We’re Cuban! Somos Cubanos!

- The Experience, Daniella Maney ’20

Wilfredo, Essence, Dani, and Isver on the streets of Cuba
Wilfredo, Essence, Me, and Isver on the streets of Cuba

Each time I walk into an airport I get scared–heart-pounding kind of scared. I get nervous about all the possible things that could go wrong, like losing my passport, missing my flight and the inevitability of forgetting a full water bottle in my bag before going through security. I also don’t have a ton of experience flying; I can count the number of airports I have been through on one hand. Despite these things, I have loved the idea of traveling since I was a little kid. As I get older I have wanted to see more of the United States (outside of the North East) and also to travel outside the United States. My choice to study abroad in Latin America and the Caribbean was an easy one. I have always been curious about my mother’s experience living in Colombia before she moved to the United States.

I did not grow up speaking Spanish, but my household was always full of the Spanish language. My aunts, uncles, brother and grandmother, all of whom were born and raised in Colombia, were always around. Because of this, learning Spanish has always been a goal. In an attempt to combine my Africana studies major with my desire to learn Spanish, I applied to study abroad at the Autonomous University of Social Movements (AUSM) in Havana, Cuba. The program adopts a social justice framework for learning abroad. An integral component of the AUSM study abroad experience is the homestay with Cuban families, which was my favorite part of the whole experience.

After facing my fear and making the relatively short flight from Boston Logan International Airport to the José Martí International Airport in Havana, I was met by the director of the Cuban program Daisy Rojas who told me and my roommate, Essence, to follow her to a taxi outside. Essence and I were both wide-eyed during the short drive to the municipality Marianao, where we stayed for our whole trip. In Marianao, I met my host family. My host family was big. Not only did a lot of family members live in my house, but my host family was so popular that there was a constant influx of neighbors, relatives and hairstyling clients.

My host family consisted of nine people: grandparents Lidia and Ariel; their son Wilfredo and his partner Isver; Ariel and Lidia’s daughter, Mercedes, and her husband; along with their sons, Dariel and Liam, and Liam’s wife, Leidi. Almost every day I spent breakfast, lunch and dinner with my host family. At first, my roommate and I spoke minimal Spanish and although my host family was extremely welcoming, it was sometimes awkward not being able to communicate. I was encouraged every day to practice my Spanish, and eventually I was able to understand almost everything in my day-to-day conversations. After a couple of weeks, I truly felt like a member of the family. Not only would we eat meals together (the home-cooked meals were the best meals I had abroad) but we also watched TV together, walked along the streets in our city together,  picked up groceries together, or just chatted about life and politics. Essence and I would often joke and say “Somos Cubanos!”, which means “We’re Cubans!”, to which the host family would reply “Somos Cubanos!”

My host family and I laughed together, cried together, danced together and celebrated birthdays together. We threw a send-off celebration for our host brother when he left to live in the United States and told stories about our lives. Although it is difficult to describe in a short post how much my Cuban family meant to me, I am certain that they are some of the biggest-hearted and hardest working people I have met. They are always there for each other, their neighbors, American students and whoever else happens upon their house on 100 and 61st Street. Leaving my host family, without knowing for certain when I can return, was difficult, to say the least, but I now feel that Soy Cubana (I am Cuban) and I can't wait to travel back soon. 

Left to Right: Wilfredo, Isver, Leidi, Chino, Merci, my dad Charlie, my mom Martha, Me, Essence, Lidia, and Ariel


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Snow Day Fun Day

- The Experience, David Johnston '19

A glazed cinnamon bun from the Walk-In Coffee Closet rests on top of a white plate
My cinnamon bun from the Coffee Closet

Tuesday, February 12, was a snow day at Connecticut College; the campus closed at 11 a.m. I do not have morning classes on Tuesdays, so it was in effect a full snow day for me. I was still in my room in Jane Addams House when I heard the good news and was elated. I soon got a message from my friends asking if I wanted to do an early soup and bread lunch, a Tuesday and Thursday lunch tradition in Jane Addams Dining Hall. I was able to walk down the hall to the dining hall without having to step outside at all, which is a blessing on a snowy day. After a warm soup and bread meal, we went to the Walk-In Coffee Closet, my personal favorite coffee shop on campus conveniently located next to my residence hall. We sat down on the comfy couches and did homework. I find rotating my working locations between Shain Library and the various coffee shops on campus to be helpful—it provides a change of scenery. As we were doing homework we began to talk and time flew by. Later, we smelled an intoxicating aroma coming out of the bakery: someone was making cinnamon buns. The sweet cinnamon smell filled up the small coffee shop and soon I was really craving one. It felt like forever before they were ready but, eventually, I and almost everyone else in the Walk-In indulged. The sweet treat was a perfect complement to the cold day outside. I did not get a lot of my homework done but having a midweek day off and enjoying time with friends was definitely worth it.

