Friday, March 23, 2012

American University Alternative Spring Break in Cuba


This travel seminar took place March 10-17 in Cuba.  The theme was Education and Social Justice. 
J. Crew.  Mango.  Filibuster.  Roadie.   Sassy.  Girl with a magnet tattoo. 
What do these things have to do with Cuba?  Everything.  They are nicknames a CGE group from American University bestowed upon themselves while spending a week in Havana. I share these seemingly inconsequential monikers to demonstrate not only the uniqueness of the individuals, but also to communicate the special group dynamics that make an international seminar like this an exceedingly significant experience. 
Those group dynamics do not just happen.  A group becomes dynamic when people step up to the plate, eager to engage.  A group becomes dynamic when they exhibit confidence blended with sensitivity.  A group becomes dynamic when the questions do not cease and answers from inside are not withheld.  A group becomes dynamic when they grab hold of each moment as one where learning can be had.  And if not learning, then a little bit of fun.  A group becomes dynamic when they offer one another companionship deep enough that it results in terms of endearment.  Dynamic, this group was.
And without these group dynamics, which provided support and encouragement for each individual, Cuba wouldn’t have been Cuba for these students.  During a visit to a school, I watched one student (at the invitation of the Cuban teacher) step to the front of the classroom and engage each child in the room – without a second of hesitation.  At another school, I listened to an American University student eloquently and sensitively explain U.S. attention to the Cuban Five when a Cuban student asked her opinion.  Yet another group member, who plans to teach science in the future, utilized an early morning chat with our translator (the fabulous Edelso Moret, professor at the University of Havana) to get his advice on the development of a classroom activity.  They seized moments to interact with Cubans in a truly Cuban way – through conversation, dance, and song.  I will never forget their joint rendition of “We Are the World” with Cuban high-schoolers.  It was off-key, most of the words were missing, and I would never listen to it again by choice.  But it is a beautiful memory for me. 
Ultimately, as their CGE leader, when I asked them to jump, they said, “how high?”  Not really.  But when I asked them to push, they said “how hard?”  And I said “hard enough to make our bus start up again!”  We had a few bus issues, obviously.  Even in those moments, frustrated by being stuck, they showed flexibility, compassion, understanding, and solidarity with our Cuban hosts. 
On behalf of the American University group, I thank Edelso Moret and Rita Maria Ojeda – our Cuban friends and guides – for their invaluable contributions.  Dynamic, you are.  
By Jesse Haas

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