Graham Sowa

Graduates from the Havana-based Latin American Medical School (ELAM)

Like most children who grow up with any say in their future, I was often asked what I wanted to be.  Becoming a garbage man was an early option, probably followed by a variety of other noble civil service professions: fireman, paramedic, policeman, etc.

I can’t remember contemplating being a doctor until I was at least a year into my undergraduate studies in my home state of Texas.  At that point, I had begun considering Cuba as a location for my undergraduate studies, but that first endeavor failed.  As soon as I settled on adding another decade to my already 16 years of institutionalized education, I again opted for Cuba.

When I’m talking to someone at home about studying in Cuba, I consider the conversation a success if I can at least get a “Why Cuba?” out of them.  Blank stares and “Oh…” are the most common responses.  My answer to the former is usually given delicately.

You see, telling someone in Texas that I’m moving to Cuba to study medicine —socialist medicine— could be like telling a very jovial child that Santa Clause is in fact a farce.

It challenges what they have assumed for years to be good and right in the world their whole life… and Cuba was not in the good and right column.  So my answers vary according to the person and the situation, as I probably have as many reasons for studying medicine in Cuba as I can think of.

My most concrete reason for wanting to study in Cuba comes from the experiences I have lived.

During my undergraduate studies in anthropology at the University of North Texas, I spent every summer volunteering with various projects in Haiti and sometimes even managing to do something beneficial for one or two people there.  I often encountered Cuban doctors who left a great impression on me for their ability to help so many with so few resources.

This was what I was angling for: a medical education that would prepare me for working anywhere in the world instead of one that would relegate me to a specific system.

I experienced the same when working in the presence of Cuban doctors in Botswana during the couple of years I lived there after graduating from college.

My experiences thus far in Cuba have affirmed and challenged my expectations.  There is nothing easy about trying to integrate into a new culture – be it academic, political, or material.  I plan to continue to describe my experiences here as I am able. I expect that these reflections will prove beneficial to me and, I hope, to anyone else who invests their time to read them.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

9 thoughts on “From Texas to a Cuba Medical School

  • Graham,
    Your principled dedication to helping the poor of the world and the courage needed to go from right-wing Texas to Cuba to study are truly admirable.
    I wish you and all the students at ELAM long and happy careers.
    The world need more people like you.

  • Thanks for all comments, I will try to check these more often. I’ll answer Julio.
    Starting from the bottom of your comment I don’t agree that any of the things you listed are “irregularities” I think those problems can be found in any institutional setting in any place under any system in the world. they are a regular part of social landscape. now to answer directly
    3. we are not paid in CUC, we get 100 cuban pesos (moneda nacional) every month. it is about 4 USD.
    2. well, i’ve heard rumors of students trying to throw money arround, and heard one story from a professor in the school about 2 of his coworkers that are now serving prison time for taking bribes. however, i’ve never heard of students holding recordings of professors hostage.
    1. some students are well to do and some are dirt poor. no one has a car (i believe it is illigal for foreign or domestic students to own cars) that being put forth, some students have access to embassy drivers and cars. i frequently see the students from palestine coming and going in embassy cars on the weekend.

  • Thank you for blogging your experience. I’ve never lived outside of the US and I desperately want to. I’m in the process of applying to ELAM now.

  • i am also a grad of med school here in Cuba and i thank Dios everyday WHY? ..It has alowed me to travel all over the i promised..helping others in need..that is the real reason right?

    Que te vayas bien

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