OPINION: UDM’s Cuba trip a life-changing experience

This spring break, I traveled to Cuba alongside a group of 20 individuals from the University of Detroit Mercy. The experience changed my life. 

Cuba, a country with a unique history and blend of complexity and beauty, is unlike any place I had been to before. Although I did enjoy an authentic Cuban mojito from time to time, this trip was not a stereotypical vacation. 

During my 10 days abroad, I experienced things that are hard to articulate into words.  

I knew that this trip was going to be special, but I did not understand how until I arrived back home. My thoughts on hospitality, consumerism, resourcefulness, pride and community were challenged and transformed through new perspectives. 

Yet, I left Cuba with a warm feeling in my heart. I was welcomed with open arms by Cuban people. I connected with both my peers and locals in ways I had not imagined.  

Prior to our departure, each of us (travelers) enrolled in SPA3990, a course that provided background on Cuban history, culture and economics.  

The class served as an educational foundation, illustrating the points in time that shaped the complicated relationship between the United States and Cuba, breaking down any misconceptions I previously held. 

Growing up, I only heard negative things about Cuba – opinions that I now understand are far from reality.  

One misbelief I had was that Cubans wouldn’t be very friendly, or willing to talk with me – a young American student with a lot of questions. 

I thought that because of the complex relationship between the United States and Cuba that Cubans would foster a lot of resentment towards Americans – and I wouldn’t blame them. 

Contrary to my expectations, I met so many wonderful, caring and talkative people during my time that I was happily surprised but also disappointed in myself for being so wrong.  

From our charming tour guide Osmin to having dinner with a hospitable multigenerational Cuban family in a neighborhood outside of Havana, the human connections I made along the way that have stuck with me the most. 

Listening to their experiences with family, friends and dating mirrored aspects of reality back at home. It showed me the universality of life for people in Cuba and in the United States. 

Yet, the stark differences in comfortability through agriculture, business and resources were visible. After a few days, a looming shadow of guilt and discomfort came over me.  

For example, Wi-Fi in Cuba is hard to come by. During our trip, we purchased Wi-Fi cards that were not reliable and barely worked.  

While we relaxed in our disconnection from American problems, living without access to the internet can cause serious problems with communication – especially since many Cubans use WhatsApp to talk with their family abroad. 

Other hardships I had never considered, such as city-wide blackouts or acquiring necessary building materials, became apparent.  

I realized that Cubans who need to build an addition onto their house cannot simply drive to the nearest Home Depot to pick out plywood. Instead, they must find resources in nature or trade with others to get the supplies needed. 

These conditions are worsened by the longstanding embargo placed on Cuba by the United States.  

As of 2024, the Cuban embargo is 66 years old. Despite its significance, our education in the United States glosses over the crippling impact the embargo has had on Cubans. As a Caribbean island, Cuba faces geographical isolation from many trading partners. 

Opening trade with the United States could significantly improve living conditions for Cubans, creating pathways to comfortability through economic expansion. 

Despite these adversities, I observed a strong vibrancy and resilience amongst Cuban people. Their bright spirits, expressed through dancing, laughter, music, art, color, clothing, architecture, history, language, religion, conversation and more, transcend the obstacles they have faced. 

It was inspiring to witness the deep care they have for one another and the creative visions they practice in their communities. 

I will never forget the memories I made during my trip, the shared laughter of students at the back of the bus during our long drives, the peaceful feeling of walking around Havana during golden hour, the heartwarming exchanges I had with locals and even visiting a mosque for the first time with my roommate and student at Detroit Mercy, Taspiya Begum. 

These cherished recollections remind me that relationships are at the center of community, and community is where change begins. I will continue to share the transformative experiences I had in Cuba with those who are open to listening. 

Thank you to Professor Ann Eskridge, Dr. Renady Hightower, Program Director Lara Wasner and to the generous donors of the Dylenski Travel Award, for making this experience possible for me.  

Traveling to Cuba transformed my beliefs and changed my life. I hope to visit there again soon.  

In the spirit of solidarity, I invite others to join me in advocating against the Cuban Embargo; to highlight the importance of fostering relationships and collaboration between our nations. 

But the embargo is only half of the stress in Cuba caused by the United States. 

In 2021, during the Trump administration, the United States put Cuba on the State Sponsor of Terrorism list, along with Iran, Syria and North Korea. The United States claimed that these countries continually support acts of international terrorism. 

This blockade eliminates the possibility of trading with countries that are connected to the United States, forcing Cuba into financial submission. A combination of the effects following the embargo and the State Sponsor of Terrorism list has helped devastate Cuba.  

To sign the petition to remove Cuba off the State Sponsors Terrorism list, go to https://www.letcubalive.info/join-the-campaign.