Have you ever been cliff diving? You know that feeling you get when you’re about to jump? For those of you who aren’t familiar, it’s an unnerving combination of exhilaration and apprehension that forces you to question the sanity of what you’re about to do. It, also, just so happens to be how I’m currently feeling as I prepare to leap from my metaphorical cliff into the welcoming, but daunting, Cuban waters below.
I find myself wondering why I’m this nervous for something that I’ve been eagerly anticipating from the moment I learned what study abroad was. Then again, with where I’ve chosen to spend the upcoming semester, there is certainly plenty that is intimidating. Not to mention, ambiguity has become somewhat of a theme as I look to the semester ahead because I have no idea what to expect of my life over the next four months. I mean, how do you truly prepare to go live on a Communist Caribbean Island that has been deeply isolated from rest of the world for the last half a century?
Much of what makes me nervous about the semester is relatively run-of-the-mill for any student about to study abroad. For example, I worry about living completely immersed in a society that speaks a language I’m still acquiring and perfecting, not to mention managing to take a full course load taught in that language. It doesn’t help that Cuban Spanish is infamous for being especially hard to understand, even for native Spanish speakers from other countries. Unfortunately for me, Cubans tend to speak really fast and, to add insult to injury, often don’t pronounce the entire word. A million thank you’s to whoever at Georgetown decided that grades from abroad won’t be factored into your GPA.
Mostly though, a lot of what makes me anxious stems from the unique situational differences that I’ll experience in Cuba due to the contrasting ideology and grim economic condition. For one, there is the slightly intimidating fact that, aside from when I’m in my program’s headquarters, I will not have access to the Internet. That means that my iPhone, which is normally an incredible technological wonder that fits all the world’s information in the palm of my hand, will be about as useful as a brick, albeit a very sleek looking brick. I won’t even be able to use it to make a simple phone call. As a result, all social planning has to happen in person and, if someone has to cancel plans last minute, well, I’ll just say that I guess I’ll figure it out by the time an hour has passed and they still haven’t shown up (cue melodramatic gulp here). Can I get three cheers for doing things the old-fashioned way?
Moreover, many of the things we can get in the U.S. from a quick run to the local Target will be conspicuously unavailable there. This extensive list of unobtainable commodities also happens to include money. U.S. issued cards are not accepted in Cuba so, paying with a card or withdrawing cash from an ATM = not possible. Consequently, in addition to my clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc., I’m forced to bring with me all the cash that I’m going to need in order to live for an entire semester, as well as, what seems like, an entire pharmacy, comprising of four months worth of tampons, prescriptions, vitamins, and any/all medicines I could possibly need while there. I imagine the TSA will not be thrilled.
All these things and more considered, and despite the fact that it feels like I’m dwelling in a perpetual state of uncertainty about what I will and what I won’t have access to, the many possibilities that such an experience holds is thrilling and I’m certain that it’s going to be pretty freaking amazing. So, stay tuned!