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Fall 2017 Voyager from Cuba finds community
For Colorado State University sophomore Marcos Perez, the Fall 2017 Voyage around the world has helped him find a sense of community he thought he had left behind—and rekindled a desire to reconnect with his home country of Cuba.
The process started before the voyage, in Fort Collins, Colorado, where Perez studies accounting at CSU. There, Perez says, he found himself adapting to an Americanized way of life different from everything he knew growing up.
“I was changing. I was getting into the society and the idea of the American Dream and American things,” Perez said. “I was becoming more of an American than a Cuban. I wanted to get out of the Americanized view that I was having in the United States and I wanted to see the whole world.”
Discovering new ways to see the world might be why Perez decided to sail around the globe, but what he didn’t expect was to re-establish a bond with his native country while halfway around the world in Cape Town, South Africa. On a Semester at Sea field program that visited Khayelitsha Township, Perez, not sure if locals were aware of the historical relationship between Cuba and South Africa, started chatting with his guides about where he was from.
“It was crazy. I’ve never felt that way ever. I almost started crying. They asked me where I’m from and I said Cuba, and they were so excited I was Cuban. I was the first Cuban they’ve ever met and they just said thank you for everything your country has done for us,” Perez said. “In that moment before he said all of that, what I wanted to say was how much I disagree with the government in Cuba. I wanted to say that I didn’t like Fidel Castro, and the communist totalitarian government that he had, and all the suffering that my people went through. So I was surprised because I realized that yes, I know history and the history of my country, but I hadn’t heard all of it.”
Connecting with a port in that way has inspired Perez to learn more about the history of where he is from, and he has already reached out to family members to talk about his experience and ask questions. At the same time, Perez says a similar sort of discovery is taking place on-ship. Perez and other native Spanish speakers on board the MV World Odyssey have formed a tight-knit group—in a way that’s also letting him rediscover a part of himself he wasn’t even aware he had been missing.
“For the first time in three years I actually spoke with my accent in Spanish to someone, and I felt like I hadn’t realized that I had lost something that was part of my identity before I went to the United States,” said Perez of meeting fellow native Spanish speakers during the first few days of the voyage. “Just because I immersed myself in that culture. I had to learn English, I had to learn the culture, what to do and what not to do, the words to say, what can’t I say. It feels like family now. It feels like I belong with these people.”
And as Perez learns more about Cuba and his own identity expands, he and his friends are working to grow their shipboard family by sharing more about themselves and engaging more students in conversations about who they are and how they are changing.
“It’s kind of intimidating to get our of your comfort zone, and I think that’s happening all over the ship. So one of the things we decided to was dancing on the pool deck, almost every other night. Every time someone starts to feel the music, we’re like, ‘Come here, we’ll show you how to dance.’ And we teach people,” Perez said. “We call it adopting someone. We adopt them into the Latino Community.”
“I don’t want my story about Semester at Sea to be, ‘Oh yeah, I had the best experience because their were Latinos there and we hung out together.’ I want to be able to say I learned so much about American culture that I didn’t know because I engaged in personal conversations with so many people. I would like to be able to say that in my voyage, students were able to engage in conversations freely. Having uncomfortable conversations are important, and talking about those types of things are necessary.”