I believe in the power of crossing cultural boundaries. In July of 2007, I took a trip to Cuba with a group of other youth from my church, and this trip really did help me see the importance of learning about and participating in other cultures, despite limited knowledge of the culture and language. Many people don’t think about the fact that crossing cultural boundaries can really help them learn more about the world as a whole, instead of staying within their own little bubble of familiarity. Here is the story of how I came to appreciate the power of reaching across seemingly immovable boundaries.
When I decided to go to Cuba, I neglected to remember that I do not know very much Spanish. Surprisingly enough, that should have been at the back of my mind as I meticulously prepared to travel to a country that is so close and yet so far. What I mean by that is even though Havana is only 70 miles from Key West, the lack of diplomatic relations and modern technology makes it seem like a country that existed on the other side of the planet half a century ago. The people there still ride their bicycles and drive old beat up Cadillacs through the grimy, narrow streets lined with brightly painted buildings with orate ironwork spangling the fronts. The lack of modern technology does not seem to bother the Cuban people though; if anything, the simplicity has made forming relationships with other people that more important and meaningful. Instead of playing video games after dinner, many Cuban children like to pla with homemade toys in the street, laughingly dodging old-fashioned cars rattling through the fading light.
Throughout my ten days in that beautiful country, I developed some very close friendships with some of the youth that belonged to our host church. Instead of speaking in full or complete sentences, we talked in a mix of English and made up a system of sign language that was quite effective and helped the relationship grow deeper through the smiles and laughter that we shared during these conversations. Instead of hindering me, the language barrier kind of helped; I cried when we were dropped off at the airport, and I hardly ever cry. I have loved traveling ever since I was a little kid, but the journey to Cuba helped me realize that all people share common experiences, such as uncertainty and then joy. I believe that more people should take the time to consider the similarities in humanity rather than the differences, and that can be done by simply crossing the pond to that funny little country called Cuba.