Justin White, PhD
I’ve always said that the way to experience a country is to be there - make the kids smile, pet the dogs, and talk – get out and talk, ask questions, share stories, and find out what life is like there for the people that live it everyday. Oh, and tip well, that always seems to help. Sites are great, lots of history, you can’t go to Cuba without seeing the Revolution Plaza and the silhouettes of Che Guevarra and Camilo Cienfuegos, visiting the Hemingway haunts, seeing the mob influence of the pre-revolution days, but the real Cuba is learning and sharing with the people, and we make that happen.
I began traveling at a young age. I grew up in the country outside of a small town in Ohio between Toledo and Cleveland and spent vacations traveling to the family cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during the hot summer and cold winter months. The snow was so deep we’d park the car on the road and walk the rest of the way to the cabin using show shoes. If you’re not familiar with snowshoes, just picture a tennis racked strapped to your feet that helps distribute your weight over the snow so that you don’t sink in.
My stateside travel was complimented by international travel. My father, Dr. Dan L. White, (Randy's brother) and I made countless (well, they are countable, I just can’t remember how many) trips to Central America including Costa Rica, Honduras, and Guatemala, during the mid-1980s. Costa Rica, at that time, wasn’t on the vacation-destination map for most travelers and certainly not where we would go. One of the places we spent a lot of time was at a working horse ranch on a bay with a private airstrip. I saw the Lunar Eclipse on that bay – tide changed and roosters crowed. Lots of travel stories to share.
Learning Spanish was easy, well, easier than chemistry anyways. Instead of a medical profession route, I got into studying languages. I moved to Costa Rica for a study abroad program during my BA degree. I studied for one semester and when that ended and I didn’t have enough money to finish out the school year, I stayed anyways. I made a deal with the host family to rent a room in the three-bedroom house and the youngest of the four host brothers, Pedrito, became my best friend - he was five years old and patient with my language skills. One of my tasks was to teach Pedro, the father, how to drive a car. He was in his mid-40s and had never learned to drive, but with their new income stream (me), he could afford his first car. The clutch on the car was worn so thin that I had to go uphill in reverse when we went to the mountains to visit his mother. Talk about trepidatious.
Still not satisfied with my language skills, and a with a penchant for adventure, I decided to do a masters degree in Linguistics , so, I moved to Mexico. I arrived by boat, armed with nothing but a map, spent a month or two traversing the country, and finally made my way to land-locked Guadalajara. For the record, a map doesn’t do the size of Mexico justice – it took roughly 40 hours to get from the Yucatan to the state of Jalisco by bus and finding an apartment to rent out of the classified ads in a city of 6 million proved to be a challenge.
After my year was up in Mexico, I headed back to Ohio and decided that I should do a PhD in a branch of linguistics that investigates cognitive processes involved in acquiring languages. Off to Tallahassee, Florida to FSU. I earned my PhD and the rest is history.
My travels never ended, in fact, they are just beginning, and now I am fortunate to be able to take you along with us. Come to Cuba, meet our Cuban friends, and learn the ins-and-outs from their perspective. Stay tuned – perhaps there will be a language immersion school in Cuba some day.