December 1, 2013
Buenos dias, Wallies! No, this is not my typical blog for the class of 2016. I’m coming to you from approximately *looks out plane window* one billion feet in the air, while flying back to Cincinnati, Ohio from Miami, Florida. Before I reflect on the past week, let’s stop and take in that last sentence: Flying FROM Miami (75 degrees, sunny, beach) TO Ohio (30 degrees, cloudy, Ohio). The struggle is real.
Anyways, if you’ve read the blogs of my colleagues, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what we’ve been up to in the Caribbean. From drinking mojitos and smoking cigars to getting hustled by women in colonial outfits and participating in traditional Santeria dances, our trip to Cuba has been a whirlwind, and a fun one at that. But mojitos, pina
coladas, cuba libres, and Ron Collins aside, the trip was also an exceptional insight into what the Cuban situation is really all about. In reflection, it’s hard to believe how empty my view on the Cuban political and economic system really was without actually seeing it firsthand. Reading the books, watching the documentaries, and listening to the guest speakers in class was a great place to start, but without an actual visit to pull it all together, there are massive cracks in our understanding of what is jaded opinion and what is reality. A blessing in disguise is that even on the other side of the
embargo blockade, bias also exists. By the end of the trip, our group began to discuss the growing eeriness that our Cuban experience (a government-guided experience) may have been a little too perfect. We ate at the restaurants the Cuban government wanted us to, met the people the government wanted us to meet, and basically saw the things the government wanted us to see. Suddenly it sounds like a journey a la Twilight Zone.
Enter the value of the immersion trip. Because we were able to visit Cuba, we experienced all of the bias, American and Cuban. We were able to talk to the locals and bear witness to all the sides of the story. Without observing the differences between America’s Cuba, Castro’s Cuba, and the people’s Cuba, we would never have been able to form a valuable opinion on the situation for ourselves (aka “Thinking Critically”). Because of this trip, I will be able to tell my family that no, the Cubans didn’t try to kill us when we got there. And I will be able to tell my classmates that the genuine warmth and kindness of the Cuban people is something the American people could afford to emulate. But I will also be able to acknowledge through first-hand experience the ability of a Communist government to shape almost every aspect of life in the way it sees fit.
The bottom line is that cultural studies in the classroom are like chemical equations in a textbook; they are helpful, but the real value comes when you get your hands a little dirty and can see what happens in the real world.
I wish I could say it was good to be back.