Tag Archives: american university

Preparing for the Trip to Cuba: Lesson #1

14 Nov

Before our class can take off for Havana, Cuba in early January, we will have two introductory classes to prepare us for the two weeks spent studying and researching at the University of Havana. Tonight was our first meeting, and after quickly introducing ourselves we got down to business. There are a few things to keep in mind when doing research on Cuba, and maybe it’s more important to remember these things than for conducting research on any other state in the region.

First, check multiple sources to make sure the translation is correct and not biased. You might be reading an extremely right-sided version or left-sided version of a story, and though this is inevitable with such a volatile subject, you need to be aware of this as it’s happening. The best way to get a middle-ground viewpoint is to read as many sources as possible and then draw your own conclusions. (For all intents and purposes, we’re talking about culture, economy and contemporary politics.)

Figure out the analytical and critical framing for your sources. If reading about the history of Cuba, who wrote it, what is their background and potential influence? Yes, you may be reading an English version, but it could be coming from a 5th generation Cuban who was forced to leave after Castro took power. Think about how that might affect their view of history, especially the revolutionary history.

In terms of political science, you need to re-conceptualize the idea of civil society. Civil society refers to ways in which a society will gather to discuss and debate, among other things. The United States, for example, is a very open civil society, with book clubs, church groups, softball clubs, etc. You might think that these kinds of activities are banned and non-existent in Cuba, but there are other ways in which a civil society can exist.

Identify the causes of the revolution. Are we looking at only what is presented in an American history book, or a Cuban book, British book, Colombian book, etc? Read the historical evidence but also think of context and other events occurring in the world at the time. We will be looking at multiple viewpoints of Cuba, and though I’ll go into this with an open mind, I will also try to keep clear of accepting everything I hear from my hosts as the absolute truth. Investigation and objective research will be my task.

With less than two months until the trip, the wheels are already in motion. Our visas are being processed and arrangements for hotels and airfare are underway. I might need to check in with a travel clinic to see if I need any booster shots (even though I received a few goodies before Ecuador), and then I’ll get to experience Cuba firsthand.



Headed to Cuba in January!

18 Oct

I got some good news that I was waiting on this afternoon. Though I’m still in my first semester as a grad student, I applied for a new program at American University to travel to Cuba during the winter break and study for two weeks at an intensive course at the University of Havana. I guess my years of experience and hard work have finally paid off because I was accepted and will spend two weeks this winter learning about the culture, economy and contemporary politics of Cuba. This is a great opportunity because I know that in the future things will change with Cuba, and I’m eager to get to see how things are before major tourism opens up.

I’ve already become something of an expert on the Southern Cone and the Andean countries after living in South America for three years, but my experience in the Caribbean countries is admittedly less impressive. In Central America I’ve only been to Costa Rica and because it was years ago, don’t have extremely vivid memories. I’ve been to Puerto Rico a handful of times, but as a tourist. I know that there are extreme differences between traveling somewhere as a student or worker. But mainly, the fact that I am now fluent in Spanish and can converse with people openly opens doors in so many ways. Now I hope to improve my knowledge and understanding of this region which has been off limits to many for so many decades.

It’s funny, but already a number have people have told me to be careful when I go to Cuba. I appreciate the concern, but I wonder what it’s based on. Obviously they aren’t speaking from experience, or even stories from friends who have been there. Why do some Americans (if not most) possess an image of Cuba as dangerous? Yes, they have a different form of government and ideology, and we are in theory enemies, but where is the evidence saying that I’m likely to be robbed? I know someone who was robbed in Havana, but I know many more who’ve been robbed in Quito, Guayaquil, Buenos Aires, Boston, New York, Washington, etc etc. I’ve been told that you generally don’t need to fear for your safety walking down the street in Havana, but don’t worry, I don’t try to push my luck…too much.

Maybe it’s something about having already been through a bus hijacking, but I’m not too worried about travel to certain parts of the world anymore. There was a time when I wouldn’t consider going to Bolivia, for example, but eventually I was backpacking around there on my own. Once a person has fluency in the language, they gain a great sense of empowerment and comfort. So much of fear is based on a lack of language ability. Sometimes you just need to know how to shmooze your way out of a situation.

