It sounds crazy to say that I’m going to study Spanish in Cuba this summer because of a breakup. Even though at first most people would agree that this sounds a little ridiculous, it’s actually the most sure I’ve ever felt of a decision in my life. A lot of factors and thought led up to my decision to travel to Cuba. It’s something that I have always wanted to do, but it took a final separation from my high-school past to convince me that the end of my freshman year would be the perfect time to go.
I’m not going to Cuba on an Eat, Pray, Love agenda, or because I think I'll fall for someone new there, but instead, because I finally have the freedom to choose to do what I love and what makes me happy without any strings attached. College is supposed to be the last time before you have a career and a family holding you back from embarking on wild adventures, and finally I had found myself in that place of freedom to explore my passions. So, naturally, I'm choosing to fulfill one of the biggest dreams on my list, the next step that will let me be energetic and excited, and let me grow as a person.
A trip to Cuba offers so much more than just the love affairs, dancing, and Diego Luna that movies have showcased (although I am a real fan of Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights). Since President Obama has opened up a few more avenues for travel to the country, he’s given us a chance to immerse ourselves in a culture and lifestyle that has been hidden to us for 50 years. This is an opportunity to learn firsthand about different systems of government, and, because of the lack of an abundant American influence on the language and culture of Cuba for the past 50 years, a chance to see the way of life and learn the Spanish language in its purest form.
A lot of my professors had never considered sending a freshman alone for the first time that the trip was offered at the university. However, I don’t really feel like an innocent, naive first-year student, and once they talked to me about why I actually wanted to go, they seemed to feel the same. I don’t expect the trip to be just a vacation to any other warm, caribbean island. I don’t expect it to be like Costa Rica or Mexico, or other Spanish-speaking countries I’ve visited, and I don’t even think that it will be similar to typical study abroad sessions. I’m going on this trip to seriously learn about the people, the places, and every aspect of culture that I can while I’m there. I want to be immersed in Cuban life and leave with a new understanding, not just of their country, but also of the world around me.
I’ll be in Cuba for the whole month of June, taking a Spanish course at the University of Havana. I’ve been told that it might be a difficult adjustment based on a few aspects of daily life. For example, the internet there is limited to me, and I might have to pay to access it. I will be staying in a more modest home and will have to pay more attention to the amount of water and the appliances that I use. Though sometimes I think it was meant to, none of this really scared me, because this is the whole point of traveling to another country. To fully understand the lifestyles of people there, you have to respect their daily routines and try to immerse yourself in them. Having no access to social media and taking shorter showers for months are the smallest luxuries to give up in order to be able to open myself up to all of the new experiences of this country. It’s an adventure that I’m grateful to be allowed to go on.
I do think that, because I’ll be attending a whole new university, this summer program is going to be like a second freshman year for me. Right now we’re far beyond the first months of freshman year when we had to meet new people and were constantly thrown into confusing situations where we had to learn to adapt. At our universities, we’ve made homes, we have found people we love, and we have figured out, at least most of, the kinks. In Cuba, however, I’ll go back to that state where I know no one and have to make all new friends. I’ll have to learn to function at a new university all over again, but I couldn’t be more excited.
After a month in Cuba, I know that I will come back with new ideas about our own country and even about the world. Experiencing global diversity is something that changes you profoundly. Recognizing that your way of life is not the only way is important, and opens you up to new ideas about the roles of humans and the functions of society that we’ve put into place in the world. It broadens a person’s view of life, as they realize how small they are and how much they haven’t experienced or learned yet. I am confident of the fact that this trip will give me these new insights and reignite my passion for learning and traveling. But beyond just this, I think that it will change how I see my university as well. When we only attend one university, we’re accustomed to thinking that there’s only one way to get an education. I believe that this trip will make me appreciate the education that I’m getting at my school, but also open my mind to the reality that education is not just one coherent system across the world. It will remind me that education is a privilege, and make me think more creatively by showing me new possibilities and methods for providing the public with one.
Overall, I’m excited to take this trip as a freshman, because this is the year of my life that I think that I’ve changed the most. I’ve experienced so many things at college that have transformed how I think about the world and myself, and I want to carry that on into my summer. I know that the next three years of college will be exciting as well, and that I’ll never be done growing my outlook on life, but I want to keep the momentum from freshman year going, and do everything that I can to be the person that I want to be. As cheesy as it sounds, I’m ready to say hola to this opportunity to be in a totally new situation, learn to love the spontaneity, and let life surprise me.