Is Studying Abroad for You?
By: Amy Xiang
ACLP Operations Manager Naphekie Taloute shares some highlights from her time in Cuba and provides insights for high school students who are potentially interested in studying abroad. Read an excerpt of Naphekie’s conversation with ACLP writer Amy Xiang below:
Amy Xiang: Where did you go during your study abroad program and how did you decide?
Naphekie Taloute: I went to Cuba during the fall of my junior year, where I studied at the University of Havana. As a Hispanic Studies minor, I really wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country where I could improve my Spanish-speaking skills. I was also really interested in learning about the Afro-Cuban experience, because it’s related to the topic for my senior thesis in Africana Studies.
AX: How did you get the opportunity to study abroad?
NT: Penn has different programs depending on the country, so I applied directly through the portal for Cuba. But, depending on the school that you go to, they may have a different study abroad structure like cohort programs or direct placements, so you should speak with an advisor to get more information.
AX: What was your favorite thing about being abroad?
NT: It's hard to pick a favorite thing, because there were so many things I loved about it. The food was amazing, of course. I stayed with a host family, so the support system was really great, and my host mom was able to suggest many things to do around the city. The culture in Cuba is also very different compared to the US. They don't rush through life like we do here, so it was great for me to be in that environment and take a moment to relax and really think about my purpose in life.
AX: Least favorite?
NT: My least favorite part was definitely missing my family and friends who were still in the US. The internet connection in Cuba is pretty limited, so I would speak to my family maybe three or four times a week, mostly through WhatsApp or Messenger. In that sense, I was really disconnected to social media, but I think there was a positive side as well. It allowed me to enjoy spending time with the new friends that I met and try to engage more with the community physically around me.
AX: Did you take classes while you were there?
NT: Yes, I took five courses at the University of Havana, and they were all in Spanish. My favorite one was Caribbean literature because the professor was just brilliant. I took classes alongside Cuban students, so at first it was pretty challenging. They were speaking so fast and I had trouble keeping up, but over time I understood more and more. I think that experience really helped me because now, being back in the US, whenever someone speaks Spanish, I'm able to understand them fluently.
AX: What did a normal day look like for you?
NT: Every day was different. I would wake up and eat breakfast that the host family prepared. I had a roommate who was also a study-abroad student from the US, and we would walk together to the university, because we took most of the same classes. Afterwards, we would eat lunch and sometimes make plans to explore different parts of the city. We went to cultural centers, tourist attractions, and also some lesser-known neighborhoods. Then, towards the evening, we would have dinner and experience the nightlife there.
AX: What are some things that you learned from studying abroad?
NT: I learned how to navigate and be culturally conscious in an environment that I'm not familiar with. It also reminded me that as a visitor from the US, I possessed a certain amount of privilege, especially because Cubans themselves cannot access the US in the same way. Academically, I was also able to work on an independent project in Cuba, where I interviewed Cubans of different ages, races, and occupations about the Afro-Cuban experience.
AX: What would you say to students who are unsure if this experience is for them?
NT: In general, I would recommend studying abroad to anyone, as long as you have the opportunity to do it and you feel that you’re able to finance it. It is such a great experience that really gives you a more global perspective on life. If you have concerns about how to pay for it, I would suggest reaching out to your financial aid advisor, because there are so many funding and scholarship opportunities available for that exact reason. Even for students whose majors or classes prevent them from studying abroad for a full semester, you can look for paid summer internships in different countries or get your own research project funded.
AMY XIANG is the writer for African Community Learning Program and a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania, where she also writes for The Daily Pennsylvanian and 34th Street Magazine. To support African Community Learning Program’s work, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.