Grissom Scholar Emmely Ovalle ’19 reconnects with her heritage in Cuba
Centre College is recognized nationally for its life-changing study abroad experiences, and with 85 percent of students participating, there are a wealth of interesting stories to tell.
During CentreTerm, the College’s three-week winter term, 33 students in the Latin American Culture Abroad class, taught by Associate Professor of Spanish Genny Ballard, traveled to Cuba. Among them was first-generation college student Emmely Ovalle ’19 of Lutz, Fla., making her first trip to the island, her mother’s native country.
“Being raised in a household with a Cuban mother and Dominican father, I grew up listening to music constantly, being surrounded by extended family on the weekend, and eating lots of pork, rice and beans, Cuban bread, and a variety of Hispanic sweets or desserts,” Ovalle says. “With this background, I pictured all of that to be part of my experience when visiting Cuba, and I was not let down.
“Even though I was in a completely different country I still felt like I was home, especially since Cubans are known to be sociable and kind people,” she continues.
Ovalle and the other students had a deeply immersive experience in three short weeks.
“The focus of this course was to expand our understanding of the Cuban culture by visiting very different cities, holding conversations with the locals along the way and having discussions as a class where we thought critically about current U.S.-Cuba relations and even social relations among Cubans with each other,” she says.
While there, the students spent time at Josué País Elementary School observing the materials children receive in Cuban elementary schools and the relationships they form with their teachers. They also held conversations with the locals, learned how to dance salsa, were immersed in Cuban literature, music, film and economics, and traveled to the provinces of Sancti Spíritus, Cienfuegos, La Habana and Pinar del Río.
“A running joke on the trip for some of us was to see how long it would take a local to realize I was a student with Cuban heritage once I started talking to them,” she continues. “It was funny because I would speak in Spanish for a sentence or two and they immediately could tell I was Cuban because I speak with a ‘Cuban accent.’”
Ovalle, a behavioral neuroscience major, is also a Grissom Scholar, part of a select group of Centre students receiving one of the College’s premier scholarships. The Grissom Scholarship is designed for high-achieving, first-generation students.
“I am thankful for the Grissom Scholars Program as the support system I have on campus,” Ovalle says. “Obviously, there are many different outlets on campus that offer support to students, but this program has given me a group of very diverse individuals who I know will have my back. At the same time, I hope all of the Grissoms know that I have theirs.
“Most importantly,” she continues, “I don’t know where I would be without the support and guidance from Sarah Scott Hall, the director of the Grissom Scholars Program. I appreciate her more than I think she could ever know.”
Ovalle is very active in campus life at Centre, including treasurer of Centre Firsts, a resident assistant and newly appointed resident director for the 2017-2018 academic year, a Centre ambassador-in-training, a member of Diversity Student Union, and a scholar for the Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation (LSAMP) Program.
by Cindy Long
March 14, 2017