I step off of the plane and make my way across the tarmac. My mind is spinning with visions of what will happen over the next 10 days. What will I learn? Will my viewpoints change? Will I be able to understand Spanish? What will the locals think of me?
I’m in Cuba, and there is so much ambiguity surrounding this trip. Once we make it through customs and into the parking lot – I see it. It’s a yellow school bus with the phrase “US CUBA FRIENDSHIPMENT” painted on the side. I immediately knew this would be our transportation for the next week, which happened to very reminiscent of my elementary school days. Not much legroom, definitely no air conditioning, and yet it offered the perfect environment to become closer to my peers on the trip.
Traveling through Cuba helped me see my culture and my identities through new eyes. Growing up in the United States, it is common to have a very idealistic and ethnocentric view of yourself in comparison to the rest of the world. We are given a privilege of not needing to know what is going on across the globe, while others have to pay attention to every move we make. This is especially true for the Cuban people. The political actions of the U.S. may affect the everyday lives of Cubans, while most Americans can’t even explain what an embargo does.
Throughout the trip, we were given the opportunity to speak with citizens living through the Castro regime. Their health care and education systems were available to them at no cost. The literacy rate in Cuba is around 97 percent, much higher than the US, which is right around 85 percent. And they have accomplished these feats through an all-encompassing U.S. trade embargo. You have to consider what they value and how that compares to our own identities. Who is to say one is better than the other? Everybody’s perspective stands to be improved through new experiences and interactions; we just have to come in with an open mind.
As an aspiring physical therapist, I will be able to incorporate many Cuban perspectives on health care into my practice. The restrictions placed on them led to a different approach to health care. To minimize the use of the limited supplies they have available, a preventative approach is crucial. Therefore, the primary-care physicians focus on evaluating a patient’s living situation and health conditions. A holistic and comprehensive approach allows them to diagnose diseases even without full access to the technology we are so fortunate to have.
Overall, I want to challenge each and every person to pay attention to more than just his or her daily experience. The world has so much to offer, and we have so much to learn. Reaching across the ocean is the first step in establishing a productive relationship between countries, which could result in new medicine being developed, cures being discovered, and practices being improved all across the nation and the world. It is up to us to extend ourselves and establish the foundation for “friendshipment.”