In just a little over a month and a week, I will be departing from my hometown in Seattle, Washington to the island of Cuba, where I am spending a semester in Havana. Why, may you ask? Why, Amy, have you chosen to do such an outrageous deed? Recently, I have asked myself the same questions.
The university that I attend requires all of their foreign language students to complete at least one semester abroad in a language-relevant country, and I do want to walk across that graduation stage in May 2018… Therefore, I’m going to Cuba. Ironically (but not actually), I had the opportunity to take a course this past spring that focused on Cuban literature and culture, which helped prepare me a bit more for the coming season. This course covered the beginning origins of the island of Cuba with its indigenous presence, and followed the changing of governance from Batista to more recently, Raul Castro. I was struck at how much content could fit into one semester’s worth of learning, but moreover, at the immense amount of history that has colored modern Cuban society.
This fall, I will be taking a grand total of four courses at La Universidad de la Habana, which is the country’s oldest university, and one of the first to be founded in the Americas. Fortunately, I will also be living with a local family, which I had the privilege to do in my time in Guatemala, and I know that this in itself will be a formative experience. I am hopeful for the richness and depth of the Cuban culture, to gain an intimate perspective on the country’s infrastructure, on the lifestyle, and to bring back to the United States a fuller, more wholesome understanding of the world. I hope to be transformed, not only in my thinking, but in the way that I approach my own life circumstances. Given that Cuba sits in a very unique position on the international stage, I am interested to see how my identity as an American citizen is further developed.
With any new season, there comes concerns of transition, change, and negative emotions associated with those concerns. I would be remiss to claim that I don’t feel afraid, or that my mind hasn’t wandered down a dark, windy path of “what if” questions and dangerous hypothetical scenarios. If you have ever lived abroad for any period of time, you know exactly what culture shock and expectation adjustment look like.
A shortage of toilet paper? No way.
The same meal for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner? Shut up.
Stomach parasites from drinking the water? Get out.
Loneliness? Anxiety? Fear? Homesickness? Folklore.
There are many days where my American ethnocentrism is called into question, and I am forced to confront how it is that I am privileged enough to walk this earth with the promise of food on the table, access to clean water, and a roof over my head. Yet, I neglect to take this discomfort to the next level and actually make a visible change in the way I live. While in Cuba, I will be slapped in the face with these harsh realities, and I hold on to the hope that I may be equipped with grace and integrity when necessary.
How precious this life is. How short our days are numbered. Although my mental endurance may get the best of me at times, I am confident in knowing that by faith, trust, and an eager, expectant heart, my three and a half months in Cuba will not be for naught. May I be used for a glory and goodness that is greater than I could ever fathom or imagine. I am ready for Havana good time.