Marymount Universitys Briana Fuller learned firsthand during her spring study abroad experience that the Cuban people know how to adapt to a difficult situation.
For example, they love American cars but have no access to parts, the senior psychology and criminal justice major said. But we met a mechanic who could transform antique cars so they still run by using whatever he could find, whether it was bolts from old washing machines or parts from junk refrigerators.
He found a way to turn hardship into profit, Fuller said, and made money by giving tourists rides.
The New York native was one of 13 MU students in Cuba from March 9-17 as part of a semester-long Global Inequality and Community Development course taught by Dr. Matthew Bakker, assistant professor of sociology. Ana-Sofia Alcaraz, Marymounts coordinator for Global Engagement, also traveled with them.
Cuba is still very much a poor country and theyre transitioning to a new economic model, Bakker said. They recognize the economic future cant be a state-dominated, socialist economy and are slowly making the transition to a mixed economy that opens up real space for the private sector.
The challenge, he added, was to hold onto the fruits of the Revolution, which have included extraordinary accomplishments in education and health care. Bakker said highly trained and educated professionals such as academics and doctors earned roughly $100 a month in the state sector compared to taxi drivers and restaurant owners who could earn hundreds of dollars a day.
Another surprise for his students was the limited Internet access and lack of consumer goods.
It certainly opened their eyes to the stark contrast between life in Cuba and life in the United States, despite the fact that we were only 90 miles off the coast of South Florida, he said. Its an extremely valuable way for them to see the vast inequalities that exist but also the richness and vitality of other parts of the world.
They learned of the history of Cuban slavery during a visit to coffee plantation ruins, toured a tobacco farm and visited an eco-community based on sustainable development. The group attended lectures on contemporary Cuba at their host institution, the Centro de Estudios Martianos, and on the centers namesake, José Martí, a major Latin American literary figure and a hero in Cubas fight for independence from Spain.
We did a little bit of everything, Alcaraz said. We learned about Cubas past and the present, and heard from both academics and everyday people.
She was impressed that Havana was such a safe city, with easy access to taxis and car services. The students stayed in private homes, she added, and were impressed by their hosts ingenuity and entrepreneurship. They also visited restaurants and other private enterprises.
One of my most memorable highlights was sitting down with my host mom and talking about her experience living in Cuba as a native Afro-Cuban, said Carla Clavell, a junior from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I was able to get a sense of what average Cubans deal with on a day-to-day basis and understand their willingness to work and move forward as a country.
The politics major said it changed her perspective in many ways.
Personally, it taught me not only to be grateful for things that I have and that I can obtain quite easily, but also to be caring and understanding of others. Listening to my host mom talk about the immense difficulties she endured while in the Special Period in Cuba was life changing, she said, referring to the extended period of economic crisis following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
In total, 164 students went abroad over spring break (102 undergraduates and 62 graduate students) through Marymounts Center for Global Education. Other three-credit, semester-long Global Classroom series courses included the following international field experiences:
Economics of Poverty, Accra, Ghana
Major Women Writers, London and Bath, England
Renaissance and the Reformation, Florence, Italy
Global Information Technology, Prague, Czech Republic
Global Inequality and Community Development, Havana, Cuba
The Mystery of the Church, Rome, Italy
Four graduate courses were also offered:
School Counseling Practices in a Global Setting, Rome, Italy
Community-based Global Field Experience, Panama City, Panama
Global Community Based Project: STEM Event, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Physical Therapy Global Service Learning in Masaya, Nicaragua
Thirteen Marymount University students were in Cuba from March 9-17 as part of the Global Inequality and Community Development course taught by Dr. Matthew Bakker, assistant professor of sociology. Ana-Sofia Alcaraz, Marymounts coordinator for Global Engagement, also traveled with them.
The Marymount students learned about the history of Cuban slavery during a visit to coffee plantation ruins, toured a tobacco farm and visited a sustainable eco-community.
Dr. Matthew Bakker, assistant professor of sociology, said the Global Classroom series was an extremely valuable way for Marymount Students to see the vast inequalities that exist but also the richness and vitality of other parts of the world.
The group attended lectures on contemporary Cuba at their host institution, the Centro de Estudios Martianos, and on the centers namesake, José Martí, a major Latin American literary figure and a hero in Cubas fight for independence from Spain.