So Travel Guy will continue to be traveling, and already the prospect of a trip ahead has me excited and anxious to get underway. Still, there are miles to go before I sleep, and though we’re halfway through the semester (yes, already), I have a million other things to work on as well. Here’s to 2012 in Cuba!

The Internet is Back

3 Sep

Washington DC at Night

After moving into my apartment in Glover Park a week and a half ago, cable and Internet were finally installed this morning. It’s a shame that I couldn’t give little updates on the first week or so in Washington, but I’ve actually jumped right into my studies and have been awfully busy. Over the last three years I’ve lived sporadically without Internet or cable, so it wasn’t too painful to go a short period without it, but it did prove difficult when I needed to use the Internet for assignments.

Aside from Journalism, my other major in college was History, so I’m used to having to read large amounts of dense text and churn them into some sort of paper, but grad school is like that x 10. I find my routine has already been solidified, though I began my job with the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce this week, so it’s slightly different as of Thursday. I wake up and go to work, come back and read, maybe go for a run, read, go to class, come back and read until it’s time for bed. No matter how much I read in a day I still have hundreds of pages to go. The level of independence in grad school is high, and apart from a few papers or even the occasional take home mid-term, it’s on you to do the work and learn how to be an effect expert in your chosen field.

I haven’t even seen much outside of my neighborhood so far. I’ve been too holed up with studying to explore DC, and though I’d love to use this long weekend to visit downtown or go to a Smithsonian, I have a ticket to the University of Maryland/University of Miami football game on Monday night and need to get as much work done beforehand as possible. The weather is starting to change, and soon enough it will probably be chilly and undesirable outside, but for the time being the weather is very pleasant and it’s a shame that I can’t use my time at my leisure. That’s a difference I’ve already noticed about working life and student life. After working all day in Buenos Aires, I would come home and have that time on my own. Weekends could be dull if I had no plans, but at least they were mine. Now, all I do is hit the books. There is no such thing as free time, and if there is it’s because I’m wasting time.

At the Nationals Stadium, with the Washington Monument in the Background

Last night I took advantage of a sale at American University for $8 tickets to the Washington Nationals vs the New York Mets in the Navy Yard section of Washington and went with an old friend from UMass. The fairly new stadium was pretty empty, but it was a nice ballpark and is actually one of the only few in the country that I’ve visited outside of Boston. The ticket even came with $10 worth of food, drinks or merchandise, and though the Nationals lost, because it was a Friday night they had fireworks after the game. Since I don’t live near a Metro stop I took a long bus home, but was able to pass through Capitol Hill and take in some of the sights. There is one thing to be said about Washington at night: it’s a very pretty atmosphere with the monuments and federal buildings lit up.

This afternoon I’ve been disturbed by Syrian protestors outside of the Russian Embassy. They are chanting for the Russians to stop selling weapons to Syria, but it sounds like after a couple of hours they have quieted down. On schedule for the rest of the day is, yep, reading and reading. Maybe I’ll throw in a movie at the end of the day. It is Saturday after all.

Earthquakes, Hurricanes, and Move-Ins, Oh My!

28 Aug

This last week has been a bit of a rush and that’s why you haven’t seen too many updates from me, save for a handful of Tweets. I’m sorry about that, but unfortunately I’ve just moved into my new apartment in Washington DC and won’t have Internet installed until next Saturday. There’s nothing I can do about it, but I’ll see if I can do a few posts from the library during the week. It’s a shame too, because this transitional period is so crucial to understand what it’s like for a returned expat to change locations yet again, especially for one who is about to begin graduate studies.

Backtracking on everything to happen since Tuesday morning would be irrelevant by now, and most of the major stories have already come to you via mainstream news, so I’ll just give a quick run down of what the transfer to Washington has been like. On Tuesday afternoon my parents and I rolled into town at about 1:50 pm, just at the 5.8 earthquake hit. Yet we had no idea, because as we were in the car trying to find the hotel, we couldn’t feel the vibrations. Once we pulled into the valet area at the hotel we saw people evacuating and were told an earthquake has just hit. This was my welcome to a new city, and with such a powerful entrance, there would have to be a follow up.

Still not 100% sure if the deal was going down or not, I showed up at the rental office at 8:30 am on Wednesday to sign my lease, got the keys and moved into my new apartment in Glover Park, between American University and Georgetown University. It actually couldn’t have worked out better because once I dropped everything off in the small studio room I went for an interview for a position with the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. As a research assistant, I’ll be able to actively engage in work on economic studies, learn about the trends and predictions for educational needs and health care concerns, and take part in a critical process in Washington. It will be the perfect complement to my foreign policy studies, and is only a few blocks from home.

