A student's take on Cuba

Crystal Hill '20 traveled to Caribbean country with Clark experiential learning group
August 24, 2017
Crystal Hill stands on a deck overlooking the countryside in Cuba.

Crystal Hill ’20 was one of 11 students who spent nine days in Cuba earlier this summer for the course Youth Culture in Cuba: A Service and Learning Opportunity. The group toured organizations that provide opportunities for Cuban youth to express themselves creatively, socially, and politically. Hill, a women’s and gender studies major, shares her thoughts and reactions to the programs and people she encountered in Cuba in this blog.

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Before our trip began, my knowledge regarding Cuba was extremely limited. In fact, I had never traveled abroad before and most of what I knew revolved around the common misconception that Cuba was a country that was stuck in time and even then, I was still unsure of what that meant. What makes a country stuck in time other than just the general aesthetic? This led me to wonder, what exactly is the state of Cuba and how would experiencing Cuba firsthand influence my own studies as a women’s studies major? Over the course of our nine-day trip, we visited multiple organizations that focused on providing opportunities and services to youth in Cuba and, to my delight, in every one of those organizations from the OAR to Cuba Skate to Asociación Hermanos Saíz, there was always dialogue that touched upon not only the state of the current youth in Cuba, but also dialogue surrounding the experiences of past generations. These conversations not only allowed me to get a better understanding of the motives and goals of young Cubans today, but they also provided great insight into how the politics and beliefs of the past generations has led way for the mindset of the current generation.

Though we were exposed to many great resources and great speakers, the meeting that still continues to resonate with me is our meeting at the OAR with Marleen Diaz Tenorio. During our visit, our speaker introduced us to the abundance of services provided to youth, especially programs aimed towards young women’s reproductive health as well as general mental and physical well-being. What immediately struck me was not only how many services and campaigns were in place, but also how well-received so many of these programs are by the Cuban people. The dangers of domestic violence are well advertised by billboards posted all around Havana by the OAR and sexual education is completely comprehensive and not a topic that is often debated. It was after the mention of this topic of sexual education that I realized I was still looking at things based on my own experience in America rather than considering how the lack or presence of certain cultural beliefs could have completely different effects on different countries. America’s puritanical roots and highly religious regions have led to disapproval towards sex positivity whereas Cuba’s current lack of traditional major religion has led to educational campaigns that don’t focus on approaches common in the United States like as abstinence.

I was so delightfully intrigued by this conversation because, to me, this served as one of the many things that dismantled the idea that Cuba is a country that is completely stuck in the past. The success as well as the positive attitude by the youth towards these campaigns made me reevaluate what it means to live in a “modern country.” What exactly makes the United States modern, and Cuba a country of the past? Is it purely the lack of technological things and vintage aesthetic or is the statement solely rooted in politics? If so, how can that label also be applied to our country as well as other countries and how can we improve on that?

During the trip, I found myself embraced by a country that had a strong sense of cultural pride, a strong sense of community, and a strong sense of its roots. I still feel incredibly lucky for having been able to see Cuba up close and for the interactions with wonderful people who allowed me to learn from even the most minor of everyday experiences. From our homestay families to the organizations we visited to the people we met on the streets of Havana, we were always greeted with such kindness and such lively personalities, something that is truly reminiscent of the spirt of the Cuban people. While I left with just as many questions as I did answers, all my newfound information has pushed me to explore these questions on my own and within the scope of my own education.