CNR Students: Bridging Cultures in Cuba
February 26, 2018
In January, seven CNR students and their faculty advisor Dr. Nereida Segura-Rico, associate professor of Spanish, School of Arts & Sciences, embarked on a study abroad visit to Cuba as part of their “Bridging Cultures” course.
“I wanted to offer Spanish majors and minors, several of whom are graduating this May, a study-abroad experience. Given all the recent changes affecting Cuba, the students were very enthusiastic about the possibility of visiting the island,” said Segura-Rico, who previously has led study abroad trips to Spain and Puerto Rico.
Cuba is a central component of the Spanish curriculum, as well as of the certificate in Latin American and Caribbean studies. Segura-Rico first visited the island in 1997 to conduct research for her doctoral thesis, returning in 2008 to attend a conference. Given that her research and area of expertise is so closely connected to Cuba, she, too, was “looking forward to seeing first-hand some of the changes.”
After discussing the study abroad plan with Dr. Laura Redruello, her colleague in the Spanish program at Manhattan College, the two professors decided to share resources and include students from both colleges.
“Being able to work with Dr. Redruello, a Cuban culture and literature scholar who has many contacts on the island, made a big difference. We all valued the opportunity to share this experience and to learn from one another.”
To accommodate students’ schedules, it was decided to do the trip during winter intersession. On January 2, seven SAS students –Lina Arboleda ’18, Fernando Santos ’20, Lisbet Zepeda ’20, Karla Salamanca ’19, Nelly Salamanca ’18, Keyla Lora ’18, and Maria Alejandra Estupinan ’19, each a recipient of a Russel and Deborah Taylor Scholarship that helped fund their study abroad, boarded a plane bound for the Cuban capital of Havana.
“All the students had some knowledge of Cuban history, society and culture, which allowed them to get fully involved in the activities and to approach critically many of the things they experienced.”
To prepare further for the presentations and conversations they would have while in Cuba, students were required to read novels and articles and watch documentaries. Beyond the scheduled activities, they enjoyed opportunities to interact with Cuban citizens and to immerse themselves fully in aspects of life in Havana. And that they did, touring the many squares of Old Havana, Revolution Square, and Hamel Street, the center of Afro-Cuban culture and art. They also visited Ernest Hemingway’s house outside Havana. During the week filled with opportunities both academic and entertaining, they shared discussions with Cuban professors, writers and activists, saw first-hand the rum-making process at Museo del Ron and took a Cuban dance workshop.
For junior Fernando Santos, getting to know Cuba, its people, and customs is an experience he says he will never forget. From visiting historic museums and monuments, to enjoying Cuban cuisine such as ropa vieja, and tostones rellenos, to learning how to dance el ‘son cubano,’ one of Cuba’s traditional rhythms, Santos took every opportunity to explore and learn.
“This trip made me see the positive side of Cuba. Sometimes individuals just focus on the negative and forget about the beauty of the country. Understanding the reality of life in Cuba and seeing the Cuban people’s happiness… made me more positive and hopeful.”
Noting the importance of the Taylor Scholarship in helping him and his fellow students make the trip, Santos said, “I want to thank Dr. Taylor for granting students the opportunity to accomplish dreams and for supporting education through the lens of exploring new places.”
Back on campus for spring semester, the students will continue their study of Cuba, share their impressions based on diaries they kept during the trip and interviews they conducted, and develop a research project based on their experiences on the island.
“It was a joy to share this experience with this group of students,” said Segura-Rico.