Discovering Cuba

Publication Date

Chase Finkel '16 was impressed by the free health care, and the lack of crime and drugs. Dima Yankova '16 noted the high rates of literacy and socially progressive programs, such as a government-sponsored LGBTA center. And Hector Tejeda '16 and Gina Valentine '16 were struck by the cultural literacy in Cuba.

“Cubans are one of the most talented people in the world. They value the arts, dance, music, jazz and playing instruments from birth,” Tejeda said.

Students in Plaza de la Revolución

Students in Plaza de la Revolución

“It is impressive that such a small country contributes a disproportional amount to art, literature and music,” Valentine added.

These four students and 17 others participated in the inaugural Cuba miniterm, led by Teresa Meade, the Florence B. Sherwood Professor of History and Culture, over winter break.

In the first year after the U.S. eased travel restrictions and bureaucratic barriers to studying and traveling in the Caribbean island nation, they explored its history, politics and culture through lectures and conversations with prominent scholars, writers, artists, musicians and government representatives.

“Our very diverse group of students represented different parts of the campus community,” said Meade. “For instance, international students Dima (from Bulgaria) and Lolu (Omololu Adeniran ’16 from Nigeria) come from backgrounds where the Cuban Revolution was looked at very favorably. Chase, on the other hand, is from Miami and hadn’t heard a lot of good things about Cuba. He found his impressions changed.”

Remarking on the transitional status of the country, Finkel said, “For a long time, the revolutionary generation held strong to communist ideals, but in talking to kids from our generation, they very much want to enter the global community and become connected with the world.”

What didn’t he know before he left? “With all the disdain heaped on socialism and the Castro brothers, in Cuba every citizen is literate, has free healthcare and has a guaranteed meal.”

Yankova found it eye-opening to witness how “Cubans live in two parallel but increasingly more divided worlds, one made for the locals and one made for the outsiders who come to Cuba as visitors.”

Also on the mini-term were Mary Nell Cella ’16, Christopher Graff ’16, Hannah Hage ’16, Spencer Kahler ’17, Caelin Kaplan ’16, Navid (Kian) Nowrouzi ’16, Brendan O’Connor ’17, Melissa Rodriguez’ 16, Nurisha Rodriguez ‘’16, Yareli Rodriguez ’16, Madison Shapiro ’17, Brian Teitelbaum ’17, Tyler Valenti ’16, Quisqueya Witbeck ’16, Anthony Wright ’17 and Drew Zangrillo ’17.

The group delivered sports equipment, gathered from students on campus and from the Athletic Department, to a community in Havana and brought school supplies to an elementary class in Santiago de Cuba.


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