In the two weeks leading up to exam week, Mr. Navas, a religion teacher here at St. John’s, was in Cuba as a part of a teaching seminar. He worked with one of his former professors at Emory University who contacted him about the opportunity and other students.
“I graduated from Emory in 2013 with my Masters in Divinity (MDIV). I’ve kept in close communication with my professor since grad school, and he called me up one day and asked if I wanted to help him teach a course in Cuba. He’s one of my closest mentors, so I think he wanted to go to Cuba with a close group of people because it was his first time taking students,” Mr. Navas said.\
During the seminar, Mr. Navas’ role was to facilitate class discussions, which focused on Afro-Cuban religions, the role of religion in Fidel Castro’s life, and decolonial theology. Because of his fluency in both Spanish and English, he also acted as a translator during classes. For half the trip, the group stayed in Havana, and the other half was spent in Matanzas in its Evangelical Theological Seminary.
The classes were taught by professors from the seminary. The classes were typically lectures for an hour and a half, and the largest difference between those classes and teaching styles here in the US was the lack of discussion during the class. The political environment was also different, because while professors and tour guides talked about political movements, they didn’t talk about their personal stances. “For example, our guide was talking about movements in politics in Cuba but we didn’t know where he stood on the issue, which was a challenge because we kind of wanted to find out the truth of the matter. Navigating our own biases was a challenge,” Mr. Navas said.
Only four days of the trip was actually taken up by the seminar. When not teaching, Mr. Navas and his group were sightseeing and visited Spanish fortifications, the national ballet, the capitol building, the necropolis, and Che Guevara’s house. His favorite memory from the trip were the nights where his group stayed in and just talked. “We would spend nights in the gazebo in the seminary, and our tour guide taught us how to play Cuban style dominoes. It was a long game, but we would just play music and talk politics and play. One of those nights, I met an artist and was able to interview him about his art and why he does it.”
Mr. Navas says he would recommend a trip to Cuba to anyone, and is planning to go back in two years. “I would recommend to anyone to go to Cuba for sure, because it’s one of those places that we don’t really know that much about in the US, even though it’s relatively close, and I think it’s time the US and Cuba relationship changed.”