University of Florida journalism students get hands-on experience in Cuba

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent

HAVANA - Journalism students from the University of Florida are getting some hands-on education in Havana, with a crash course in Cuban culture. 

The students gathered this week inside a gym in Old Havana where men are trained as boxers.

Carefully documenting every move and every sound, the students were hard at work under the People-to-People educational initiative.

"It gives you an international sense of place," Caitie Switalski said.

Switalski was one of the students who, in different groups, went around town focusing on Cuban life.

"It's one thing to say 'Oh, yeah, there are old cars. You know, the clichés coming to a place, wherever you go, but when you get here, it's so much different than you could have imagined," Switalski said.

One of the instructors, Ryan Jones, who also attended UF, drove the idea to come to Cuba.

"It's really hands-on and just gives them an outlet outside the classroom to come and learn these things," Jones said.

Bringing the students to Cuba and taking them out of their comfort zone was equally important during the 10-day training program.

"It's a struggle," Switalski said. "It's a learning experience. You have to go with the flow. You have to be able to think on your feet really, really well."

All that makes the future journalists more versatile and they're forced to adapt, especially when it comes to language.

"I think it makes you a better listener," Switalski said.

The trip also reminds the students about access in the communist Caribbean island nation, which is often rated one of the worst countries when it comes to press freedoms.

For the students, that's part of the experience.

"I hope I have taken away a piece of their life, a piece of their story that I'll always remember," Switalski said.

Part of the training also included meetings with Cuba-focused journalists in Cuba and in Miami.

"To come here and see things firsthand has been good," Jones said.

Jones said they hope the first-time trip to Cuba for UF journalism students is the start of an ongoing program.

Copyright 2017 by WPLG - All rights reserved.