Taylor Shultz just did something that was almost impossible until recently: she traveled to Cuba! Read about her participation in JWU's 1st study abroad trip to Cuba.
JWU's inaugural International Hotel Operations course started off with great success by choosing Cuba as its first location. Cuba has historically been restricted for U.S. citizens to travel to. While it is now true that U.S. citizens can travel to Cuba, a relatively recent change, it does require a visa to travel to the country.
What I learned?
One of the overarching discussions in this class was about culture shock and the importance of leaving your own standards behind when you travel internationally. On the very first day many students noticed that the water did not turn on right away. This is something I would never have taken for granted in the States, but here I was realizing that there are some standards that are embedded into us so deeply, we don’t even know that they’re there.
While in Cuba, our class listened to a variety of guest lecturers who spoke to us about the travel, tourism and hotel industry in Cuba. As a future hotelier, this was truly interesting to learn about because the industry is in an upswing in Cuba right now. One of the most interesting things was that some international hotel brands that exist in Cuba often have trouble sticking to the brand standards. For instance, sheets are often imported from Spain and therefore, the sheets may not meet the same standards associated with that brand. One of the challenges of this is to deal with guests who arrive with certain expectations that may not be met due to a variety of challenges that the country faces. In addition, hotels seek out expatriate managers to train a new generation of hospitality professionals with a greater focus on service excellence.
In the U.S., I'd heard a lot about what people think Cuba is, often from people who have never traveled there. I tried to research the country prior to my departure (as I like to do before I go anywhere) and was unable to find much information on the country. Even some of what I found could be considered subjective. Think about the side of Cuba that the Kardashians saw in their episode of their travels to Cuba, it was glamorous and far different from the reality of this developing country. While resorts may offer more upscale accommodations and WiFi, it is not the authentic experience that one can expect while traveling to Cuba.
Our trip was the perfect balance of authenticity and education. We stayed at a Casa Resedncia*, it was beautiful yet simple. There was no Wi-Fi access or no cell phone reception, which was very relaxing. Students commented that we were all actually having face-to-face conversations. This gave us a chance to forge bonds and talk to some of our classmates that we may never have spoken to without the cushions of our smartphones. I thought to myself, "this is what it must have been like when my parents were my age." There was a time when I did have the chance to purchase Wi-Fi access but I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t and I’m so glad that I stuck with this. To experience a week of my life without Wi-Fi access and cell phones was so worth it.
Cuba is a developing country that is so different from the U.S. Being there was an amazing learning experience that I was lucky to have experienced. I can't imagine a more important time in my life me to learn the value of face-to-face interactions sans cell phones, what it is to leave the standards of your home country behind, and that the hospitality industry in Cuba is such an emerging hospitality leader.
*Casa Resedencial: Owners of a private home in Cuba can go through a government process that allows them to host tourists in their home and can be a source of additional income.