1. Why did you decide to study and intern abroad?
In April 2016, I visited Cuba for the first time on a one week vacation which was a package programme staying in hotels and travelling with a local tour guide. I fell in love with the Cuban culture and the Cuban optimism, but I wanted to experience the Cuban lifestyle first hand. So I decided to come back on a more social and less touristy programme which offers me to learn more about the Cuban everyday life as well as to be able to help and spead some joy.
2. Why did you choose BEST Programs package?
While searching for a programme in Cuba, I found out that most organisations had fixed dates, offered only specific lengths, were very political or pricy and had the focus on groups rather than individuals. Since I have been living and travelling abroad a lot, I wanted something more flexible and independ but safe. The BEST team always answered quickly to all my emails and the Skype meetings helped to clear any doubts. I was well taken care of and decided for BEST.
3. What makes the program you participated in so interesting?
No fixed dates, flexible programme length: I needed something flexible. Not political nor pricy but social: I wanted something affortable and likeminded. Focus on individual interests: My wish was to live for a month in Cuba to be in touch with the locals and to learn more about the country and culture. A mixture of weekly activities (dance, percussions, cooking and museum visits) and daily internship (helping during English lessons for adults and having art workshops with children on Saturdays) as well as making local friends and enjoying Santiago’s signs and night life made my experience unique.
4. What is the best thing about your program that future participants need to know?
There have been many things I enjoyed a lot during my programme: my cooking classes with Ana, percussion sessions with my patient teacher Ibrahim, giving English classes and exchanging ideas with the Cuban students, dancing the night away with locals and exploring Santiago plus surroundings with friends. But the happy smile on children’s faces, when you bring the colourful markers or other materials to make handcrafts and art projects with them, is simply a priceless experience. I recommend this part of the programme to anyone even if you do not have any experience with children and you are not very arty yourself. You can always find art projects which are suitable for children on Printest. Cuban children do not have many opportunities to enjoy creating art. My recommendation is to bring a lot of materials and donate them after your projects.
5. What’s something you would have done differently?
Having 7 classes per week and going to 2-4 English classes per day as well as the art projects on Saturdays at the cultural centre, going out at night and wanting to see the city and surroundings ended up being too much.
From the beginning, I should have booked my weekly classes as follows:
And I should have talked to the head teacher instead of the director to talk about my internship schedule. I liked that my programme was flexible and that I got to teach some English classes and talk to the students about Cuban and the world. But both of us could have gotten more out of it if we discussed the schedule better from the beginning.
I also had a problem with the overwhelming attention I received walking alone on the streets of Santiago. Once I made some Cuban friends and spent time with them, this was not an issue anymore.
6. How has the experience abroad impacted your life?
Well, I definitely feel closer to the Cubans after living with them for one month. This experience has taught me to treasure my freedom more and all the luxurious things we have in Western countries. However, the biggest lesson learnt is to make the most of your life with the little things you have. Solidarity is something we could practise more in Western countries, too. Once I have settled down again, I would like to find some volunteer job in my community. Last but not least, I have no doubt that I will return to this beautiful island some day to see my friends again and to bring some useful gifts for them.
Dates of your participate: 29th October to 26th November 2016
Location: Santiago de Cuba
Internship area: Education