SMU students and faculty visit Cuba for the first time

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Since Fidel Castro began his reign in Cuba in 1959 the United States has had conflict with the country.

However, TIME Magazine notes that the conflict between the two countries goes all the way back to the days of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Recently, the U.S has moved toward rebuilding the relationship with Cuba. President Obama’s opening up of ties with Cuba earlier this year has made Americans inclined to visit the unexplored country.

SMU was not far behind as a group of students and faculty visited Cuba in early August.

Miroslava Detcheva, faculty member of the world languages department at SMU, partnered with the Residential Life and Student Housing to make this trip possible.

“This has been a dream of mine,” Detcheva said. “I first started talking about Cuba and SMU in 2011; it has always been in the back of my mind.”

A group of 14 students along with faculty went to Cuba. Although the trip was not for a course credit, the students had their whole days planned out.

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Fourteen SMU students spent their last few days of summer vacation in Havana, Cuba. Photo credit: Ashley Clark

“We had breakfast at 8:30 a.m.,” Detcheva said. “At 9 a.m. we would have a lecture about a prominent Cuban figure.”

Students were also given readings and encouraged to review them before lectures.

“We would have lectures until 11:30 a.m,” Detcheva said. “Then, we would have lunch and go visit a site that was related to the topic.”

Students were also encouraged to share their thoughts about the day and lectures during ‘reflection time.’

“On the days when we would have lectures and visit a museum or interesting place, we would have reflection time,” Detcheva said. “We would go in a circle and students would reflect on what they learned.”

Lucy Quezada, psychology major at SMU, thought the trip was definitely worthwhile.

“Getting to experience a country that not a lot of Americans have necessarily experienced in many many years is pretty rewarding,” Quezada said.

Quezada noted the vast differences between the United States and Cuba.

“Our host family had eggs in their fridge that were numbered by dates.” Quezada said. “They would only eat a certain amount of eggs because they only have enough for that day. It was really eye-opening.”

The environment and scenery in Cuba is one from a different time period, according to Quezada.

“Seeing all the classic cars made it seem like we were stuck in the ’50s,” Quezada said.

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Old-styled cars made trip to Cuba seem like a flashback to the past. Photo credit: Kathryn Loper

Quezada also noted the rich and unique Cuban culture.

“The history is so alive in Cuba. It’s a very rich country,” Quezada said. “A lot of the places are still how they looked back in the day.”

Ashley Clark, international relations major at SMU, also brought back many memorable experiences from Cuba. She, like Quezada, made a connection between Cuba and the 1950s.

“It was unlike any other trip I’ve taken and will be unlike any trip I will take in the future,” Clark said. “We went at an unusual time due to the whole U.S. embargo thing, so we got to experience Cuba in roughly the same way Americans got to experience Cuba in the 1950s.”

Clark addressed the misconceptions some may have of Cuba and Cubans in general. She is happy to be able to bring back her experiences to the SMU community.

“The Cubans have such a love of life and a love of meeting new people that we just simply don’t have here [in the U.S.],” Clark said. “I could definitely say with confidence that they are the happiest people that I have ever encountered.”

Despite their circumstances, the Cubans are still some of the kindest people Clark has met.

“They don’t have much of anything, but the people are still so happy and are always willing to share,” Clark said.

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Clark recommends this trip to all SMU students.

“What was nice about this trip was that we got the chance to learn the Cuban’s side and they got the chance to learn ours,” Clark said.

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Kathryn Lopez, junior at SMU, also described going to Cuba as “an eye-opening experience.”

“Growing up in the United States you often times learn about Cuba through a very narrow lens,” Loper said. “But having the chance to go and immerse myself in the culture, engage with students, professors and tour guides from Cuba. It completely altered my view of the country.”

Loper is overjoyed to be one of the first SMU students to visit the country.

“I was thrilled to be one of the first students at SMU to go to Cuba,” Loper said. “It was exciting to be able to (hopefully) help pave the way for other students at SMU to have the same experience down the line.”

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Ashley Clark and fellow SMU students at the airport. Photo credit: Ashley Clark

Detcheva is currently working with the study abroad office to offer a world language course for credit with the Cuba trip. Detcheva plans to have the trip in May of next year.

“This will give anyone a credit; they won’t necessarily have to be in the Spanish program,” Detcheva said.

Detcheva looks forward to bringing more SMU students to the country.

Loper, like Clark, recommends the Cuba trip to SMU students.

“[The trip] offers a great chance to see another country and expand your worldview,” Loper said.

Loper stressed the importance of discovering new places.

“Since SMU is a school where world changers are shaped, it is extremely important to go out and experience the world around you,” Loper said.

For more information on this trip, contact Miroslava Detcheva at mdetcheva@smu.edu.

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