Cuba Trip Leaves First-Hand Impressions

Published: Feb 16, 2012
There were 17 students enrolled in the travel course which met for a semester in the classroom and culminated in a 10-day trip to Cuba this January. Photo by Christian Fernandez
There were 17 students enrolled in the travel course which met for a semester in the classroom and culminated in a 10-day trip to Cuba this January. Photo by Christian Fernandez
The students scoured through traditional and political histories, literature, music and documentaries, exploring the historical evolution of Cuba during the 20th century. Photo by Christian Fernandez
The students scoured through traditional and political histories, literature, music and documentaries, exploring the historical evolution of Cuba during the 20th century. Photo by Christian Fernandez
There are plans to offer the trip to Cuba again in the fall of 2013. Photo by Christian Fernandez
There are plans to offer the trip to Cuba again in the fall of 2013. Photo by Christian Fernandez
Students commented on how they appreciated seeing the diversity in Cuba. Photo by Christian Fernandez
Students commented on how they appreciated seeing the diversity in Cuba. Photo by Christian Fernandez
Cuba conjures thoughts of humid nights, salsa dancing in the streets, the roll of cigar smoke swirling over a table of dominoes, and those 1950s Chevys making the streets seem stuck in time.

For 17 University of Tampa students who went there this winter as part of an honors travel course, Cuba came alive through the revolutions, history and culture studied in the classroom and then absorbed in real-time as they covered the country from east to west, almost coast to coast, from Santiago de Cuba to La Habana.

The students and their professors will present an overview of the experience during an Honors Symposium on Wednesday, Feb. 22, from 4 to 5 p.m. on the 9th floor of the Vaughn Center in the Trustee Room.

“We followed the Cuban political history and saw how it is reflected in popular culture,” said James Lopez, a Spanish associate professor who led the course with Denis Rey, an assistant professor of government and world affairs. The students scoured through traditional and political histories, literature, music and documentaries, exploring the historical evolution of Cuba during the 20th century.

Previously, all study abroad programs had to be 10 weeks in length or more, a rule which was lifted by the U.S. government recently, allowing the UT travel course the option of a shorter, 10-day journey.

“It’s a country that’s very relevant in our political, cultural and economic history,” said Rey, who wanted students to experience the country for themselves and not see it through the lens of the U.S. government or the media. “I think it was really eye-opening.”

For Angielique Ramirez ’12, going to Cuba meant making her Cuban grandmother unhappy. Her grandmother fled the island during the communist movement in the 1950s and hasn’t returned. Two of her grandmother’s sisters still live outside of Havana, and Ramirez got the chance to visit with them.

“I had to go to Cuba because I wanted to see it with my own eyes,” said Ramirez who grew up hearing anti-Fidel Castro stories from her grandmother and valued the unbiased information she got during the course. “What I learned when we went to Cuba was that she wasn’t exaggerating.”

Moises Benhabib ’13 had a similar experience growing up with Cuban ancestry and some family members who never returned after leaving. While on this travel course, Benhabib visited with great aunts and uncles and lots of cousins.

“You grow up as a kid and hear stories from your family. You just want to know where you come from,” said Benhabib. “From the moment I arrived in Cuba I got the sense that I was home.”

Ramirez said the lack of freedom of speech stood out to her and made her appreciate the freedoms she has in the U.S.

Ramirez, who has been studying dance since she was 3 years old, and who started UT’s Spanish Dance Team, has idolized Alicia Alonso, the Cuban ballerina and choreographer whose ballet company became the Ballet Nacional de Cuba. Ramirez said by some miracle she bumped into Alonso who was coming out of a church as Ramirez was passing by. The moment is something she’ll remember forever.

“To meet her has been a dream,” said Ramirez, shocked that the travel course has meant so much to her personally.

Alison “McKay” Ellis ’13, a government and world affairs major, said the course made her re-evaluate the U.S. trade embargo, since there were many times where children would ask for simple luxuries like soap. She valued how open and honest the Cuban people were in talking with the UT students, offering their insight into daily life in the country.

“The best part was that our professors wanted us to gain the whole perspective by allowing us to experience adventures by not excluding us from anywhere, from the slums to wealthy beach resorts,” said Ellis. “We were able to see everything.”

Click here to see an interview of Lopez with a local television station while the students were visiting the Provincial Computer Center in Santiago.


Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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