Tip for the optimal travel experience: Learn something about the place you visit before you arrive. The more you know before you show up, the more you will learn and remember when you return.
My team from university included International Studies, Spanish, Fine Arts, Sociology, Politics and Government, Pre-Med and Religion majors as well as one American with Cuban heritage. Each individual applied to the team and had their own academic reasons for traveling to Cuba. When we arrived, questions from team members to Cuban leaders included questions about politics, medical systems and art.
As an International Studies major with strong interests in international political policy, my luck allowed me to talk to my English tutorees each night about their thoughts and opinions on politics and cultural differences with few language barriers. Here is a conversation I had in writing, practicing spelling and written grammar with Alex, one of the few men I had the chance to talk to:
Alex: “To open the restriction depends on the new president who will take that place.”
(Me): I agree, I study politics and right now it is very interesting. Do you follow the election [2016 Presidential]?
“I see the news every day.”
That’s better than me! What do you think of Republicans?
“I prefer Democrats. We are in a bad situation now but it can change in the next few months.”
Everything can change very quickly! I think the Cuba/USA relations will depend on the new president, but I think most Americans want good relations.
“But unfortunately it’s not up to them.”
But, Americans are the ones who choose their president by voting. I know it can be corrupt and sometimes not turn out how I like, but I still have hope.
“Are you really studying politics?”
My major is a mixture of politics, sociology, economics and languages. So yes.
“Then I hope you will fight so hard to close our relationship, I mean between our two countries.”
It’s hard, but I would like to. If our countries were friends, what would change?
“For me, this system should be changed in order to improve our lives.”
In contrast to his wish for change, two of my other tutorees were less concerned with the future of the political system and more concerned about their personal futures (employment, moving to live with family, marriage, ect.). Every Cuban I talked with in the country felt positively about the opening of relations between the United States and Cuban governments as well as the opening of domestic policies in Cuba. While these opinions could be biased because of who I was interacting with or the fact that I am American, I understood these biases and still believed these conversations to create a fairly objective sample of the political feelings of Cubans.