Posted on July 3, 2009 by Tia Lalani

Students learn about the culture and history of Cuba by living and studying in Santiago.

For students participating in international programs, taking themselves out of their comfort zone is part of the learning experience.

“The main part of learning in the Augustana-in-Cuba program is definitely through experiencing the culture,” says Ryan Mason,one of 12 students who lived and studied in Santiago for a semester.

Brinna Robertson-More appreciated getting to know the people of Cuba and their hospitality.

Mason is no stranger to the international experiences offered by Augustana Campus. Before graduating in 2009 with a Global & Development Studies degree, he studied in Mexico as part of the Puebla-Alberta Community Service Exchange, competed in the Model United Nations in New York, and traveled to the south of France. “Every cultural or international experience is going to change who you are in some way or another. You gain a different perspective on life.”

For Brinna Robertson-More, a recent Psychology graduate, the Cuban experience gave her just that, “It taught me simplicity, how to enjoy the basics of life.”

Both found that true learning came from being part of the culture, “Talking to people on the street was probably the most interesting way to find information about Cuba, its history and life there,” says Robertson-More. “Cuba has a strange and fascinating history. You hear so much about Cuba but to be there and actually interact with the people teaches you a lot about the country.”

Encountering people in everyday life was also invaluable to Mason, “It’s amazing who you meet on the street; so many people are well-educated and well-informed there. I value that much more now and don’t take it for granted.”

Led in 2009 by Sandra Rein, Political Studies professor, the Augustana-in-Cuba program is all about discovery learning. From attending classes taught in Spanish at the Universidad de Oriente to living in private residences called ‘casa particulars,’ students are fully immersed in the culture.

Ryan Mason sits with two of the student translators, Elizabeth and Anna.

To prepare students for the inevitable cultural shock, Rein and English professor Roger Milbrandt, who led the Augustana-in-Cuba program in previous years, held meetings to discuss scenarios and cultural differences. “The debriefings were really valuable in preparing us for situations we encountered. As a woman, you do get treated differently there,” says Robertson-More.

Friendships with Cuban students who assist with Spanish translations also helped the Augustana students adjust to a different culture.

The key to success, though, as Robertson-More sees it relies on the student, “To have a great experience, you do have to leave yourself vulnerable, get out of your shell and step out of your normal boundaries. I’m more of a reserved person but going beyond some of my comfort zones and keeping an open mind really made the trip incredible.”

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