Study Abroad: Performance and Culture in Cuba

Name: D’Mia Spivey

STEP Signature Project: Study Abroad

For my STEP Signature project, I completed a study abroad in Cuba over Winter Break 2016. I studied through OSU’s Office of International Affairs and a third party provider program called The Ludwig Foundation of Cuba (a non-governmental, autonomous, non-profit institution, was officially created in January 1995 with the purpose of promoting and protecting the work of young Cuban artists of all disciplines.). During this week long trip, I was able to see and study the culture of the arts in Cuba (including but not limited to puppetry, dance, the circus, theatre, and music) while simultaneously having intellectual lectures from those leading the art scene in Cuba (including world renowned directors, Choreographers, artists, etc.) and professors about the historical implications that the arts has had in Cuba and their relationship with the United States of America and the rest of the modern World .

   Since the 1950’s, the relations between the United States of America and Cuba has been rocky. Not only that, but here in the USA we have a tendency to demonize or at the very least practice intense caution of the unknown (and with good reason).  I grew up taught that Cuba was a communist country under the rule of dictatorship led by the Castro regime with connections to unsavory parties. Consequently, this led me to have quite a bit of apprehension before my trip. What if I said or did the wrong thing? Would I be able to talk with local Cubans or would they look at me with disdain as an “American tourist”?  But by the end of the trip I recognized that though I was felt like I was a world away, I had to remember that I was only 90 miles from US shores. And believe it or not, I found more similarities then differences and most importantly, I understood that Cuba is much more than what I’ve learned.                                                                                                  My STEP Signature Project was heavily focused on the art scene found in Cuba. Unlike in the United States, Cuba generates a huge governmental support in the upkeep and spreading of the arts to the masses. From museums to circuses and puppet plays to dance studios, there is absolutely no shortage of art. While in the United States, being in the arts can lead to an unstable life, in Cuba working in the arts gives you a steady income and is seen as a well respected profession.

    A significant interaction that I had while in Cuba was with Cuban director, Gloria Rolando. Gloria is a world renowned director who focuses on the racial issues and tensions in Cuba. Similarly, to the US, Cuba was built off of a slave economy and has a presence of prejudice and racism in the fabric folds of the country. However, in Cuba, as I learned from Gloria, the concept of racism is very covert. Many Cubans were considered Mulatto or of mixed race (normally black and white) and it was so foreign to me to see people who looked like me but were didn’t come from the same origins or even speak the same tongue! But, all of these men, women, and children truly loved everyone whether are native Cubans or tourists. The open love displayed for all no matter their culture of origin made me realize how similar we all truly are.


I was able to truly feel this openness and love from my tour guide, Nadia and my host mother, Magali. Both, Nadia and Magali were kind and patient with all of us. Nadia, knowledgeable and always eager to learn something new guided us around multiple cities in Cuba, like Havana, Matanzas, and Viñales to name a few. Magali, who spoke exactly no English, welcomed us into her home, fed us DELICIOUS breakfast everyday, opened the door late at night when we returned home from a night of exploring, and helped my Spanish tremendously! By the end of the trip, I was able to go into flea markets around Cuba and haggle down prices for myself and my classmates in only Spanish

These women were just a few of the absolutely infectious people that I met on this trip that grabbed a hold of my heart and kept a piece of it with them in Cuba. The above interactions led me to believe only one thing. No matter, where we come from, what we look like, or what language we speak, there are nice people across the world and at the end of the day we are all one thing – human.

This change has been significant in my life because I now begin to have a new view of the small island so close yet so foreign to most citizens in my country. I understand now, that Cuba is a land of diverse people, jobs, and cities. Meeting students of the Instituto Superior de Arte (Superior Art Institute) and owners of small stores lining the alleyways of the city was unique and irreplaceable. But if you were to ask me what is the most important thing that I took away from this experience, it would have to be to never be afraid of the unknown. In fact, as opposed to fear I now know that while it is ok to be afraid, that I should never let that fear stop me from seeking new opportunities. Thanks to STEP, I was able to become more familiar with the tiny island nation of Cuba and I would never change the experience that I had for the entire world.


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