May 01, 2017

Overseas and Off-Campus Programs Blog

Arriving in Havana

  • Havana

Author Name

Andrea Smith

Author Program


Program Semester and Year

Spring 2017

Arriving in Havana was like waking up in a submarine after a night of half-awake haze. I look out the window feeling confident that I have left my home but am not yet sure that this new life is all too different from that I am accustomed to. Soon I realize that this submarine ride is temporary, yes, but in a way that requires all of me to live presently and intentionally without contemplation of return. I learn along the way that these contemplations are inevitable and necessary to my well-being, though nonetheless I am here and it is right.

Before coming, I had little to no expectations about my experience other than I would be uncomfortable, I would be pushed, I would be inspired, I would be humbled. Sounds great. Since being here I have found truth in these experiences but of course not in the same way I had anticipated. This city demands your attention, it begs to be questioned and appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed. Leaving home (freezing, grey Chicago) for Cuba went hand in hand with leaving eleven years of Home — packing my bags for this trip meant packing up my entire room and saying goodbye at 4am en route to the airport meant goodbye forever. I had barely prepared myself for this moment and only until it came time to embark on this journey did I come to terms with parting with my one and dearest Home. I was ready for change, ready for inspiration and re-invigoration but evidently not ready to do so in these two ways that seemed to split me in half.

Bueno. As seamless as many aspects of the transition has felt, I have still needed ways to ground myself in my past and other presents. That’s huge thing about being here, my perception of time as this ever-present gust of wind has completely changed; never before have I been so untouched by it and lived amongst a place and people who experience it in a totally different sense. To remember that my being here is happening at the same time that my sister is planning a fashion show at Wisconsin and that my boyfriend is losing sleep over Biology at LC is something I’ve had to force myself to do. I often feel suffocated by the bubble that is LC and crave to get out and live in a much bigger world. I expected to come to Cuba having that craving satisfied and it has been in a way but I also understand that I am just in a new bubble, different in shape and form but nevertheless an inarguable bubble (probably more so than several other places on this planet). And like my other bubbles, this one brings me comfort and security in ways that have taken quite some time to acknowledge as they have grown so naturally and blissfully. 

One of these things is the Malecón. Simultaneously, it is one place, one soul (sorry, but yes) that has played a massive role in grounding me to Chicago and deeper layers of myself. Chicago essentially has a Malecón along ocean-like Lake Michigan that lines the entire city for miles on end. It raised me just as much as my house and family have and certainly is a defining piece of the Home puzzle. Thanks to our Cuban coordinator or “madre cubana” as she has come to be, I have had the honor of living in a 25-story high-rise on the thirteenth floor that overlooks the ocean. Being about only about five blocks away from the Malecón has meant so much in terms of comfort, beauty and having a good time; I think it was day two or three of this trip that a group of us hopped down onto the mossy rocks and plunged into the water under the refreshingly hot sun. That felt like “Cuba”, that felt like Home; sunset after sunset, wave after wave, night after night of drinking boxed rum to the tune of trumpets and guitars and laughter. Not only is it a privilege to be so close to such overwhelming beauty, it’s a privilege to be welcomed by the gems of this city with as much warmth and hospitality as I have been. I find that Home has left, but home has not.