April 01, 2017

What’s a finance major from a capitalist country doing in Cuba, you might ask. Exploring enthnocentrism and career motivations in a socialist society ruled by communist ideology, of course.

Jonathan Gaboff ’17 in Havana next to a street mural of Che Guevara, a Marxist revolutionary allied with Fidel Castro during the Cuban Revolution.

“Learning about the Cuban missile crisis and Fidel Castro in high school made me have somewhat of a negative feeling toward Cuba,” said Jonathan Gaboff ’17, of Jackson, N.J. “Many Americans feel this way. However … there is much more to the country than just Fidel and the missile crisis.”

Gaboff was among the first group of Susquehanna students to visit the Caribbean island nation in January as part of the new Global Opportunities (GO) program, GO Cuba. He says the main difference between the United States and Cuba, located a mere 90 miles from Key West, Fla., is how their governments and economies are structured—and how we, as outsiders, view those differences.

“There are advocates in the United States who believe strongly in socialism, but a big argument against it is that people are not motivated to better themselves … people will no longer want to become doctors, professors, lawyers or any other professional that is typically difficult to become and requires a lot of schooling,” Gaboff explained.

“However, in Cuba, where all government jobs make roughly $20 per month, money is not a motivating factor at all, and yet they still have people who want to become doctors, professors [and] lawyers.”

A trip to Cuba Libro, the country’s first English-language bookstore, café and literary salon that opened in 2013, provided Gaboff and his travel companions with evidence of this. “We talked to the son of a surgeon and a college professor. He explained to us that his parents make less than $50 a month, combined. When I asked him what motivates them to do such hard jobs for such little money, he said they simply get enjoyment out of doing it,” Gaboff said. “That is something we see very little of here in the United States, and I think this defines ethnocentrism.”

As he explained, the standard perception in U.S. culture is that people are motivated by money, and therefore to get people to do tough jobs, they must be compensated accordingly. If they are not, no one will be motivated to perform these jobs.

“Cubans view it differently,” he said. “We cannot fathom why anyone would want to be a surgeon for $20 a month, but in Cuba, that’s normal. The doctors today grew up in this [economic] system. To them, it is normal to study something you find interesting and become the professional you want to be, regardless of the compensation.”