Cuba Libre

Studying abroad causes many to become infected with the proverbial “travel bug.” As a result, many decide to travel after their program is finished, extending their stay to do more domestic travel or visit other neighboring countries. This is a decision I made, delaying my departure two weeks to travel to Havana, Cuba.

I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Kingston, Jamaica. Living on an island leaves one with two options in regards to additional travel, either you explore more of the island or you leave the country. Jamaica is relatively big and has an extensive tourist infrastructure, so there are plenty of opportunities to do domestic travel. My program did a great job of exposing us to multiple parts of the island, so I did not have an urge to do more travel within the country. When it comes to international travel, there are various islands that are relatively easy to visit (Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands, etc..). However, you are more or less going to get a similar experience; comparable language, food and lifestyle. As a result, another student and I decided that we must expand our search.

Photo: www.tropicanacruises.com
Photo: http://www.tropicanacruises.com

Cuba represented a logical choice for us; I thought it would be a once in a lifetime opportunity and my companion had family on the island, so we had a place to stay once there. While planning we had to first figure out how to get there. There were weekly flights to Cuba from Kingston, so that was not a problem. The only downside is one airline had a monopoly on the service, Air Jamaica, making the 60 minute flight very expensive. Second, we had to figure out if it was even possible to visit Cuba on American passports. The short answer is that it is possible, but somewhat difficult. The country issues tourist cards for American citizens, giving immigration something else to stamp other than your passport.  However, at that time there were heavier restrictions on travel than there are now, making travel to the island more difficult and increasing our risk. Lastly, we had to research how money exchange works on the island. Since there is an embargo and were heavy restrictions regarding U.S. currency, we discovered that credit cards and travelers checks did not work.  We found that we would have to exchange our money into different currencies and make sure to plan out exactly how much we were going to spend. This last point made me more nervous than anything else because I feared that we might run out or lose our money. Once we solved these issues, we reserved our trip and made the necessary arraignments. Needless to say, we had an amazing experience that was furthered by the fact that we had just finished an intense study abroad program and were going to a place that was ideologically and socially very different than anything we had previously experienced.

Photo: washingtonnote.com
Photo: washingtonnote.com

Traveling after your program is finished will force you to prioritize. In my case I had to determine if:  (1) It was even possible, (2) what are the ways to do it and (3) does it fit into my budget and if so, what monetary considerations do I need to make. Many of you will have the same dilemma. I recommend that if you are determined to do something you make it happen. Otherwise, you will always be wondering, what if?

Pablo Hester, DU Abroad Peer Advisor

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