It’s International Education Week 2020, and its arrival brought memories of my time studying abroad rushing back. For three weeks in June of 2019, I was in Havana, Cuba. Throughout my time there, I toured some of the more remarkable areas of the island, took classes in Cuban history and cooking, and formed bonds with both Cuban citizens as well as fellow students on the trip.
Seeing pictures of Havana’s colorful urban streets or scenes set there in movies or TV shows does not do the city justice. No two buildings are really created the same; they all had their own unique styles and architectures that never made wondering around Havana boring. The only thing that made navigating Havana a challenge was the insane heat I as a person from northeast Ohio could never get used to. My time in Cuba was not limited to just Havana.
I also went to the valley of Viñales located two-and-a-half hours west of Cuba’s capitol. Viñales is one of the main areas of tobacco production on the island, and it is riddled with high hills that provided stunning views of the valleys within. As well as Viñales, I also had the opportunity to go to one of Cuba’s beaches called Playa del Este, where even when the beautiful blue water was up to my shoulders, I could clearly see the sand all the way down at my feet.
When taking the Cuban history class, it became apparent to me just how important perspective is. We spend the majority of our time learning history from the point of view of our own country, but just like any disagreement or conflict, there is more than one side of the story. Learning about events from multiple points of view not only provides a better picture of the event as a whole, but also allows you to truly understand the causes and motivations for each party’s actions. This is an invaluable quality to learn in everyday life, as conflicts are certain to arise. Far too often we only assume what the reasons are behind a disagreement and never really get to the roots of it to try and make peace. If we truly take the time to understand everyone’s points of view, the world just may be a better place.
It was frankly impossible to go a day in Cuba without having a conversation with someone on the streets, and have never met more openly kind and welcoming people than those in Cuba. Everyone was always eager to get to know where I was from and help guide me around the city. Yes, one person did scam me out of the equivalent of five dollars, but that experience was easily negated by one woman leading me and a fellow group of students to a high-quality souvenir store, or another person giving me directions to her favorite restaurant. None of this is to say that Americans aren’t nice, I just know from experience that it usually takes some time before average Americans come out of their shells and show the level of familiarity that Cubans show right out of the gate.
In the era of COVID-19, it is very hard for me to recommend studying abroad, but once the world reaches a point where international travel is safe, it is not something I could recommend strongly enough. It will give you new perspectives on life and teach you things you never thought you knew about yourself and others. If you are at all interested in one day studying abroad, you can contact Doug Granger or the Center for Global Education at firstname.lastname@example.org.