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American (and Australian) Screenwriting

- The Experience, Mark McPhillips '20

A picture of a cathedral-like building at the University of Sydney
The beautiful University of Sydney

When I first came to Conn, I thought I was going to double major in theater and psychology. I love acting, wanted to understand how people worked to better inform my characters, and most of all wanted to bring those two passions together.

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Hacking Harris

- The Experience, Samirah Jaigirdar '22

Salad from Harris dining hall
Daniella Mani ’20’s creation: salad and noodle soup!

As an international student, there are days when I miss a simple home-cooked meal. There are also days when I miss the freedom of being creative and whipping up recipes from the Food Network. However, I can personally attest that getting creative in a college dining hall isn’t impossible.

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Interview with women's basketball coach Jackie Smith

- The Experience, Andre Thomas '20

Headshot of coach Jackie Smith
Coach Jackie Smith

When you picture a coach, you might picture a one like Sue Sylvester from the TV show “Glee,” Jimmy Dugan from “A League of Their Own,” or even a coach you’ve once had. I think of one of Conn’s newest members to the Camel Athletics family, women’s basketball coach Jackie Smith. Her kindness toward everyone she meets, dedication to the success and growth of the team, and gumption to showcase the team’s talent has helped the team improve both on and off the court. I interviewed Jackie to learn more about her background, love for basketball and dreams for her team. 

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Conn is Forever

- The Experience, Mark McPhillips '20

View of the beach in Sydney
A beach day in Sydney

Last semester was the first time in two years that I spent the fall months away from Connecticut College. I was anxious to embark on a new adventure but nonetheless ecstatic to explore a new country and schooling system at the University of Sydney. My semester was atypical from the start—I left for my semester abroad on July 19 and returned November 18. A typical fall semester at Conn begins in late August and ends in the third week of December. When I returned from Australia, my peers back at Conn were still engaged in their studies. I had some time to reflect and anticipate what was ahead of me. It was not easy to return from studying abroad. Life had gone on and people expected me to be the same, but I wasn't. My transition period from Conn to the University of Sydney exemplified and elucidated the ways I changed and the things I missed.

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The Touring Clarinetist of Southern New England

- The Experience, Saadya Chevan '19

Connecticut College clarinet instructor Kelli O‘Connor poses for a photo with Jamie Bernstein and Kevin Rhodes of the Springfield Symphony.
Connecticut College clarinet instructor Kelli O‘Connor with Jamie Bernstein and Kevin Rhodes of the Springfield Symphony.

I’m afforded plenty of opportunities to hear my clarinet professor, Kelli O’Connor, perform at Connecticut College. Most recently, she played in two pieces in the music department’s February faculty recital, including Mozart’s well-known “Kegelstatt” Trio, and last December she was a featured soloist with the orchestra’s string section during our fall concert.

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One Step to Trinity Rep

- The Experience, Andre Thomas '20

A.T. and the class pose with Jude Sandy on stage at Trinity Rep
We posed with Nina Papathanasopoulou's class and Jude Sandy on stage at Trinity Rep

Many of our staff and faculty members live close to school, so anytime I’m off campus, I think about the possibility of running into a professor or other employee. It isn’t a bad occurrence, but it’s somewhat cringey to think about what to say to a professor outside of the classroom or context of a class. Even if it’s someone you admire or are very familiar with, there’s always a moment of silence where neither the student nor the adult knows quite what to say. However, this isn’t always the case. I saw a professor outside of the classroom and instead of it being awkward, it was invigorating. I saw him on a stage, in a costume, transformed into one of the most well-known gods of Greek literature: Zeus. Kinda cool, right?

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The Last Semester

- The Experience, David Johnston '19

A copy of David's major declaration slip
When I declared my majors in the fall of my sophomore year

To register for classes at Connecticut College, we have to meet with our adviser and discuss our ideas for what we want to take for the next semester. I meet with two advisers because I am a double major in American studies and English. This fall when I met with my advisers, Professor Catherine Stock for American Studies and Professor Michelle Neely for English, it started off as a regular meeting. We discussed what was going on in my life and academics during the past semester. We looked at my Degree Works page, the webpage that shows what requirements you have completed for your major and your graduation requirements. To see the page with almost all of my requirements completed was liberating. I had been taking classes in my majors of study pretty much exclusively since my sophomore year. During my first year, I took classes to discover what I was interested in and to complete my general education requirements. To see that I was done with my general education requirements and my American Studies major was a strange feeling. This thing that I had been working on for so long was finished. I did still have a few more requirements to fulfill for my English major but aside from that, I was free to take something else that interested me, a feeling that excited me.

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Connections Matter

- The Experience, Mark McPhillips '20

The front facade of the RNN office building
The front facade of the RNN

Connections matter. The line has retained relevance my entire life. From the day I entered the workforce at age 17, my mom emphasized just how far a connection can take you in life. Little did I know I would end up at a college where connections are integrated into the fabric of the school’s community. In both the curriculum and Conn’s career office, faculty and staff highlight the value of a connection: academic connections, such as cross-listed classes or concepts; employment connections, such as your mom’s co-worker’s cousin. Connections can be big or small but how you utilize them determines their importance.

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