Photo by Daisy Ortiz/The Pioneer
Two weeks ago, I was a travel enthusiast and a student who wanted to accumulate as many credits as possible in order to graduate next spring. The study abroad program in Cuba seemed like the perfect opportunity, especially for my communication major and because the program was journalism specific.
I was skeptical to embark on this journey because of the $5,500 cost, but like always, I said ‘whatever’ and jumped all in. I had very little expectations of Cuba; I really couldn’t begin to imagine how it was going to be, even after others said how heavily regulated it was by the government and how much poverty was there.
Cuba became a huge learning experience. Every walk I took down Havana’s small streets, every conversation with professionals working as taxi drivers or cleaning ladies and every observation I made led to learning something new.
I learned that the average taxi driver and cleaning lady make around 20 CUCs per month, which is equivalent to about $20 American. As an American, I couldn’t imagine living with such a tight budget. Personally, that amount alone goes toward my gas tank on a regular week.
Given the financial crisis, professionals choose to work in tourism, such driving taxis or working in hotels, because they know they can make tips from tourists and often people leave behind shoes or other gifts which they very much appreciate.
It may seem like Cubans are living in extreme poverty and unhappy with their lifestyle and government, but being there I picked up a different vibe. People didn’t seem unhappy at all. Many of them always greeted me with a smile and a warm hello.
On weekend nights, many locals hang out at “El Malecon” – the seawall – drinking and dancing. They are many times in a joyous mood and take their time; the clock isn’t as important to them as it is in the United States.
Without a doubt, Cuba has its treasures. It’s a diamond in the rough, but a diamond nonetheless. It explodes in color, hospitality and relaxation. Life there is much less stressful than it is in the states. My experience has reminded me to be more patient, to appreciate the little things in life, and that I do not need material things to be happy. Clearly the Cubans don’t. And therefore, I say “Viva Cuba!“