Visiting Cuba this May was an off-the-cuff decision I made right after beginning my final year at Auburn as an undergraduate. I had just returned to the South after a summer in New York City, where my life and horizons had been completely altered through the city, culture, ideas, and people that I encountered; the likes of which I had rarely experienced growing up in Alabama. I felt totally ready to see the rest of the world, to become aware of these new perspectives, values, ideals that existed outside of my apparently small life experience. Although I had travelled to Europe and throughout the United States before, actually living in Manhattan made me realize that visiting a beautiful place, even partaking in beautiful experiences in a new place, does not necessarily cultivate an understanding of said place that extends beyond a few impressive photographs. Our trip to Cuba further instilled this theme for me, and I feel eternally grateful and lucky to have had the chance to be a part of it.
While flying the short 90 miles into Havana from Miami, I realized that I was probably completely unprepared for whatever would be greeting us in this new country. Yes, I studied history in school and there must have been a chapter on Cuba at some point in my education, and yes, I attended the Honors class with Dr. Sippial in the months before leaving. But my knowledge of Spanish didn’t extend past the number 15 and I still wasn’t totally sure who Che Guavara was…
This ignorance is no one’s fault but my own, so I decided to embrace it and instead allow what I saw and experienced to be pure – free of any preconceptions or opinions I could have formed had I been a model Honors student and actually done research on the country in which I would be spending my final time as an Auburn student. To my relief, Dr. Sippial’s friend and fellow professor Martina, who accompanied us on the trip, found validity in this approach one night at dinner and thought it could be a beneficial way to experience a country in Latin America for the first time.
When we did land in Cuba, and throughout the following days exploring the island, I knew I was right about my lack of awareness, but nothing in the States could have prepared me for what was to come anyway.
The people, culture, art, and natural beauty of Cuba were all absolutely incredible. Our guides not only provided us historical knowledge but also were also able to share personal experiences and anecdotes about the things we saw, and we were able to form genuine friendships with them through extensive conversation. On several occasions a question I had about something we did or saw sparked a deeper discussion about issues that the Cuban people deal with regularly that were foreign to many of us. The opportunity to speak with Cubans in this way – free from any governmental influences – was unique and enlightening.
My favorite part about travelling is learning about the differing perspectives of people from other countries, and the way this trip was set up was perfect for the exchange of this type of knowledge. I do feel that I gained more of an understanding of the country than I would have on another type of trip, but because of the history and environment of Cuba, this understanding really only made me more aware of how much more there is to learn. Cuba is a nation of such a tumultuous and distinct past and present that an 11 day trip could only ever skim the surface. However, I think that all of us that participated in the journey realized this, and want to return, to not simply travel and enjoy ourselves but discover and comprehend more about the people of Cuba and potentially make a difference in their lives.
Thank you to everyone that made the trip possible and to the friends I made! You’re all beautiful and I’m extremely grateful for you and for the memories we now share.
Muchos gracias a todo