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Off-Campus Study

Notes from Abroad: Lauren in Cuba

Notes from Abroad is a new feature on the Off-Campus Programs website, in which we highlight small snippets of a student’s experience.  This week’s feature is from Lauren Hatton ’17, a double major in International Relations and Religion and a minor in Spanish currently studying abroad in Havana, Cuba.


About my pictures:

My first picture is one that I took in my first week here. It is a monster with various companies written on its body (some that stood out to me were Monsanto and Apple) eating the world while the 99% pulls it down with ropes. I thought this was very interesting, and it kind of demonstrates the dichotomy here when people think about America and American companies. Many dislike them and the capitalism that they represent, but others are kind of infatuated with America and American companies. For example one day some of my Cuban friends just started listing American companies as a kind of game and I was surprised at how many that they knew off the top of their heads.


My second picture is one that I took in old Havana and it kind of shows the traditional post card idea that you get of what living here is going to be like. While this is a part of it, it doesn’t really capture the full picture. People told me that “Going to Havana is like going back in time” thinking back on it now I think that none of these people have actually ever been to Havana, to me it doesn’t feel at all like being back in time, sure there are a lot of old houses and old cars, but the difference between the pictures and the reality is that everything actually looks and feels old. The sidewalks are broken and cracked, wires hang down everywhere, some houses have turned yellowish or moldy with age, many cars are rusted and falling apart. It doesn’t feel like I am living in the sixties because everywhere around me I see evidence that these things have been here for a long time. That combined with the fact that there are modern conveniences like smart phones and WiFi make me very aware that I am living in 2016.


My third picture is of the grave of Señora Amelia Goyri, or La Milagrosa. My roommate and I visited the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón and were struck by the amount of people who visited this grave in particular. Amelia died in childbirth. When the bodies of Amelia and her child were exhumed they were uncorrupted and the baby was in her arms despite having been buried at her feet. Her husband used to visit her grave every day. He would knock on the iron rings and walk away backwards, as to see his wife for as long as possible. Now worshippers visit the grave and repeat this same ritual, usually bringing flowers and asking for fertility or other child related wishes.


My fourth picture is from my own home on the birthday of an Orisha. My host is, from what I can understand, a sort of priest within Santeria. So, on this day many people came to our house to bring food and other treats to the Orisha. After the day was over we were eating these cakes and other sweets for days.


I love being here, the weather is beautiful, the people are friendly, and I have had so many wonderful experiences. Some things have taken a little bit of adjustment such as the prevalence of piropos (catcallers), and the general brokenness of roads and infrastructure but I am enjoying my time in Havana and I am so grateful to Lake Forest and Mrs. Huntington and Dean Speros for giving me the opportunity to experience this wonderful city. Without the Ingrid H. and George L. Speros Fund for Study Abroad this experience would not have been possible.



Lauren Hatton