While studying abroad in Cuba, I came across many unexpected challenges. I say unexpected because you can have numerous people tell you, or a training to prepare you, but you will never know how difficult the challenge is until you personally face it yourself.
The first challenge I faced was the plumbing situation in Cuba. Growing up in Florida, I never thought twice about flushing toilet paper or even flushing for that matter, (since it is automatic most of the time). But in Cuba, I physically had to fill buckets and splash it in the toilet to flush. This is something I had never done in my life, so you could imagine hoy goofy I probably looked.
Another challenge, and a large one at that, was the language barrier. Majority of the people within Cuba new very little to no Spanish. Having stayed with families and interviewed doctors, it was almost always necessary to have our tour guide as a translator. Luckily, I knew a little Spanish and had the opportunity to expand my Spanish vocabulary since I was forced to use it every day. This became very prominent when touring hospitals and clinics with the doctors and nurses. Everything they said had to be translated so we could understand what they were talking about/referring to.
The last challenge I faced while studying abroad in Cuba was the food. Having been a vegetarian for two years, I haven’t been exposed to meat and other foods cooked in meat grease. The Cuban diet consists of large amount of chicken, pork, and other things fried in meat grease. When traveling, I take it upon myself to eat the foods that are popular within that region, so I can experience that culture and diet. I found it difficult to eat sometimes considering ham was served for breakfast almost every morning and pork was served for lunch and dinner almost every night. I am happy I got to eat traditional Cuban dishes and was exposed to a Cuban diet-regardless of my previous eating habits.