Anna Starr always knew she wanted to study abroad more than once. When she saw the opportunity to begin her study abroad journey in Cuba and continue it in Brazil, she didn’t hesitate to make it happen. For Anna, being able to study abroad during the USAC Summer Sessions allowed her to study abroad in two different locations.
We reached out to Anna to learn what drew her to these two study abroad programs and asked her to shed some light on the difference in culture and experience.
Which program did you choose first, and why/how did you choose the second?
I chose the Cuba program first because I saw how unique of an opportunity it is. I also found it to be an equally unique place to take some political science courses that would offer me a completely different perspective on Cuba as a country as well as a different worldview.
The second program, in Brazil, I chose because one of my degrees is in International Studies: Latin America. I already spoke Spanish and I wanted to learn another language and Portuguese seemed like the best choice. I had no opportunities to truly learn the language stateside, so Brazil seemed like the best place to learn it. Plus, I had seen all the beautiful pictures and it certainly lived up to those images!
Did you always plan on studying abroad twice?
I wanted to study abroad more than once because it’s the best way to study, I feel, and it’s a fantastic way to travel as you get a really authentic and close culture experience as opposed to just showing up as a temporary traveler. Staying with a host family just doesn’t compare to any other accommodation when traveling the world.
How did the cultures differ between the two programs?
The cultures are different in a lot of ways. Cuba is a Caribbean island so it has a slower, more mellow pace to life. Everyone is relaxed and not in a hurry. Florianopolis is an island with similar vibes, but I also got to see a lot of Brazil while there. Brazil as a whole is different in that it has big cities where people are rushing and tend to keep to themselves. Essentially everything is different; clothing styles, past times, but I found Cubans to be equally as welcoming, outgoing, and friendly as the Brazilians.
How did the food differ between the two locations?
The food was entirely different. Cuba has a lot of Caribbean influence, plus their resources are limited, so there isn’t quite the variety. Brazil had a variety of food and certain regions even had international options like sushi and American style hamburgers.
Which culture was more difficult to acclimate to?
Brazil and Cuba are both part of the same region, Latin America, so they weren’t strikingly different. It helped traveling to a region I had experience traveling in and an educational background in. This helped lessen the culture shock and I felt like I got so much more out of it than if I had studied in a country or region 100% foreign. Fortunately, I didn’t experience culture shock and such a long adjustment period consuming my time. I was able to land in both places and immediately start enjoying them without feeling overwhelmed.
I didn’t find either culture harder to acclimate to than the other. Cuba is a little tricky for some people with the lack of basics, like shampoo, and the lack of technology like the internet. Brazil is an easier country to travel throughout because of the transportation system and more advanced technological access. When you study abroad in Cuba, be prepared for no phone service for calls or texting.
What was your favorite thing about each location?
I loved the beaches in Cuba; they look just like the magazines! Brazil, I loved how warm the Brazilian UFSC students are to us international students. I hung out with a lot of them and still keep in touch with some!
Do you have any tips for students who are thinking of studying abroad in two different locations?
I’d say maybe start with your first trip to a country that closely aligns to your personal culture (for Americans this might be Europe) or that correlates to a place you’ve studied during undergrad for the reasons I mentioned above. Then maybe pick a second study abroad that’s totally different from anywhere you’ve been. That way when you’re in a drastically new place, you’ll already be used to traveling and outside your comfort zone that you’ll be able to enjoy it a lot more without so much fear or culture shock.
Anything extra you’d like to add about Brazil or Cuba?
Both places were incredible. I highly recommend Cuba for American students as the future of travel between the two countries is delicate and uncertain. The USAC people who run the Cuba program are amazing and I adored the professors. Cuba could be a once in a lifetime opportunity you’ll never get to experience otherwise. And studying there adds a richness and authenticity that you wouldn’t get as a tourist.