Like many people my age, I can usually be found on my phone, texting, calling or staying updated on the lives of my Instagram followers. But when I was studying abroad in Havana, Cuba, I was rarely ever on my phone. Due to the Internet connectivity in the area where I was living, I was only able to communicate with my parents and friends by purchasing wifi cards and traveling to a wifi hotspot. The lack of Internet access was surprisingly one of my favorite aspects of studying abroad because I found myself experiencing each moment more. The downside was that I started to become a little homesick after a month of not being able to communicate consistently with my family and friends. My host family made me feel at home and like a member of their family, but I naturally still missed my friends and family.
Fortunately, my parents were able to make the short flight down to stay a couple of nights in Havana. Prior to their arrival, I went out with my host dad and visited different hostels in our area to find one for my parents to stay in. After walking around Havana for an hour, we were able to pick the perfect place for them in a hostel lovingly referred to El Castillo or “The Castle.” As my parents’ acting tour guide, I created a schedule of different activities and sights to see, like visiting the Malecon, a famously large sea wall which is popular among tourists and locals, and the night club/art gallery La Fábrica de Arte Cubano. My mom decided to stay longer than my dad, who had to return home early to work, so I adjusted our tour schedule slightly to accommodate my class schedule. My mom had never attended a college class so I was really excited to ask her if she would like to come and sit in on my last class of the day before she left. She was equally excited to accept.
On the day of the class, I had to leave from my house earlier than my mother because I had an additional class in the morning. So I drew her a map of how to get to the school (to jog her memory because we had already walked there days before). I was worried that my mom would get lost or that her recent knee replacement would make the walk to school difficult. However, as I was walking through the former military complex that was my school, I spotted my mom who told me that she had a great walk and that a young person helped her walk the whole way. I was a little nervous to bring my mom into the classroom because I had never been in any class with my parents present. But she fit in right away. The topic of the class was LGBTQIA Cubanos. To my surprise, my mom participated the most by asking questions and interacting with the professor.
Initially I signed up to study abroad in Cuba because I had always looked forward to studying in a foreign country and thought I would really enjoy the program in Havana. I knew that my parents would be a little nervous that I was going to be living away from home and school, but I didn't think about how much they would enjoy sharing the experience with me. Studying abroad gave me the opportunity to not only show my parents what I have learned and where I have gone, but also to provide a snapshot of my college experience in an accessible form for my mom using her first language: Spanish. I am so grateful to be able to give back some of the educational experience that my parents’ support has made possible.