This past summer, through Chatham University and the Vira I. Heinz Program for Women in Global Leadership, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Havana, Cuba. From the beautiful brush, to the 1950’s cars, the genuine and generous Cubans, and the delicious food, I spent weeks falling in love with a culture we know so little about. Cuba sits just 90 miles off the coast of Florida but has become a much more distant land to citizens of the United States because of political differences.
While in Cuba, I studied five days a week at the Universidad de La Habana, where I attended intensive Spanish language courses and met students from around the world. Alongside school, I traveled up and down the country, attended salsa lessons, partook in cooking lessons, visited the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, met local artist and authors, and last but at the very least stayed with a host family who started as strangers and my second family. Though I am not fluent in Spanish, I used what I knew and was learning and built relationships I know will last a lifetime. Through this occasion I came to understand differences are only hindrances if you allow them to be.
The highlight of my trip was staying with a host family. I say this because through this opportunity, I could really delve into the Cuban culture and avoid being a tourist. My host family provided both breakfast and dinner for me and I was responsible for my own lunch. Sharing these meals allowed us to cook together and explore the differences our cultures have in food. Eating means cooking and because of this I learned how to make homemade mayonnaise and flan, both incredible and staples in Cuba. Meals were shared together and coffee was sipped out of china and not a plastic to-go cup, because meals in Cuba mean community. My host family and I explored the city of Havana and Malecon, where many people hang out, eat, fish and listen to music. My favorite nights however, were spent at our home where we stayed in talked about the history of Cuba, played card games, watched the Olympics and worked on both Spanish and English. My host family will forever be a part of my life, they truly are my second family, from taking care of me while I had an ear infection to teaching me how to use public transportation, they made my experience so great. If you study abroad, stay with a host family, it is as much of an experience for them as it is for you.
Though I have since returned to the United States, my experience in Cuba left me with ideas to think about and emotions to try to understand. Right now, I am not sure how my time in Cuba will play a role in my career but I know this experience and traveling has helped me mature, grow more patient, and truly appreciate the opportunity for the education and lifestyle I have been raised in.
Chatham University is a very diverse university where we are encouraged to study and explore many different clubs, classes, and opportunities. With this support, especially through Chatham’s study abroad office, I went to Cuba with a mindset and attitude that allowed me to really make the most of my time abroad. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to fall in with a beautiful nation.
When will you study abroad? For more information about study abroad options, scholarship opportunities or the study abroad process, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at the Office of International Affairs in Falk Hall, lower level.