As an American student planning to visit Cuba this upcoming week, I feel more than privileged and excited for this experience. Since President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro have announced they are taking steps towards restoring diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, Americans are now able to visit Cuba if they qualify for a travel permit. Due to being enrolled in an international studies course at Penn State University called “Snapshots of Cuban Society”, I have been able to obtain a travel permit in order to be eligible to travel with my professor and peers for a 10 day trip to Havana, Cuba.
Something that is unique about this trip and differs from those of my past is that before, during and after my stay, I will be conducting and documenting primary research based on the perspectives of Cuba from the point of view of Americans versus the actual realities of the country.
I find this topic to be rather interesting because in many cases, individuals have very set stereotypes in their minds of countries they are not native to or have not yet visited. These stereotypes can range in views of culture, political ideas, economics and environment. Even more so, I find this topic to be particularly special when viewing the perspectives of Cuba through the eyes of Americans due to the history between the United States and Cuba dating back to the 1950s. Through my research, I will be mainly observing the cultural and political perspectives of my peers, professors, friends, and family members while comparing and contrasting their perspectives to the actual realities of the country. In addition, I will be documenting my personal expectations of Cuba, what I’ve learned from being in the country, and any other information I feel may be interesting to share.
My Personal Expectations:
In my opinion, Cuba seems to be a beautiful Latin American country that has kept to themselves over the past decades. Though they are geographically located in the North American region, I see them culturally as a Latin American country. When I think of Cuba, I envision music, cigars, colorful buildings, rum, and cars from the 1950s. Along with my envisioned stereotypes, I imagine the country to be a bit back on the times in terms of fashion, cars, and technology. I am expecting the country to differ greatly from the U.S being that it is a communist country. Despite the fact that social classes are absent in this political structure, I am expecting to see some form of social classes within the society even if it may not be labeled.
I also expect the people to be somewhat similar in appearance to those of South America including influences from both Europe and Africa. Additionally, I imagine the Spanish language of the country to have its own dialect/slang being that most Spanish speaking countries have their own personal touch of character.
Economically, I imagine that Cuba will be a poor country. Even though I am picturing it to have a poor economy, I am not expecting to see a lot of poverty in terms of homeless individuals due to the way their political structure is set up.
The last expectation I have that I will address is the way I think Americans are viewed in Cuba. Even though actions are being taken to restore relations, I do believe that there are still tensions present between the U.S and Cuba. I think it is a possibility that some individuals may hold negative views of the U.S and that they may want to verbally express their opinions due to the political history of the two countries. With that being said, I think that there may be some circumstances where being an American student in Cuba may not be welcomed with open arms.
All and all, being an American in Cuba has a different meaning than it would if I were Canadian, European, or from any other country. For years Cuba has been a forbidden land to Americans. Having this opportunity to see Cuba at such an important moment in history before change really takes place will not only be an educational experience, but an experience that will be able to be compared with a future Cuba years down the road.
Lets see what this once called “playground” has to offer.