Before going to Cuba, Kim McGinty said her head was filled with preconceived notions of what the country would look like and how her trip would be.
“I was thinking it was a third world country and people would be living in little mud huts and they wouldn’t have any roads. When I got there it was totally different than anything I ever expected,” McGinty said.
McGinty said the beauty of Havana impressed her, as well as the cleanliness and walkability of each city they visited.
Over Christmas break, McGinty and seven of her Oglethorpe University classmates visited Cuba for 12 days. The students were accompanied by several teachers and faculty, including Associate Spanish Professor Dr. Mario Chandler.
“It just so happened that around the time we really decided to put our feet forward to make the trip happen there just seemed to be a more relaxed policy,” Chandler said of President Obama’s recent decision to relax the regulations for travel between the United States and Cuba.
Chandler has been teaching at the university for 10 years and Cuba isn’t the only trip to Spanish-speaking countries he has taken students on. He said when students have an interest in a particular country, the faculty at Oglethorpe draws from that interest to structure a class around it, which culminates in a trip abroad.
“When we do a course to a Spanish-speaking country we design the course and travel to the location. So now, that course is part of our academic arsenal,” Chandler said.
Although the course won’t be offered each semester, Chandler said that if the student interest is there the school could draw on the foundation from its trip to Cuba and develop another course.
Associate Spanish Professor Dr. Viviana Plotnik also accompanied students.
“However, there was not much to complain about to be honest,” Plotnik said. “We spent 12 days in Cuba–about five days in Havana and the rest in the western part of the island.”
Plotnik said throughout the class last fall semester, the students learned about Cuban culture and history by watching films, and attending lectures and readings in preparation for the trip.
“We discussed every possible topic from music and sports to religion and ethnic heritage with an emphasis on the relations between Cuba and the United States,” Plotnik said. “After taking the class and traveling to Cuba, the students began to develop a topic of interest for a research paper that is due in March.”
Will Jones, a major in international studies, is writing his research paper on propaganda imagery in Cuba.
Jones said before he went to Cuba, he also had some preconceived notions. He said he had been taught throughout most of his life about the evils of communism. However, when he went to Cuba he said his perspective totally changed.
“The government is just different. I’m not going to say its better or worse because it’s just different. It’s a different perspective and I think once you’re able to understand that perspective your mindset and the way you view Cuba and socialism changes because of it,” Jones said.
Corey Ray, who is focusing his paper on the foreign policy of the United States as it relates to Cuba, said that within the first few hours he and most of the other students agreed the embargo should be lifted.
“This is something you think would be relatively clear since the Cold War is over, but if you look at the recent Republican debates, all but one Republican presidential candidate advocated harsher policies toward Cuba economically,” Ray said. “The Cuba of the Cold War is not the Cuba of today,” he said.