Getting Real in Cuba

"Through music and dance, Avishta got to experience a culture's history, while also opening her eyes to real problems and issues facing others in the world."

Bethany Gerlach - 21 March 2019

Avishta Seeras, a Latin American Studies and Political Science student, recently won the Edmonton Consular Corps Award, and the money helped her to embark on a three week Spring program to Cuba. The course was focused on Cuban culture, and how the perception of Cuba compares with its reality. While it was taught in English, Avishta did have opportunities to improve her Spanish skills and picked up on certain colloquialisms of Cuban Spanish while sightseeing and interacting with locals.

While in Cuba, Avishta embraced Cuban culture with open arms, especially the rich culture surrounding music. As a dancer, she was intrigued by the dance scene and went out to multiple dance classes to meet new people. There was no shortage of places or opportunities to experience music- there is a lot of live music in Cuba, and where there is music there is dancing! She recalls that people would be out late enjoying the songs.

Cuba has a rich history and culture full of a variety of different types of music and dances, and Avishta took great interest and learned as much as she could about them. She learned a lot about Son cubano, a music and dance genre that is the ancestor of salsa and rumba, that is also a huge cornerstone of Cuban culture. Avishta based her final project on the history and impact of Son.
Avishta also took a great interest in La Tumba-Francesa, an Afro-Cuban music and dance genre that emerged from Haitian slaves. This music genre is very popular in Santiago, the city in Cuba where Avishta spent the most of her time. As she describes it, La Tumba Francesa is a mixture of French dance with African rhythms, punctuated by big Bantu drums. Learning about both these music genres made for interesting lessons on the history and culture of Cuba.

Avishta had the opportunity to explore many different parts of Cuba, and one city that stuck with her was Camaguey. She liked it for its good mix of people, and the beautiful architecture of the city. Another city she fell in love with was Cienfuegos. Avishta describes the city full of welcoming people. She says that if she were to live anywhere in Cuba, she would want to make Cienfuegos her home. Seeing these two beautiful cities are what Avishta describes as the highlight of her trip.

Avishta enjoyed going out on her own and experiencing Cuba firsthand. "There is so much to Cuba!" she says, "You need to interact with the people there, you can't stick to organized tours or resorts. You see Cuba from a tourist perspective, not the reality. There is more to Cuba than resorts."

Avishta firmly believes that going abroad and experiencing the world is a valuable experience for students. When asked about advice for students going abroad, she stresses the importance of being open to what the world has to offer. "You must be open to learning from everybody," she says, "Your classmates, your professors. It's all part of the experience. Things can shock you or throw you off, but that's okay- you'll learn from it."