In the days leading up to my journey to Cuba, my room at home in Michigan is a pretty good reflection of my state of mind: organized chaos. Like a swirling hurricane, a mass of clothes that I’m trying to pack has generated on my bedroom floor and shows no signs of getting smaller.
My flight for Havana departs on January 29, but I arrived in my hometown on December 19. That left me with over a month to prepare, but also plenty of time to plunge myself back into self-doubt. Filling out the paperwork, meeting with my advisors, and securing the funding to go abroad was one thing. But I’m finding that getting into the right headspace to actually go on my trip is something else.
If you haven’t read my profile, you should know that although this trip isn’t the first time I’ve left the country, it will definitely be the longest time that I’ve been outside of the United States. I’m not as much anxious about being physically away from home — as a second-year out-of-state student, I think I’ve handled it pretty well thus far.
I’m more concerned about figuring out how to live in a country that is so vastly different from my life in the United States. Some of these differences include the sweltering tropical weather, the duo-currency system, unpredictable internet access, and limited access to the luxuries I’m used to back home. Even more daunting is the fact that once I touch down in Cuba, due to the restrictions on my student visa, I can’t travel outside that country for the duration of my program.
To distract myself from mulling over my anxieties about what kind of life I’ll have in Cuba, I’m trying to focus on the things that I can control. Over break I’ve been trying to focus on brushing up on my Spanish vocabulary and getting familiar with Cuba’s unique dialect. One thing I want to accomplish before I leave is sending a message in Spanish to my host mother, whose contact information I recently received.
I’ve also been trying to read-up on my destination, which is essential for a place as complicated as Cuba. From the stack of books on my nightstand, the ones I’ve finished have educated me on the amazing history of Havana and the U.S. occupation of Guantanamo Bay.
It helps that I’ve connected with another UW-Madison student who will be traveling with me through my IAP study abroad portal. Together we’ve shared resources on Cuba, and we are anticipating living in a casa particular with a host mother who has been described as welcoming and energetic. From the few photos I’ve seen of my living arrangement, coincidentally, the house I will be living in is the same shade of blue as my room back home. I’m taking it as a sign that perhaps making Havana my new home won’t be as hard as I think.
Despite the slowly growing pile of stuff in my room, I’ve decided that my anxiety will not consume me and that I will reframe my thinking to something along the lines of the mantra “it’s the journey, not the destination” so that I can begin to just go with the flow. Next time I post, I know I’ll have an interesting story of my journey from Michigan to Havana to tell, and hopefully some words of advice to share also. For now, deséame suerte, y ¡adiós a los Estados Unidos!