Andrew Cerise, junior Honors student studying abroad in Havana, Cuba.
This Student Spotlight is written by Andrew Cerise, a junior Honors student currently studying abroad in Cuba as he works towards his degrees in history and political science.
From September until now I have been attending the University of Havana for my Junior Semester Abroad. I am currently enrolled in classes on the history of the Cuban Revolution, Cuban cinema, Cuban contemporary society, and music appreciation. In my free time, I have been exploring Havana with other members of my study abroad program as well as taking coordinated trips to sites such as the Literacy Museum and the ecological preserve Las Terrazas. I live in the downstairs apartment of a Cuban family and eat dinner with them every night. I first became interested in studying abroad in Havana after a brief visit to Cuba in 2012. I fell in love with the city and the country and promised myself I would eventually return as a student rather than as a tourist. Considering Cuba is one of the few remaining communist countries in the world, studying abroad in Havana is an excellent opportunity for me to study in the Cuban educational system and learn their history from their perspective. In fact, one of my deciding factors for attending Tulane University was the Junior Semester Abroad program in Havana. All I then had to do was wait until I could apply in the spring semester of my sophomore year. Because my application process turned out to be a bit more laborious than normal, I am glad that I provided myself ample time to writing essays, assembling application materials, and asking for recommendations.
The first major benefit of studying abroad in Havana has been Spanish-language immersion. Having to speak Spanish to order food or discuss politics and history has significantly improved my listening comprehension and speaking. I have always wanted to become fluent in a foreign language and studying abroad for three and a half months in Cuba has aided me tremendously in the pursuit of that goal. Another long-term objective is to better understand societies and perspectives beyond the borders of the United States. Cuba, which is both socialist and has a history of conflict with the United States, presents a unique opportunity to learn from and engage with a national perspective that is at odds with our own. Understanding these perspectives is vital not only to studying history but also to developing a more comprehensive knowledge of international politics. Finally, living in Cuba has given me the chance to become more adaptable and more independent. Living abroad—especially considering I had never previously left my home state or family for any extended period of time—has helped me adapt to living without friends and family and made me realize that I can in fact be independent, which I—as well as the vast majority of Tulane students—will have to be after graduation. Although many other long-term benefits of studying abroad will present themselves in due time, these three goals—and their requisite benefits—are the clearest for me at this time.
Many of my observations and impressions of Cuba have been influenced by what I learned in my freshman year Honors class "Fear, Hospitality, and the Stranger in the West" taught by Raymond Taras, Professor in Political Science. The experience of becoming the “Stranger” in Cuban society with the hope of being accepted and integrated into contemporary Cuban life has put the class into perspective. Moreover, my classes on Cuban culture and history may ultimately aid me in future research on the history of American foreign policy.