A group of Troy University students had the opportunity to travel to Cuba this summer as part of the university’s study abroad program.
Johanna Alberich, assistant professor of Spanish, led the group, which consisted of 15 students, two medical doctors and two family members of students.
While in Cuba, the group stayed in small groups in rented rooms of houses. The students were able to learn while being immersed in the Cuban culture and language.
“Cuba is very different from the United States, and it is so unknown,” Alberich said. “When students go to Cuba, they open their eyes to this other world and see past the misconceptions we have of the nation, and when we see the lives of people there, we realize the things we take for granted.”
As a result of the United States’ embargo against Cuba in the 1960s, trade between the two countries has remained banned. Despite the embargo, Cubans have gotten access to certain American items like clothes or American music.
“I have seen many changes happening in Cuba now,” Alberich said. “The internet has made its way there. Cruise ships are now allowed to go to Cuba, and Cubans are able to access more of American items and even money through their family members in the United States.”
Nathaniel Rodriguez, a senior broadcast journalism and Spanish double major from Enterprise, is a native of Puerto Rico who went on the trip.
“There’s a saying among our people—Cuba and Puerto Rico are two wings of the same bird,” Rodriguez said. “Culturally, we were so similar until they overthrew the Batista dictatorship and rejected the United States’ control over their economy, and I wanted to see what the result was, if it was worth it.”
Participants of this trip could choose to get three credit hours, six credit hours or no credit hours at all.
Students had the option of staying at Estudio Sampere school in Havana and taking language classes there every morning or traveling with the teachers from the same school. Alberich said every student chose to travel. They were accompanied by bilingual guides, who were teachers at Estudio Sampere.
Alberich said the trip was language-intense and required at least basic-level Spanish, which presented an opportunity for students to focus on listening and speaking, to boost what they knew and to learn more about the language, the people and the culture.
“Mostly, when students go abroad, it opens the rest of the world to them and starts the thirst and desire to go back or go someplace else,” Alberich said.
Reina Terry, a senior political science and psychology double major from Alpharetta, Georgia, said the trip was eye-opening.
“We learn very minimal and somewhat biased information about Cuba in the United States, so I thought it was so cool to experience their daily life firsthand,” Terry said. “One night, the city we were in ran out of water, so we could not even shower, and we could not drink the water at all. That was eye-opening.”
The group was given some limitations during the trip. They were not allowed to go to certain areas or certain parts of buildings, and like Cubans, they did not have freedom of speech in Cuba.
“They have strict rules about tourists in general,” Alberich said. “But before we left, I told the students that we were going to focus on the positive things, the island and its people.”
Troy University offers $1,000 grants to students to study abroad. More information about the requirements of this grant can be found at the Study Abroad Office in Room 37 of Hawkins Hall.
The recent increase in grant from $750 to $1,000 is expected to encourage more students to study abroad.
The next study abroad trip to Cuba is currently being planned. Interested students can contact Johanna Alberich in Wright Hall for more information.