CCAC Sociology professor travels to Cuba with fellow educators

Article by: CCAC Public Relations

PITTSBURGH-Community College of Allegheny County Associate Professor Jill Oblak traveled to Cuba last month with a group of college professors and high school teachers from Pittsburgh and across the country to see and experience first-hand the island nation that has been closed to most Americans for almost 60 years. Knowing very little about Cuba prior to embarking, Oblak, who teaches Sociology at CCAC Boyce Campus, found the trip to be "fascinating and enriching."

From June 16 to 25, Oblak, of Wilkins township, traveled with 14 other educators through the University of Pittsburgh's "A People to People Cultural Exchange," sponsored by the university's Latin American Studies Department and supported by CCAC's Professional Development program. The main purpose of the trip was to learn more about Cuban society and culture as well as U.S.-Cuba relations.

"I was most interested in seeing a society which is undergoing a great deal of change in its social institutions (politics, economics, technology, religion and international affairs) and how those changes are affecting the culture," said Oblak. "Just seeing how those things work in a country as different as Cuba was fascinating."      

She was surprised to learn that Cuba has one of the highest literacy rates in the world and that education is greatly valued and free. The group attended a lecture on U.S.-Cuba relations at the University of Havana and met with the staff of the Literacy Museum, which traced Cuba's achievements in the Cuban Literacy Campaign of 1961. Among other highlights of the itinerary were a walking tour of Old Havana and visits to the Cuban National Ballet School, the Ernest Hemingway Museum, and a tobacco farm and factory. As many of her fellow travelers spoke fluent Spanish, the group was able to converse with the locals wherever they went.

"Everyone we met was very friendly, very welcoming and very interested to talk to us. Most people said they love Americans but are unhappy with the American government. As a sociologist, I appreciated being able to see things from other perspectives. It was interesting to learn about Cuba but also to reflect on our own culture-there are so many things we take for granted in the U.S."

Oblak, who has been sharing her experiences and insights with her students, had expected to see a lot of uniformity among Cuban citizens due to the socialist economy; however, she saw varying levels of affluence, possibly due to the eased restrictions on capitalism in recent years. She was struck by how similar Cuba is to the U.S., but she also observed how a lot of things that are available back home are not available in Cuba, such as American-made cars post-1959 and many other conveniences of modern life.

"The trip was fascinating and I'm very glad I went, but it also made me really appreciate what we have here."

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