Far-reaching field trip takes flight to Cuba

Often undergraduate students aren’t able to apply classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios, but DEVS 305 — Cuban Culture and Society — offered just that opportunity.

The course offered two incredible weeks of tours and nightlife events across Cuba, as well an intensive lecture schedule, following a semester of lectures beginning in January. The trip to Cuba provided a light at the end of the tunnel for me as a Global Development Studies student by allowing me to see, hear, touch and taste the topics I studied for months. In attempt to better understand the transformations impacting contemporary Cuba, the class focused on Cuban gender identity, economic policy, film, food security and music.

Many students felt that the most formative learning experience came not from the tours and lecture portion, but from meeting local Cubans and discussing policy and political opinion.
Attending events that ranged from classical ballet to a drag show provided great insight into the culture of a modern Cuba, often plagued by criticisms from Western media.

We spent most of our time exploring the breathtaking Old Havana, an area famous for its Spanish colonial architecture, a large portion of which are designated as a UNESCO world heritage sites. A significant amount of off-time was spent feeling the spray of the waves along the Malecón seawall promenade while mingling with local Havana residents.

The highlight of the trip was an unscheduled performance by iconic Cuban musician Carlos Varela. Varela, who is only mildly popular in North America but universally recognized in Cuba, brought down the house. It was an incredible experience to witness the energy of a crowd in the face of a national icon. Prior to this concert, we had a question-and-answer session with Varela and X Alfonso, another famed Cuban hip-hop artist. Alfonso recently opened a club mandated to hold space for Cuban art and media dubbed Fabrica de Arte. By visiting various cultural institutions, we were shown a picture of Cuban transition and transformation that displayed how the socialist revolution has been upheld through a unique modernity.

Overall, the program offered the opportunity to learn from leading Cuban professors in an environment outside of the average lecture format. Unfortunately, Arts and Science students at Queen’s are rarely granted exposure to a comparable learning experience that boasts an outlet of textbook application.

Being able to make connections through the experiences we create for ourselves facilitates both a more personalized learning experience and longer retention of material. I hope to see the application of this learning methodology catch on at Queen’s, as the world beyond traditional lectures is bright and opportunistic.

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