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The rickety old pier jutted out about the length of a football field from the rough brown sand into the Caribbean Sea. While most cautiously eyed the shaky structure, which looked as if it might collapse in the brisk breeze, Sophia Miyoshi, CAS/BA ’15, hopped on and began creeping toward the end. One by one her friends followed, stepping lightly on rotten, splintering beams, jumping over missing ones. As they made progress, they turned back to encourage others to come. Soon nearly the whole group reached the end, where a lone fisherman sat on a bucket. This was a rare moment of pure unwind for the group of American University students studying access to higher education in Cuba as part of the alternative breaks program. They had spent their week immersing themselves in the country’s culture, history, politics, and people. Days included conversations, both planned and impromptu, with Cuban students, lectures from professors, trips to a rural elementary school, and museum tours. Now, in this

b y M ik e U n g e r

small fishing village about 190 kilometers northwest of Havana, it was time to exhale. Youthful exuberance took over. Cullen Moran, SIS/BA ’16, was the first to leap into the lukewarm water, his friends following close behind. As they splashed and laughed on a windy Wednesday late afternoon, their spirit proved too intoxicating for the fisherman, who stripped down to his striped-and-starred green boxers and plunged in as well. It was one of a hundred genuine moments the students shared with their hosts, the kind of flash friendship that makes travel addictive. To some in the group, the trip was an exhilarating medley of memories and photos that will settle into the timelines of their lives alongside past journeys and those not yet taken. To others, it was nothing short of transformational. “It will make me more understanding of different perspectives in my classroom,” says Trey Owens, CAS/BA ’13, who’s heading to New Orleans in the fall as part of Teach for

America. “It broke down my U.S.-centric world view and allowed me to see how people interact in different environments and cultures. That’s not something I will ever forget.” Even during downtime, serious conversation always bubbled to the surface. That serene afternoon in the province of Pinar del Rio was no exception. While their friends toweled off and delicately made their way back across the pier, Tom O’Connor, SOC/BA ’15, and Miyoshi sat on the grass and tried to process everything they’d seen so far. Thinking critically about Cuba can be overwhelming. It’s a country whose education system is admired throughout the Americas (its literacy rate is a whopping 97 percent), yet its government struggles to provide citizens with basic necessities like toothpaste. It’s a nation that produces top-rate doctors, but where for many the primary mode of transportation is a bike, the bus, or their own two feet. In processing these complexities, O’Connor and Miyoshi

ph o t o s b y A v e r y L uck , S o phi a M i y o shi , L a u r e n S il b e r , a n d M ik e U n g e r Let’s talk #americanmag  17

American magazine, August 2013  

The flagship publication of American University. This magazine offers a lively look at what AU was and is, and where it's going. It's a foru...

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