Teaching and Traveling

By Eileen O’Halloran

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Eileen in La Habana.

To me, being a global citizen means not only educating myself on global matters, but also traveling to other nations to learn firsthand about the people of our world. How do they live? What challenges do they face? How do they view us? Do they need help? If so, how can I/we help them?

Recently, I was able to go on a week-long tour of the island-nation of Cuba! This largest island in the Caribbean is located only 90 miles south of the U.S., yet very few U.S. citizens travel there. Why? Long story short, the U.S. put an embargo (the prohibition of commerce and trade) on arms, consumer goods, and money.

This happened back in 1960 and is still in place today. The reasons are many and a bit complicated, but one of the main reasons was because of the then new Cuban revolutionary government’s seizure and nationalization of U.S. owned businesses and properties in Cuba. So you can imagine that without much importation or interaction, Cuba is a place frozen in time with old American classic cars and Soviet-era buildings and other remnants from the past!

So how was I able to travel to Cuba?–the U.S. government’s “People-to-People” program. As long as one is on an educational tour learning about the people and programs in Cuba, it’s approved travel.

This was an extremely intense, educational tour. All day, every day, we went from location to location meeting farmers, educators, program directors, and many others. It was fascinating, emotional, but also a bit draining after about the fifth day in a row of this. It was no restful beach vacation, but I am extremely glad that I did it.

I now teach my college geography students about Cuba with firsthand accounts, stories, and photos. They are always in awe and full of questions. At the end of each school term, many of my students tell me how my trip to Cuba inspires them to travel internationally. That makes me very happy!

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Eileen and students at an elementary school in Cuba.

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One more photo (above): It may not look like much, but the context meant so much to me. We were in Cuba in a neighborhood children’s community social project (sort of an after-school care for kids to keep them off the streets). This girl showed us her art work and within it was this map. Being a geography instructor, it caught my eye. I asked her to describe what was going on in the drawing. She said that the red line connected the people of North and South America! I had to walk away soon after because I got choked up. Do you think we’d see/hear that kind of art/explanation in the US? Doubtful.

Eileen O’Halloran teaches geography at De Anza College and San José State University. She is extremely passionate about international travel!

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