Horns meet world. World meet Megan Nater. Megan is an International Relations major who spent 5 weeks in Cuba on the Cuba in Question Maymester Program. Check out what her study abroad experience was like to see if it is right for you.
We arrived in Havana early morning on a Sunday. The humidity hit us the moment we stepped out of the plane. I thrived in the heat and Cuba was already welcoming me with open arms.
We were a group of 17 UT students and one energetic and passionate professor. She led us past the taxis to a charter bus that drove us a quick twenty minutes to our “Casa Particular” (think hybrid between a hostel and a host family). The family, very formal and professional, settled us into their home. The building was rundown and old, but homey. Our small and simple twin beds made me smile. I lucked out not only getting a room in the main house but one right across from the dining room. That meant my morning commute to breakfast was a mere two steps.
Our location was perfect. Two blocks from our “university,” Casa de las Americas, and two blocks from the ocean. We had classes every morning but thankfully they were not traditional style classes. The program aims to teach Cuban culture and social movements through the arts. This topic allowed for a dynamic classroom experience. Different artist came to guest lecture and explain the meaning behind their pieces.
After a few hours of classes, we headed back to the main house hungry and ready to eat. The family would bring out dishes starting with small salads, a main course (normally a meat with rice) and a dessert. I loved the food. “Ropa vieja” never failed me- shredded meat with rice and beans made for a saucy delight. However, portions were pretty controlled (oh sweet communism) and lunch got quite competitive (oh sweet sweet capitalism). Nasty looks rippled through our group as we all thought, “Hands off buddy, that piece of cabbage is mine.”
When we had eaten every kernel of food, the majority of the group headed to a hotel to try to buy some Wi-Fi. This outing was generally unsuccessful. Although this restriction frustrated some, I fully embraced it. A month away from my phone was wonderful. It forced me to journal, reflect, walk the city, socialize with locals on the Malecón and just be. To this day, I miss the feeling of freedom that restricted Wi-Fi usage gifted me.
To many people’s satisfaction, transportation was indeed the cars from the 50s. We playfully jumped in and out of them moving around the city with ease. Although the “taxis” were affordable and fun, I preferred walking. My friends and I would walk for hours. We sneakily peered into people’s open windows to see sweet families huddled around a TV or a coffee table playing cards. Walking also allowed us to talk to the locals. We learned quickly that Cubans were curious, friendly and eager to meet us. They excitedly asked questions about what life was like in the US, and we did the same. You could easily spend an hour chatting on a street corner. I felt so comfortable and at home. The Cubans’ ability to make me feel like I was welcomed and valued is something I still carry with me today. I hope I can embody and share that warmth with whomever may visit Austin.
After a fast and incredible three weeks in Havana, it was time to head to Santiago de Cuba. We started our week-long drive across the country with mixed feelings. Although leaving Havana broke my heart, the stunning green drive quickly excited me for the next place. We stopped in many cities along the way. The program led us through Cuban history one site at a time. The final stop, Santiago, was the home of the Castro family and we walked through Fidel’s tiny pastel-colored childhood house. We spent our last few nights in Santiago salsa dancing and enjoying the jazz. As we looked out over the beautiful city, we reminisced on all of our unforgettable memories. Now, over a year later, my friends and I still get together to salsa dance in Austin and plan our next trip to Cuba.
If you liked what Megan got to experience and what to check out more programs for Latin America check out our website, and check in next week to see where our Horns pop up next.