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.