order and poise of the flight attendants — rulers of their own little, tight-squeezed floating worlds — the dainty plane snacks, and the chance to have a Shirley Temple, which was always quite the treat in my household. But mostly, what I loved and continue to love is the perspective one gets from hurtling hundreds of miles an hour, soaring high above the world. The moment when everything I know to be true vanishes into indistinguishable dots and I realize how small everything actually is, and in turn, how small I actually am — I live for that moment.

The lights now dancing in my eyes make up the city of Miami, where I’ll be staying the night before leaving for a semester abroad in [drumroll………………..] Havana, Cuba. The most common question I get when I tell people that is “Why? Why Cuba?” There are lots of easy answers I sometimes choose to respond with: as an International Politics and Economics major with a minor in Global Health, I really have nowhere better to explore my interests than a country with a very complicated and unique political and economic history and one of the best public healthcare systems in the world; I want a host family and a challenge with language, not a semester of partying in Spain where I would no-doubt speak English in my apartment with my friends; I need to study abroad somewhere where the semesters align with my Middlebury semesters, as I have that important end-all-be-all-almighty-determiner-of-future-junior-summer internship, meaning that while I adore Chile, that’s out of the question; etc. But in reality, I have chosen Cuba for the same reason I enjoy flying: I chose the experience that I believed would provide me with the most drastic change in perspective. I want to remember how tiny I am in this world, but how capable I am at the same time, how different viewpoints change the way history, policy, and social norms are perceived and taught, and how real human connections, not the wifi connection on my iPhone, are what matter most in this world. Alas, Cuba. Read More »

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Orientation Week: We’re Bonding

Time October 4th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, Cuba | No Comments by

As I enter my second week of registration period at the University of Havana, I decided to take a moment and reflect on our group adventures thus far.
From Toronto, my group and I endured a 3 hour flight to Havana as well as an additional 3 hour wait for our bags. When we finally made it through customs, our director Michelle was waiting outside to welcome and deliver us to our families. Because of our late arrival from the airport, we were only able to exchange brief introductions with our families before going to sleep. Read More »

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A Retroactive October post..

Time December 21st, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, Cuba, LGBTQ Correspondents | No Comments by

Thank you all for bearing with me and the ups and downs of my wi-fi connection in Havana. A few of my blog posts never quite made it but I think they serve to illustrate my experience even arriving a little late. Below is a post I made in October but was not able to upload!

Hey everyone! October has been so wonderful and warm, it hardly feels like October at all. The fact that Halloween is coming up feels so entirely unreal to me- like I know that most of the states is covered in spooky decor but that couldn’t feel more far away from my reality. Sometimes it feels like time is standing still and when I get home I will still have all of fall and winter ahead of me.

Today a few friends and I went to Micayito beach to relax and scope it out. We had heard from word of mouth that it is a gay friendly beach and a lot of fun. What we found was a narrow shore against a tall rooty sandbank. It wasn’t too busy and after only walking for a short while we found a huge cluster of beach chairs, umbrellas, and chaises on a crowded and plant-less chunk of the sand bank. Between all of the people a huge rainbow flag was beating in the wind, which was a surprise since I rarely see rainbow flags here and while its association with the gay community exists in theory, in practice it is almost never used as a marker or identifier of people or spaces. Unsurprisingly the beach was mostly populated by gay men, very few children, and very few women.
We found a soft spot on the sand near and emptier stretch of the sandbank and sunned. Swimming wasn’t too great because the wind and waves were a little brutal and impossible to relax in. A few people talked to us, on was a lesbian only a year younger than us who quickly wanted to know our sexual orientations and who stuck by us most of the afternoon.
Overall it was really interesting to see the beach but I also suspect that this isn’t  the busiest time of the year to go, (a friend did say that the first  official day of summer is amazing and packed with people of all sexual orientations from all over Havana to enjoy the weather, music, and drag shows.)
I am curious to see what Halloween night will look like in Havana, our resident director has mentioned that there were costume parties when she was a student and that the Cubans in her classes were so excited to see how dressed up all of the Americans got.
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