Cuban exchange teaches more than academics
February 27, 2011 by Jeffrey Yip
Alexis Wiessler believes we have a lot to learn from Cuba.
Wiessler, a horticultural student, was one of six students who went to Cuba in October 2010, through an exchange program with the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture, to participate in field research at the University of Sancti Spiritus.
“I just thought going to Cuba and seeing how they do things would be really beneficial to my career further down the road,” she said.
Cuba is a leader in sustainable farming practices, which is using more environmentally friendly techniques to grow crops. Wiessler and some of her colleagues worked on a project using a fungus to fight different plant diseases. They also used plants to attract insects that are natural enemies of other insects that are harmful to crops.
Overall, she believed the research went well, but they did have some problems.
“There were always pigs and goats and turkeys in the fields eating everything,” she said.
For the 26-year-old, the exchange became more than just about sustainable farming. While she knew living in Cuba would be difficult, nothing could have prepared her for just how different things would be. Cramped living quarters and little variety of food were just a couple of the challenges she faced.
It was her brief glimpse into the lives of everyday Cubans that Wiessler will remember most. She said that despite the hardships the Cubans faced every day, they are still a happy, friendly people who appreciate what little they do have.
“It was really refreshing to see people who have so little just not being affected by it that much,” she said.
The biggest challenge for Wiessler was living in a socialist country. She said things we take for granted, such as freedom of speech, don’t happen in Cuba.
“It was kind of scary at times, because we didn’t really know if we were overstepping any bounds,” she said.
As difficult as the exchange was at times, Wiessler doesn’t regret going and encourages other students to go on similar exchanges and keep an open mind about new experiences.
“I always knew we were lucky in North America, but it’s totally a different thing living in another country and really see how lucky we are,” she said. “As hard as it was, I miss it a lot. I started to get really comfortable there.”