Program and Location:
Summer, Cuba: History, Environment and Culture in Havana; Havana, Cuba
Fashion & Textile Management
Why did you choose to study abroad?
I had been wanting to spend time abroad in a Spanish speaking country because, although my parents are both native Spanish speakers, they never taught me to speak the language growing up. I’ve always taken Spanish classes in school but wanted to fully immerse myself in a place where I had no other option than to speak Spanish. I decided studying abroad was the best option because, with the help of Scholarships and Financial Aid, I was able to act on my goal now instead of after college when I’m not sure of what my financial situation will look.
What did you learn about yourself?
I have always been a pretty independent person but found that I am capable of more than I originally thought. I was so nervous about being away from the rest of the group in a foreign city, speaking to locals, especially being a Latina woman who isn’t fluent in Spanish, and just overall doing things on my own without someone by my side to help in case I get stuck. But I found that even when I struggled to navigate tough or maybe uncomfortable situations, I was able to figure my way out.
What was one of your favorite parts of your program?
My favorite parts were the weekend excursions. I always thought I would love the city more, but I found that when we left and went into the more rural areas, I found a certain peace in getting away. I also really loved the art scene in Havana. There were times where we took the wrong turn but ended up in the most interesting nooks where local artists created their own studios. I can honestly say that I’ve never been so moved by art as I was in Havana.
What advice do you have to future study abroad students?
I would say to not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Always be safe about the decisions you make, but don’t be afraid to try something new or venture out on your own. It can be challenging being in a foreign country, especially one where you don’t speak the language, but don’t let your fears hold you back from pursuing something new. Remember that you’re not on this trip forever, so take advantage of the opportunities to engage in experiences you can’t get in your home country.
How did your study abroad experience prepare you for your future career?
I really hope to work for a fashion company on a global scale one day. So, studying abroad really helped me to begin to understand what that might look like outside of what I learn in the classroom. I recognize that Cuba is just one country in the region, but ideally, I’d like to work with countries in Latin America. Being able to get first hand experience being in a Latin American country has really opened my eyes up to the possibilities of where my career could go.
In what ways did your identity have an impact on your experience abroad?
My identity both provided me with comfort and challenge while abroad. My mother is from Puerto Rico and my father is from Dominican Republic and so culturally, there were a lot of similarities and I found comfort in that. However, being Latina, it is generally expected or anticipated that I speak Spanish. While I can get by with my Spanish skills, I am still quite insecure with my skill level. Before going abroad, I was nervous of how locals would react to this Latin women who didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. I was nervous that I’d be viewed as “not Latin enough” and wouldn’t be able to make meaningful relationships while abroad. It scared me, but I also knew that I wasn’t going to grow in my Spanish skills without putting myself in the discomfort of broken sentences and paused statements while I struggle to find the right word to say. While I did struggle many times when speaking to locals, I also had a lot of positive conversations. My very first fully in Spanish conversation was in the taxi from the airport to my apartment. I was so nervous to make conversation with the taxi driver but eventually he began speaking to me and I told him that part of why I was there was to work on my Spanish skills. I was afraid of his reaction but he gave me quite the opposite of what I was expecting; he lit up and explained to me how great it was that I was trying. That was the beginning of an honestly delightful conversation about music, recommendations, his life in Cuba and more. There were moments where I needed to pause and think about how to say something, but this conversation still gave me so much confidence for the rest of the trip.
Is there any advice you would give to other students who share your identity?
As a first generation college student, it can definitely be tough figuring out how to turn a dream into reality. There was a long period where it seemed studying abroad was just so unattainable. But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone in this. I talked to friends that had similar experiences to me that I could talk to about navigating the application process, funding the trip and their overall experience abroad. I found a lot of comfort in my community and I am incredibly grateful for that.
Where did you find support to navigate any challenges you faced abroad?
I found a lot of support in my roommate, my professor who led the trip, and the professors I had while in Cuba. I felt so comfortable discussing my experience with them and found that they were so proactive about checking in on me, providing advice when warranted and just being a great support system.
Would you do it again?
Yes! Study abroad gave me so much confidence to be able to travel on my own and I absolutely hope to do it again one day.