Students reflect on mini-term experiences abroad

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Union offers a plethora of mini-terms abroad to students over winter break, and this year, the college offered the Cuba Mini-Term for the first time, after President Barack Obama eased restrictions on travel to Cuba over a year ago.

Hector Tejeda ’16 spent his break in Cuba. This new program is all about the economy, politics, culture and history of Cuba. This mini-term’s group focused mainly on the future of Cuban and American relations.

Tejeda noted two things that he loved most about Cuba: the sense of community and the cultural dances.

At a senior center, he attended a workshop on various traditional dances. His favorite dance as the Guaguanco, a variation of rumba, both an intimate yet fun dance with a specific movement called vacunao. Tejeda believes that “dance and a sense of community keeps (the Cuban elderly) young and united.”

When talking about the impact of the embargo, he went on to state how “despite all this, they still smile and go by the model of no matter how hard it gets, they will continue to live.” Many communities suffered from a lack of resources due to the trade embargo beginning in 1960.

Tejeda said that he felt safer walking down their streets than some of our own streets in the States.

He added, “Cuba is a birthplace” or the influence of various poets, novelists and musicians. Going to a non-Western country was an eye-opening journey for Tejeda, because “they just operate differently and they’re insightful.”

Seeing the lifestyles of Cuban communities made him appreciate the resources in the U.S.

Lastly, Tejeda said, “Dancing is in their souls,” and he wished for as close a sense of community as the one he experienced in Cuba.

Other mini-terms traveled to London, Egypt, New Zealand and Ethiopa over break.

Iseinie Mendez ’17 attended Union’s Ethiopia Mini-Term, while also completing her first international adventure. The journey was centered on studying the history, coffee and culture of Ethiopia.

Before the creation of the Ethiopia Mini-Term, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Samuel Amanuel instructed a handful of Union students on the topic of researching the physics and biology of coffee beans.

The students began their journey in the capital of Addis Ababa, which means “new flower” in Ethiopia’s national language, Amharic.

From the rock-carved churches of Lalibela to the obelisk in Axum, the group was fully immersed in Ethiopia. The vast difference in terrain is what Mendez noted she would always remember from traveling around the “cradle of mankind.”

Mendez said that the majority of the national dishes revolved around enjera, a sourdough bread only authentically made there because of the specific kitchen tools needed to create the food item.

Seeing the conditions of impoverished areas firsthand caused Mendez to reflect on her values and appreciate many things that she tends to overlook. She found it to be a humbling experience to witness the joy expressed by a community despite the conditions limiting their growth.

Tejeda and Mendez are among the approximately 60 percent of students who participate in international programs at Union. Union ranks at No. 12 on the Princeton Review’s 2016 list of “Most Popular Study Abroad Programs.”

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