Curiosity in Cuba

Tyler Ambrose ’17 wondered what the changes to U.S. policy in Cuba could mean for its people. Thanks to the College’s Student Grant Program, he had the chance to explore his questions firsthand
April 20th, 2017 by 

Tyler Ambrose '17 stands next to a car in Havana, the capital city of Cuba.
Tyler Ambrose '17 visited Havana, the capital city of Cuba, as part of his research for his College Honors Program thesis. Photo by: courtesy of Tyler Ambrose '17

When Tyler Ambrose ’17 enrolled at Holy Cross as a first-year student, he was torn between interests in economics, political science, music and Spanish. While he ultimately chose to major in political science, he found an opportunity to embrace all his passions during his senior year: traveling to Cuba through Holy Cross’ Student Grant Program.

With help from his advisor Maria Rodrigues, associate professor of political science, Ambrose proposed the trip to study the implications of Cuba’s economic policy changes. His proposal was accepted, and he spent four days in Havana this past winter, conducting research to write a thesis for the College Honors Program. Below, Ambrose reflects on the trip that shaped his perception of the Cuban community — and his perspective on the world as he graduates this spring and begins work at JPMorgan in July.

Through Holy Cross’s Student Grant Program, I had the unparalleled experience of traveling to Cuba over winter break to conduct research for my college honors thesis. Working with my advisor, Professor Maria Rodrigues of the political science department, I am investigating the political implications of Cuba’s new economic opening; mainly, whether Cuba’s shift to private sector growth and foreign investment will induce any democratic political reforms. Reading the vast literature on Cuba available in Dinand Library may be one thing, but applying my interdisciplinary academic background in political science, economics and Spanish made the experience the essence of a liberal arts education.

Under the newly relaxed restrictions by the U.S. that permit travel for “educational activities,” I spent four days in the capital city of Havana. During my visit, I met with professors, restaurant owners, local artists and jazz performers to discuss the political and economic climate of their country. Meeting face-to-face with the Cuban people provided me with a better understanding of the tumultuous relationship between the U.S. and Cuba that has endured over half a century.

My trip to the island has facilitated my hypothesis that the Cuban people still live in a completely repressive regime. The locals I interviewed spoke with candor about their lack of personal and political freedom. From medical doctors that drive cabs as a second job at night just to feed their families, to professors at the University of Havana who are not allowed to speak at any conferences outside the country, the government remains a restrictive presence in the lives of Cubans. While respecting the sovereignty of the Cuban people, the U.S. needs to continue to further engage economically and fervently insist the Cuban regime make political reforms.

The experience changed my perception of the Cuban people. While the Cuban community is in many ways lacking modern, worldly advances, my experience was that the Cuban people are some of the most genuine, friendly, and hardworking people. Friends, family, and strangers are all greeted with “un beso,” a kiss on the cheek. Circumventing their government’s restrictions, the Cuban people enjoy listening to Broadway play soundtracks, watching Hollywood movies and following Major League Baseball.

Traveling to Cuba did not just provide me a sunny escape from the New England winter and exposure to Cuba’s time-machine culture of vintage cars; rather, this trip provided me a most meaningful exchange of culture and understanding — a truly liberal arts experience.

Ambrose is one of many students presenting their work next week at the College’s annual Academic Conference, scheduled for Wednesday, April 26 through Friday, April 28.

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