Home > Life > Cuba: “No es facil.”

Cuba: “No es facil.”

A couple of months ago, all I could do was talk about my upcoming study abroad trip to Cuba. I was head over heals with the thought that I was going to Cuba to learn about education and social welfare policy, and have the chance to conduct my own ethnographic study. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I couldn’t shut up about it. Now, however, I don’t want to talk about Cuba at all. Every time someone asks me, “How was Cuba?” I cringe, grind my teeth, and sigh deeply.

There’s an appropriate cliche out there about my experience traveling to Cuba. It might be, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”, but I don’t think that’s quite right. See, my trip to Cuba was in many ways one big, frustrating lesson in disappointment. In a nutshell, less than 24 hours before my classmates and I were to board our flight to Miami, where we would fly out to Havana, we learned that our trip had been cut short to two weeks, would cost the same as it would for one month, and was totally restructured as a tourist packaged trip, complete with a tour bus and tour guide. We were not permitted to rent rooms in people’s homes; instead, we had to stay in a hotel. As students with plans of ethnographic research, staying a hotel and being a part of a packaged tour exaggerated the line between us and the community. In two weeks, we would have inadequate time to make contacts and conduct field work.

My classmates and I were angry and speechless. As nerdy Penn students, we really wanted to conduct research. Of course, we wanted to have some fun, but we signed up for a class, not a vacation. You can go to a bunch of other little islands for the tourist experience. Since the students in the program are in the field of either social work or education, we were hoping to experience what life is like in a country whose sociopolitical structure is so different than ours to see how they address social problems. Sitting on a tour bus for a third of the day and staying at hotel severely limited what we could experience.

I will not say that my two weeks in Cuba were entirely negative. I got enough of a glimpse of Cuba to leave with more questions than I before I arrived. My classmates and I met with educators, health care professionals, community organizers, and artists. As a bonus, my classmates and I connected so well. Out of the frustration of the conditions surrounding our departure and the moments of fun we could steal together, I think we walked away feeling like we’d made some real friends.

Presently, I still feel embarrassed and irritated reveal to people that my Cuba trip turned into a joke, in many respects.  I believe I do well in expecting the unexpected, but to me, this was just too far removed from what was proposed to me and my classmates. I know I’m embarrassed because I hyped it up so much and placed so much value on it in the context of my academic career, and I just wanted the chance to have a completely unique experience. I know at heart that within those two weeks, I got to see and do things that so many people in the U.S. will never get to see or do. And I’m certainly grateful for that. I’m not going to forget those two weeks. It will just take some time to let go of feeling cheated and discover that I learned more than what I can see right now.

  1. July 21, 2012 at 18:23

    You didn’t see the real Cuba. You don’t need to go to Cuba for your ethnographic studies; all you need to do is visit Little Havana in Cuba. That’s it.

    • July 21, 2012 at 19:15

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

      I recognize that I didn’t see the real Cuba; as a foreigner taking part in a guided tour, that just wasn’t possible.

  2. July 21, 2012 at 18:23

    My mistake–Little Havana in Miami, Florida.

    • Ley A.
      August 7, 2012 at 16:23

      …just to be clear, you’re being sarcastic, right Voiceless?? 🙂

  3. Ley A.
    August 9, 2012 at 12:47

    Voiceless in America :
    Sarcastic about?

    I meant just to be clear about your comment that she doesn’t need to go to Cuba to conduct her ethnographic studies (on how Cubans address issues in social policy and social problems). I wanted to be clear whether you really think that she can get valid ethnographic research on such a topic by going to the “real Cuba” in Miami.

  4. Miles
    August 14, 2012 at 16:29

    Yep. Kinda wish I’d read this before I saw you!

    • August 14, 2012 at 16:39

      But then we would have missed out on that 10 minutes where I could not form words.

  1. August 30, 2012 at 23:27
  2. September 28, 2012 at 00:19

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