Guest Blogger: Alexandra Brown
For my first study abroad experience, I participated in a 4-week faculty-led program to Havana, Cuba during the summer.The program was led by Professor Nils Jacobsen of the Department of History at the University of Illinois. After speaking with my dad and cousin about their rewarding and inspiring encounters in Cuba two years ago, I immediately signed up for the program which took place this past May – June. My study abroad program was the first time the University of Illinois ever sponsored an academic journey to the beautiful island of Cuba! My experience there was incredibly eye opening, and a once in a lifetime opportunity that I’m so glad I was able to take part in.
A special thing I got to do while in Cuba was visit the First Presbyterian-Reformed Church in Havana – or La Primera Iglesia Presbiteriana-Reformada de Havana – where my cousin and dad stayed during their journey. I visited the church a total of 3 times, bringing a friend from my abroad group with me on the last visit as he’s very involved with religion and was eager to attend a Presbyterian service somewhere other than the United States. During the first visit, I was warmly welcomed by the Pastor of the church, Hector Mendez, who is now a close friend of my family. It was so comforting to know someone who had a connection with my family while I was miles away from home.
Throughout my church visits, I volunteered and gave away donations. I brought a suitcase full of items that we in the United States consider basic necessities but were in high demand at the church where so many turn for help. Items included toothbrushes, toothpaste, Tylenol, aspirin, and feminine products. Through donations and visits, I was able to give back to a community that has taught me so much. I am so grateful that the University decided to offer a trip to Cuba and would highly recommend this program to others!