From Cuba to a lockdown in the Red Box

Two Cuban master students at Nordic Master of Social Work and welfare came on a three month stay to Stavanger one week before Norway closed down.

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Yansa Terry Araujo and Maydelin Sauto from the University of Havanna, are standing outside the student house Red Box.
Yansa Terry Araujo (left) and Maydelin Sauto from the University of Havanna, outside the student house Red Box.

Cuba is Corona closed and Yansa Terry Araujo and Maydelin Sauto from the University of Havanna are waiting for a return flight. They are part of the Cuban and Nordic Welfare DIKU project (2019-2023). 

How are your situation here at campus Stavanger?

Maydelin: The Red Box has been my home for two months and the students who live in it are my family.

Yansa: It has been advantageous to be in the University Campus during this period because, being far from the city center, there are fewer chances of contagion. At the same time, the presence of a forest in the neighborhood, offered opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities without any risk. The only problem I faced, is the size of the personal rooms and common spaces in The Red Box, that, being very small, made it difficult to stay long days in them and to implement the rules of social distancing. In the end, this issue had also some benefits because it encouraged the socialization among most of the residents, with whom I created a strong friendship.

The most beautiful thing about my stay has been the jovial atmosphere. Our routines were made more flexible to the point of joint meals and group outings to the forest. This led to the excellent relations we now have, marked by friendship.

About learning and challenges as exchange student

Yansa: The most challenging thing, at least for me, has been to experience a semester of online classes. Being Cuban, I was completely unaware of the virtual teaching experience, while in my country teaching is mainly face-to-face due to the problems with connectivity experienced in the country as a result of the blockade and the problems with access to technologies. This is a problem that has been solved in practice through the habit and the help provided by the coordinators of the master's programme and the representatives of the working groups.

Maydelin: The best has been the interaction with other students from other nations, the exchange of knowledge, from different languages and the life experiences nuanced by the original culture of each one, which has characterized our socialization here. I have also improved my English.

Exchange students experience many sensations when we are away from our country, our family, our friends, and we create networks of support and friends to share and make our stay something pleasant, beautiful, exciting, I would say unforgettable. Transnational processes are challenging, even if they are not for a very long period. They always contain complexities and goals for those who live it. For example, challenging for me has been: the language, the technology and the climate.

What has it been like to be an exchange student from Cuba during Corona?

Maydelin: Being a student from Cuba means many situations and intertwined feelings. In my country we do not have internet access with the quality described here, and our University of Havana does not have a digital platform as good as the one that Stavanger University has. Here I have learned to work with many more online programs that facilitate communication, it is an excellent experience, because you learn and grow a lot professionally. It has also given me access to a lot of digital bibliography, which in my country would have been impossible. It should also be said that the interaction with other students from other socio-political and cultural settings has led to interesting debates not only framed in the topics of the courses we are going through, but also in terms of other topics such as: civil society, Cuba's economic situation, social policies, migrations, political system, citizen rights, issues that make us grow professionally and as human beings, and examine from different perspectives of analysis and deeper positions, not only the international events, but rethink what happens within our country.

This special period has been a school of life, it will remain for my personal history as the journey through a period of international epidemiological crisis, and how we face a quarantine state outside our country, and at the same time, carrying out teaching activities. I have learned at this stage to be much more patient, to give much more value to life, to expectations, to grow as a woman, student, professional, person, friend, daughter, as a Cuban that I am. This time of Covid19 has made me a more cautious person, more prudent, I feel more forward-looking and supportive. As I mentioned earlier, moments of health crisis become schools for human beings.

What is the situation like in Cuba?

Yansa: As networks in Cuba are overloaded by high levels of mobile data consumption, communication with the family has been a little difficult, although it has been constant. The current conditions facing the country are quite complex, especially because, despite the delicate global panorama, the United States government maintains a blockade on the island. The scarcity of food in the face of overwhelming market demand and the rationing of existing products are two of the clearest expressions to describe the current Cuban context, and they result in the he hoarding and resale of those products of primary need, bringing with it a generalized social malaise.

Text: Siv Oltedal

First published 14.07.2020