By Claire Williams, Public Health in Cuba, Summer 2012
As I walked into his room at 3:43 this morning to say goodbye, my older brother rolled over and sleepily blinked at me. “You’re leaving now?” He asked. “But it’s so early!” The surprise in his voice was evident. I’m not exactly known as a morning person, much to my mother’s dismay, so perhaps the uncharacteristic start was just what I needed to set off on a new and thrilling experience, so different from my everyday life and habits in Evanston.
Cuba, for me, holds a lot of firsts. For one, it will be my first time living abroad and actually getting to know a city thoroughly. It will also be the longest Spanish immersion experience that I have had. Perhaps most importantly, two months abroad will mark the longest time I have been apart from family and friends in my entire life. Cuba in my mind represents a tremendous opportunity to grow and discover myself and my future possibilities, but I will also leave quite a bit behind. One of the most important things I hope to learn is the measure of my own resilience, my ability to keep only very limited contact with my parents, brother, boyfriend, and other close friends and relatives in order to completely enjoy the experience and all that it has to offer, no matter how comfortable these old connections feel.
My last night at home in Rochester, Minnesota, did a good job of showing me just exactly what I would be missing. In her characteristic style, my mother pulled together a wonderful meal for our family to celebrate Father’s Day, a belated Mother’s Day for my grandmother, my twentieth birthday (which will take place in Cuba), and my departure. The house was filled with laughter, loud voices, and, eventually, smoke, when we were too caught up in our chatter to notice that we’d left the bread in the oven. Watching my mother efficiently “solve” the problem – by opening the deck door and throwing the baguette out into the rain – I was reminded of why exactly I love home: the warmth, caring, creativity, and humor that tells me this is a place where I am encouraged to be my best. It will, of course, be difficult to leave that behind and try to challenge myself without that safe place to fall, but I’ll get through it. For the next eight weeks, Cuba is my home and within this group of students and the Cubans I meet, I hope to develop the same supportive, enthusiastic intellectual community. I could not be more excited for this new experience and my new life as a (temporary) Cuban.