International Study Program: Location

Cuba (2016)

This year our International Study Program (ISP) is traveling for the first time in Cuba. Throughout the month of July, 17 members and four staff will travel from one end of the island to the other, visiting Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo.

Over the course of 25 days they will be engaged in explorations and conversations with Cuban’s of all backgrounds. They will have presentations from Cuban government officials, as well as US diplomats. They will learn about social issues with women’s and youth organizations, perform community service with farmers, and learn Cuban cultural traditions from musicians, dance troops, and Afro-Cuban griots.

Throughout their time in Cuba, our staff and members will be exploring the realities of life for Cubans. Cuba has been praised as a country of equality guided by a revolutionary socialist vision, with education and health indicators that rival the world’s wealthiest nations. However critics point to human rights abuses and limited freedoms that contrast the benefits of socialism.

Throughout their journey our members will explore questions, including: What is life like within a socialist society? How are issues of poverty, race, gender and religion played out differently? How does education, health care and housing compare? What are the pros & cons of each system of government?

This summer’s ISP will allow our members to explore the history, culture and politics of this nation first hand, enabling them to develop a broad understanding of Cuba and establish their own educated opinions.

Reflections

I must admit I’ve been waiting for this trip throughout my last two months of high School. My expectations of this first day did not go as planned. My morning was terrible, I ended up being late which resulted in me not having enough time to eat, not being able to change my shirt (that I spilled coffee on), and making another member of the trip late.

When I arrived to the airport my luggage went 15 pounds over so I had to pay extra, and I left my jacket in the car so I froze on the plane. What a morning huh? Despite my difficult morning I was glad to see everyone & glad that we went through customs pretty quickly. Being that I’ve been on planes before this flight was nothing.

I slept through the whole flight without any interruptions. When we landed in Cuba I found it offensive that they asked everyone “have we been to Africa”. I thought it was racist to make assumptions about the entire continent because of the viruses and diseases that are going around in certain countries.

Also, Africa isn’t the only place with these problems so they should have been more cautious about their assumptions. Overall, today was a very chill day. I expect to really begin my trip tomorrow and I really look forward to what’s coming up. ISP never disappoints…

Desiah

July 5

My morning began today at six when my alarm clock woke me up and luckily it didn’t wake up my roommate. I didn’t ACTUALLY wake up till like 7:30 so after I woke up I just took some time to collect myself. During our bus tour we went to Revolution Square and saw artwork that paid homage to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos.

Taking pictures in front of Che felt really empowering. It was a good feeling for me since I’m a member of the Liberation Program. Dinner was my favorite part of the day because we actually walked to our restaurant so we got a feel for the neighborhood we are staying in.

Yancy Fernandez

July 6

Gloria, our tour guide, told us to look nice today, so when we all got downstairs everyone had on their best. The day started off going to meet with the organization ICAP (The Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People). Señorita Leima Martinez informed us that ICAP is one of many Cuban agencies that helps Cuba maintain relationships between other countries.

As the conversation continued, three interesting topics were brought up: 1) education & employment, 2) the election process, and 3) racism. We discussed fifteen years olds already deciding their future careers, elections beginning with community elected candidates, and the government working to erase two hundred years of political and economical racial discrimination. Here I thought Cuba was suffering under the weight of the embargo, but more than fifty years have passed and the people have discovered ways to benefit the country as a whole. The second person we visited was an economist who was brought to teach us about the economics of Cuban history. However we learned much more than just that.

We gained the personal perspective of someone who lived through the “special period”; the national economic collapse which lasted throughout the 90’s. what happened in Cuba was caused not only by the collapse of the Soviet Union, but also the embargo that the United States purposely orchestrated to keep the country from rising in power.

Tomme

July 7

The first activity was an art museum. THANK GOD IT HAD AC. I toured all 3 levels of the museum along with my friends. Certain works of art disturbed me, like ones with Jesus getting stabbed and Cuba destroying USA. This helped me realize that the USA has had an impact on Cuba, and not a positive one. Other than that it was beautiful. We then went to lunch at La Casa.

The next activity was salsa dancing lessons, which I highly enjoyed with my partner. It helped take my mind off my personal problems. I learned that Cubans have everlasting energy and that I barely have any. I learned that my bro/sis family can dance but are too shy at times. I feel blessed to be in Cuba at this moment in my life. This trip is going to help me find myself and who I want to be when I return.

It’s teaching me to deal with a scarce amount of necessities without complaining. I feel as though the country has a natural beauty and its people are happy with what they have. I wish New Yorkers were this way. My fondest memory of today would have to be learning to dance salsa. I am now looking forward to dinner and the ceremony later on tonight.

Ariana

July 8

My day started at 8am when I went upstairs to the hotel cafe for breakfast. After breakfast I met with the group and we went to the Bellas Artes Museum. While in the museum I saw many interesting pieces of art. I enjoyed viewing the exhibits with sculptors and nature paintings. One artist who I found intriguing was Domingo Ramos.

The museum opened my eyes to many kinds of art. The last event of the day involved the visit to San Carlos de la Cabana Fortress for the traditional Cannon Shot Ceremony. They shot the cannon off 9pm, which was very scary yet exciting. We were also able to go around & look at various items that were being sold after the cannon shot.

I bought a Cuban instrument. Today was an eventful day I enjoyed & appreciated every activity. I’m going to make the most out of everyday here in Cuba and hope to have a great experience. There is more to ISP than just learning about a country, this is a chance to step out your comfort zone, learn about a new culture & explore not only the country but yourself.

Jihaye

July 9

We drove to the San Juan River which is 15 meters deep. We learned that reforestation had started 48 years ago, and that that’s why the area looked so healthy and well kept. After leaving the welcome area, where we had a juice cocktail made from native plants, we had lunch, which might have been the best meal yet. This meal consisted of white rice, black beans, chicken and to top it off, well seasoned shredded beef (ropa vieja).

After lunch we went for a swim in the river. At that moment, I was convinced to open up to all the experiences on ISP, so instead of sitting on the side of the river and getting a little splash, I decided to jump all the way in and experience the moment with everyone else.

It started to occur to me, at that moment in the San Juan river, how much privilege I have and this opportunity to swim in a river with my peers may never come again in my lifetime. As I sit here and write in this journal, I’m thinking how will I allow this experience to change the person I am, because it should have a major affect on my thinking and who I truly am becoming.

Damian

July 10