Opening to New Views in Cuba

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through traveling is that being open minded will open doors to so many more opportunities to grow and learn. This is often easier said than done, especially when traveling to a place like Cuba. As Americans

One of the most important lessons that I have learned through traveling is that being open minded will open doors to so many more opportunities to grow and learn. This is often easier said than done, especially when traveling to a place like Cuba.  As Americans, there are numerous preconceived notions and perceptions about the government and the people. The opportunity to go to Cuba, however, has shattered many of these mental misconceptions for me as well as changed the way that I look at American culture and lifestyle.

Many in America pride themselves on the opportunities and freedom that is has provided to its citizens. These rights and seemingly unlimited access to resources is supposedly what makes America the “greatest”. Since many here are so proud and patriotic of our American roots, this often taints our ability to be completely unbiased in other countries. Judgments and conclusions are made about other countries, especially those that are seen as very different from America. When I first told people that I was going to Cuba on a school trip, looks of horror and concern crossed many faces. Since the embargo has made travel from America to Cuba difficult, people see Cuba as not only foreign, but also dangerous and unknown. These biases made it hard to go into Cuba with a completely blank slate and open mind. However, my experience there not only changed how I looked at Cuba, but perhaps more strikingly, changed how I looked at the US.

While the majority of the misconceptions over Cuba are completely off based, some stem from the truth. The majority of Cubans lack many of the basic necessities that people in America take completely for granted. After traveling in the mountains, our group stopped for lunch where we ran into a farmer who had trained his ox how to do tricks. He was eager to show us and have us take pictures even after we said he didn’t have any money. After talking with this man a bit, he asked us if anyone in the group had any lotion because he hadn’t used or had access to any in months. A group member and I ended up giving him a bottle of lotion, a protein bar, and some pens and he almost started crying because he was so happy and thankful. If we go into a supermarket not only can we find any and all of these things, but we can choose from hundreds of different options. Basic and easily accessible goods in the US are valuable and hard to come by in Cuba. Realizing this made me appreciate much more the basic things that I don’t even think about, but that I can buy whenever I want or need.

Since the trip included a lot of touring we always took a tour bus to the places we would visit. On the way to our locations it became very obvious to everyone that the roads were very poorly paved. While they weren’t dirt or gravel, the paving was rough and often falling apart. Potholes were normally left unattended making sleeping on the bus a high-risk business. You were always at risk for slamming your head against the window as you went over a rough patch of pavement. Many of us in the United States are used to generally well paved and up kept roads. These experiences in Cuba made me more aware of the vast amount of goods that Americans have access to and how easily they can be obtained.  We oftentimes take what was have for granted. While many of us are aware of this fact, being able to experience the lack of basic items brought the truth in this statement to a whole new level.

Conversely, the trip to Cuba was eye opening in terms of the aspects of life and culture there that seem to be healthier than in the United States. Since there is a lack of advanced technology and especially Internet access, people value face to face contact much more. Instead of texting, kids would be out in the streets playing with their friends. Although there was this lack of technology, the Cubans found ways to entertain themselves. It could be from going dancing together to sitting on the sea wall together with friends and talking about their day. From my experiences, this face-to-face contact really helped to contribute to the overall happiness of everyone in the country. While they didn’t have all the material things many of us take for granted in America, I couldn’t help but thinking that the people in Cuba  were all happier overall.  Because of the strong government presence, Cuba at night was still incredibly safe, which also helps contribute to the general feeling of happiness and connection when walking around since so many people would be out with their family and friends. The family unit in general was much closer than that of the average American family. Mothers and fathers would walk their children back from school as well as going out and doing family activities. The lack of distraction with technology or work meant that people could focus their attention on spending quality time with their friends and family.

Overall, not only did the trip to Cuba reinforce my thoughts about open mindedness but it also provided me with an opportunity to analyze my own country. Going into Cuba and expecting the worst would lead you to only look for the worst. Being open and willing to experience new interactions and grow from a new culture not only opened up my eyes to Cuba, but to the US as well. While we as Americans often think that we have the best way of life, it is not always the case.  Many in the United States have all of our basic needs met and beyond, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that our way of living is better. We lack a lot of the social interaction and connection on which Cuba thrives. I’m thankful to have gotten the opportunity to experience not only Cuba, but grow in my opinions of the US as well.