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Students travel and debate their way through Cuba

By Rachel Wall

During my time at UT, I have developed the talent of sticking my nose into other people’s majors and minors. Generally, this means that quite a few of the classes I’ve taken are in career fields that I do not currently intend to pursue.

I call it intelligent curiosity, or nosiness, and thank both UT and the fantastic education I received in my homeland of Antigua This was the first place to educate me on Cuban-American relations. Learning about this helped me realize the importance of always seeking knowledge.  

There is a disclaimer: I do not consider myself to be an expert on international relations. This article is merely a reflection of my limited experience with the matter.I can only speak from experience and from personal views. To that end, here is my experienced, educated, personal view: The trip was fantastic.

I accept that we travelled with a certain amount of privilege, with meals provided and trips planned. We immersed ourselves in Cuban history, food and lifestyles. As an Antiguan-educated student travelling as an American citizen, it was humbling.  

Both Professors Boulton and Tripp fostered a learning atmosphere throughout this experience, asking well-timed questions to challenge our assumptions and promote critical thought.

This trip destroyed a fair amount of misconceptions on both sides. The Cuban people we met were kind, hard-working individuals who love their country and took pleasure in sharing its history and beauty without rancor.

We came as communication students: open-minded, learning and considering opposing viewpoints and the legitimacy of both sides of the international dispute without bias. Differing opinions were held forth with vigor and passion on both sides, but we left with no hard feelings on either. We returned to the United States with a great deal of food for thought.

I engaged in a debate at a radio station, one which centered around freedom-of-the-press rights and demonstrated the salient differences in American and Cuban media setups. While I questioned the methods of disseminating information in Cuba and the state-run media, the Cuban reporter counter-questioned American international relations and how our media systems functioned any more efficiently under capitalism.   

A portion of this reflection is dedicated to the necessity of educating oneself, especially on topics that are unfamiliar or unpopular. As American students, we were crammed with new information and concepts, needing to be unpacked and interpreted. As global citizens, we began to consider a multitude of experiences, and evaluate the opinions we brought with us on our rather tumultuous first flight.

This trip was a betterance of my education in international culture and history from years ago. It was an adventure I will treasure and internalize. Our class grew together, tried on new concepts for size, and debated differing points. We learned as a group and individually, both in life experiences and in class concepts.

I would strongly encourage everyone, regardless of viewpoint, to educate themselves on “grey area topics” wherever possible. Read articles that expound views you don’t understand or take yourself out of your comfort zone to listen and exchange ideas with someone who isn’t from your walk of life. The human connections we made transcended the drawn lines of national boundaries and language, and helped open all of our eyes a great deal.

I fully intend to immerse and educate myself in these different methods of learning and exchanging information because I believe it will make me a better person, both personally and professionally. I would love to further my studies in journalism and effective diplomatic communication.   

Rachel Wall can be reached at rachel.wall@spartans.ut.edu

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