My parents and I headed to IKEA and bought just about everything I’d need: a couch, desk, table, TV stand, etc. Soon the room was filled with boxes which turned into furniture, reluctantly of course, because for anyone who’s ever put together something from IKEA, you know that it’s a love/hate relationship. My parents had to leave a day early because of extenuating circumstances, namely Hurricane Irene, which has threatened the entire eastern seaboard. Raining hard as it did, it wasn’t exactly the worst storm I’ve ever seen, and I even walked down to my friend Ben’s apartment to watch a movie last night. On the walk back up it was merely drizzling and I didn’t even need the umbrella. It was damp, but nothing requiring a boat.

Orientation at American University has come and gone, and though overwhelming as it was, I already feel privileged to have advisors and professors who seem so passionate and interested in their work. My classes begin on Tuesday, and once that happens my ability to write frequently will most likely become more difficult, yet I’m still planning on proceeding with this blog and am even interested in expanding into writing about the things I’m learning from my classes, if for nothing else than to educate those who haven’t taken the kinds of courses I’m soon to engage in. Stay tuned for more.

Is DC For Me?

29 Jul

It wasn’t necessarily today, sitting under the bus stop kiosk with the thermometer reading 99 F, the sweat quickly rolling down my back and into my waist, when I started to have my doubts about Washington DC. It wasn’t yesterday either when I got lost for the umpteenth time in a maze of streets split by numbers and letters, simple enough yet esoteric to a person not from the area. I think it hit me the first day I got to Washington as I went looking for my first apartment viewing. Maybe this place isn’t for me.

Nothing had gone wrong yet, but it just hit me immediately as such a weird city. The Metro was clean, air conditioned and fast. I felt good about that, and the bus system was equally refreshing after my experiences with transit in Buenos Aires. The driver was so helpful and even waived the fare the next time I got on, as I coincidentally got the same driver. But I realized that though I was still in the city, all around me was the quintessential suburbia. Low-rise houses, trees, and a quiet that chilled me as I thought I’d made some grave mistake and gotten off in Maryland.

That’s the way this city is, because law decrees that buildings can’t exceed the height of the Washington Monument. Therefore, outside of the downtown you find what looks exactly like small town suburbia for most of the city. Coming from such a huge city like Buenos Aires, with more experience still in Boston and New York, this image of a city just didn’t make sense to me. It was like a provincial city in Argentina, but not the capital of the United States. Right?

Take a few stops on the Metro in DC and you go from what feels like a small town to a busy city, and the contrast is almost alarming. Where does everyone go at the end of the day? Alexandria, Bethesda, Silver Springs, Arlington, and on and on. Sure, plenty of people live in the city proper–about 500,000 or so by what I’ve heard–but they like to tout that they are taxed without representation. It says so on their license plates, “Taxation Without Representation.” You see, even though they are a part of the United States and are taxed, they have no representation in Congress. Someone told me it’s because the city would likely vote 70% Democratic, so the Republicans always block their right to add more seats.

Let’s just leave politics out of this for now. There are enough people in DC to work on that for now. In fact, one thing that I noticed about the city right off the bat was the sense  of self importance that so many people carry about them. The National Blah of Blah…The Center for Yadda Yadda…Assistant to the Regional Who Gives a Shit…etc. Everyone thinks they are the most important person in the city, making them one of the most important people in the world. It’s a power game and while I’m intrigued to find out how far down the wormhole goes, I’m also less than willing to begin playing along with such well trained monkeys. We’ll just wind up tossing bullshit at each other.

Buenos Aires has a similar reputation, in that other Argentines think the porteños think highly of themselves. No one else matters outside of Buenos Aires, but don’t tell that to someone from Córdoba. Like Buenos Aires, the summer heat of DC is stifling, a suffocation which you either get used to or die. The key is running into an air conditioned building or vehicle as soon as possible, if you can manage. It’s all so modern, it’s all so official. I feel like a relatively laid back guy from the ‘burbs. The city might be my new home for the next two years, but for now I have serious doubts if it will ever be my home. Show me your best, Washington.