Tag Archives: havana

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.

 

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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!