“I wanted to go somewhere really different, as a challenge,” says international studies major Nadejda Orlowski ’14 (Westchester, N.Y.). Which is what took her last spring to Cuba, only the second Macalester student to study in that country since travel restrictions were relaxed there in 2011.
Orlowski took part in Augsburg College’s Cuba: History, Culture and Politics seminar, living with a family in an Afro-Cubano neighborhood just outside Havana’s Old City. Along with taking several classes, including one in Spanish, Orlowski completed an internship at the Institute of Pedagogy, helping would-be English teachers with their conversational skills. She also traveled to Santa Clara and Trinidad and hosted her family from New York over spring break.
During her three months in Cuba she was fascinated to learn about a very different society and government, where despite economic challenges, the literacy rate is high and health care coverage is universal. “There is so much to be learned from Cuba,” she says, “How can a country with so few resources achieve so much in education, literacy, and health care? Their investment in human capital is something other countries can learn from.”
Given the social and economics rights enjoyed by Cuban citizens, Orlowski—who has a concentration in Human Rights and Humanitarianism—was puzzled to read how critical organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are of the country. In her final project she analyzed reports from those NGOs, concluding that they are “inherently biased toward Socialist governments, valuing civil and political rights over social and economic ones.”
Although she concedes that the standard of living in Cuba is quite different from that enjoyed in the U.S.—her host home was bare, for example, and had only rudimentary plumbing—“everyone is taken care of,” Orlowski says. “You see very little poverty.”
All of which provides much food for thought for this young woman from suburban New York as she writes her capstone project about the island nation.