Sharon Almonte, an Earl Woods Scholar, is currently studying and experiencing her spring semester in Cuba through a general culture program which she applied for through her college, Lewis & Clark. In her own words, she captures her adventures and stories that have captivated her passion to learn of other cultures and communities while she undergoes a language intensive program.
The Cuba trip is available through Lewis & Clark College, and generally it is given as a general culture program; however, this year it is a language intensive program. The difference between general culture and language intensive is that the entire program is in Spanish and at a higher level of Spanish than the general culture program would be.
There are four classes that go with the program: Artistic Expressions (Cuban art history), History of the Revolution, Spanish 321 and Contemporary Voices (a variety of Cuban speakers from different fields give a presentation and later, there is a Q&A portion). We take our classes at the Instituto Superior de Arte (ISA), and they are all in Spanish.
Along with the classes, there is a 15-page research paper that is based off of the individual student's choice of research. I had originally wanted to research the differences and similarities between the Catholic Church and Santeria in Cuba, but I am now thinking of researching the elementary school education system. Due to the bureaucracy in Cuba, I have not yet begun my research, but I hope to do so soon. For the Cuba trip 2012, there are 15 students ranging from sophomores to seniors in college, and it is led by one of the Spanish professors from Lewis & Clark.
A day in Cuba begins with a botero ride to school (boteros are old 1950s cars that are a form of cheap taxis). Most of the day is spent on campus until 3:00 p.m.
The campus has Internet, but it is extremely slow and often times it malfunctions. Some of the students are living with a form of host families, while a few others live on their own in apartments. Cubans are not allowed to host foreigners, but they are allowed to rent rooms out. I got lucky and have a host family that prepares breakfast for us for an extremely reasonable price. I live with three other people from the group, and it helps with the bonding experience.
My goal in studying in Cuba is to find something that I am truly passionate about. I am working on a History and Hispanic Studies double major with a minor in Latin American Studies and would like to identify a clearer career path.
I am really enjoying bonding with my group because every day we are here we learn a little more about each other.
All my classes are in Spanish, and I have to do a research project for the semester. Every day there is new piece of information that we learn and that is important to our trip. The hardest thing at the moment is my daily schedule. Once I am out of school, nothing is specified -- it's just an adventure.
There is a variety of food here, but there is also a limitation of what you can eat. One day you will go into a restaurant and ask for something and they will be out of that food. So far I have found something I can eat in every restaurant I have been to, and what I don't like I can give to someone in my group. Cuba is a beautiful country full of rich history, but it is also a third-world country where not all can be fed.
This experience is giving me new knowledge on the world around me. One of my goals in life is to learn through experience, and this trip is giving me that opportunity and so much more.
Sharon has also been accepted into a study abroad program in Spain for the upcoming year. We are excited to hear what new adventures are to come for our Earl Woods Scholar, and we are hopeful that she will continue to excel and experience the world.