From Havana, With Love ... and New Understanding
In January, Associate Professor of History María Muñoz and Scott Manning, dean of global programs, led a group of Susquehanna students on the university's first Global Opportunities (GO) study trip to Cuba. Jonathan Gaboff '17, a finance major from Jackson, N.J., contributed this personal essay based on the first paper he wrote for the required reflection class that follows every GO experience.
My experience in Cuba was certainly different than what I expected. I thought the Cuban people would be unhappy with their lives because of the impact of socialism and communism in their country. As Americans, we tend to have a negative view of socialist tendencies and often associate countries like Cuba with being a terrible place to live. However, I was surprised to see that although the country has many economic and social problems, Cubans are still generally happy people.
I also expected Havana to be more dangerous than most cities I've visited. I found that assumption to be rooted in similar American perceptions, based on the negative implications surrounding communism and long-held hostilities between the United States and Cuba.
I actually felt extremely safe in Havana. Cubans didn't have the negative feelings toward Americans that I expected they would, considering the political tension between our countries. I quickly learned that some Cubans may not like the U.S. government, but as far as Americans in general, they do not have a problem with us.
When I returned to the states, people were surprised to hear what I had to say about Cuba. Some even argued with me about how Cubans live and their economy, but I experienced it firsthand, and there's more to this long-isolated island nation than meets the eye.
For example, we cannot fathom why anyone would want to be a surgeon for $20 a month, but in Cuba, that is normal. The doctors today grew up in the socialist system. To them, it is normal to study something you find interesting and become the professional you want to be, regardless of the compensation.
Realizations like this have taught me an important lesson: Never judge a country, or anything else for that matter, based on what you hear or how the media portray it. The only way to get the truth about something is to experience it for yourself, because what you learn from outside sources is often biased. This bias is even apparent in our education system.
Think about how the Cuban Missile Crisis and Fidel Castro were portrayed in our high school history books. Many Americans do not realize there is more to the country than just Fidel and the missile crisis. The people of Cuba listen to music, go to clubs, walk along the water and play sports, just like us. Their government may be much different than ours, but that does not make it a bad place, or make Cubans bad people.