Lesson 1: The space bubble does not exist in Cuba. It is common practice across Latin America to kiss friends and family when greeting them, but in Cuba I felt that it was even more extreme. People would grab my face if I said something they thought was funny, or grab my hand to show me something. It was not something I was used to, and at first scared me -- these strangers were invading my personal space, it was so rude! Then I realized that this was normal, that this is the Cuban way of acceptance and affection. They were not trying to make me uncomfortable, it was just a cultural difference.
Lesson 2: Generosity comes in many forms. There was disparity in Cuba like I had never seen before. Basic necessities were difficult to come by. When we were in the airport, families were bringing back objects like tires and microwaves from the United States to Cuba. When we went to public restrooms we had to pay for the toilet paper, and often there wasn’t even soap to wash our hands when we were finished. Across Havana, the lack of resources was obvious. Everywhere we went, strangers on the street would notice that we were tourists and ask us for pens, paper, toothpaste. At the same time though, these people were more than willing to give us their time for a friendly conversation and were always curious to know more about our lives and where we came from. The Cubans I met were always generous with their words and kind hearted instead of being bitter about the inequality between us and them.
Lesson 3: Relax. Life is not as fast paced in Cuba. Cubans work very hard, but at the same time they put things into perspective. It is often difficult in Cuba to get items that in the United States are everyday utilities, and yet most of the people I met there had a strikingly positive mindset. They might not have been living in the best circumstances, but they were doing everything possible with what they had and chose to see the positive aspects of their society instead of dwelling on the negative parts. Life is not about the grade you get on the Gen Chem exam or about what your SAT scores were, it’s about enjoying each others company, letting go of your worries, and having fun.
My trip to Cuba was life-changing. It taught me so much about Cuban culture and general life lessons. In 30 years I will not remember my biology class or writing 1 essay, but I will remember my trip to Cuba.