STEER heads to Mexico, Cuba

03 January 2019 | Education
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Rooftop view of the City Centre of Havana, Cuba

From 9 to 22 December 2018, 16 NUS students from various faculties took part in the Study Trips for Engagement and EnRichment (STEER) programme in Mexico and Cuba, with the aim of understanding contemporary Latin America through its history, languages, cultures and business opportunities.

The visit began in Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico, where the students were warmly welcomed by Technólogico de Monterrey representatives. After taking a salsa class, touring the school and interacting with local students, participants embarked on a city tour of Querétaro, visiting iconic landmarks such as the stone aqueduct and learning of the city’s colonial past.

With a lecture on Mexican economics and a visit to an animation startup, the students were better able to appreciate the vibrant startup ecosystem growing in Mexico. A separate trip to Enterprise Singapore allowed them to understand the role the organisation plays in tying up companies from Singapore and Mexico, as well as the inherent challenges during the process. 

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At the base of the Pyramid of the Sun before embarking on the climb to the summit

A highlight of the programme was the trip to the Teotihuacán pyramids, where the students had the wonderful opportunity to scale the Pyramids of the Sun and Moon, catching a bird’s-eye view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Known as “The City of the Gods”, the Mesoamerican city was, at its peak, the largest in the pre-Columbian Americas. At Teotihuacán, the students experienced the ritualistic smoking and cleansing from bad spirits, and also joined the locals in performing a traditional Aztec dance. It was truly a memorable experience taking part in activities that have been practised by the Mexicans for ages. 

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Performing a local ritualistic dance

In Mexico City, STEER participants explored landmarks such as the Chapultepec Castle, an 18th century palace whose name stems from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc, meaning “at the grasshopper’s hill” and which served as the Mexican President’s home until 1939. In the heart of the city, the students explored the majestic Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) and the Palacio de Correos de México (Postal Palace of Mexico City), as well as the Frida Kahlo Museum, the National Museum of Anthropology and the Museo Soumaya for a glimpse into the art, culture and history of Mexico. 

It is interesting to see how Mexico and Cuba differ vastly in their culture and political ideology despite their geographical proximity and Spanish proficiency. While Mexico’s streets are lit up with rows of stores from internationally renowned brands, Cuba’s alleys are filled with the locals’ merry-making and bars with live bands playing their traditional instruments.

The second leg of the itinerary included a visit to Havana, the capital of Cuba, where students were privileged to attend lectures at the University of Havana on topics ranging from Cuba’s history to its economy — subjects rarely covered in Singapore. The students also had the chance to attend a talk by the head of Cuba’s Mariel Port — operated by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA) International — who outlined Cuba’s shipping aspirations. After the lectures, they were given a tour of the University’s facilities and unique architecture. 

Another unforgettable experience in Cuba for the students was definitely the vintage car tour. Sitting in a convertible vehicle from the 1950s, they were brought around both Old and New Havana, learning the history of these places. 

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Ancient handshake passed down through generations

Reminiscing on the trip, Year 4 NUS Sociology student Ong Shu Qing said, “It is interesting to see how Mexico and Cuba differ vastly in their culture and political ideology despite their geographical proximity and Spanish proficiency. While Mexico’s streets are lit up with rows of stores from internationally renowned brands, Cuba’s alleys are filled with the locals’ merry-making and bars with live bands playing their traditional instruments. Even though Cuba may appear to have little to offer, their socialist system is indubitably an eye-opener to Singaporeans like me who have only been to consumerist nations.”

Arivindd S/O Arumugam, a Year 4 NUS Mechanical Engineering student said, “My favourite part was meeting up with Enterprise Singapore in Mexico and the PSA Port Mariel director in Cuba, which showed us just how globalised these companies are. It also inspired me to explore possibilities of venturing into business beyond Asia, as most of these Latin American countries are up-and-coming with plenty of potential.”

The NUS STEER programme by the Global Relations Office aims to help undergraduates break existing mindsets about emerging regions through participation in an immersive educational and cultural experience. Inaugurated in 2010, the programme has since expanded to include countries in Asia, Central and Latin America, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Southern Africa. In December 2018 alone, in addition to the study trip to Mexico and Cuba, NUS students had the opportunity to take part in exciting and insightful trips to Myanmar, India, the Middle East, as well as Vietnam and China.

By: Benjamin Sng (Year 4 Electrical Engineering), Grace Mak (Year 4 Civil Engineering), Jazreel Low (Year 2 Biomedical Engineering) and Ong Shu Qing (Year 4 Sociology)