My Last Month at Columbia

Towards the end of my time at Columbia, a lot of my boss’ and my energy was put into a paper that she was working on for an academic journal that is based in Cuba. It was focused on International Relations and Cuban Studies in the United States. In order to best depict the essence of the work, the abstract is as follows: “This essay examines the development of the field of International Relations and the major analytical frameworks and paradigms employed, together with their influence in Latin America including Cuba.   The paradigms most commonly employed are realism, liberalism, constructivism, Marxism, feminism, The English School, and non-paradigmatic constructs.  The most influential universities and scholars in the US and Latin America are noted, as are major debates, including the role of International Relations in analyzing foreign policy related to Cuba.”


My last couple of weeks at Columbia were absolutely bitter sweet. I worked a lot of extra hours at my boss’ home, sorting through her personal library. The first photo below was taken one evening at my “desk”, (her dining room table), where I spent a lot of my time.

The second image is a screenshot of a page of data that I put together that was ultimately put in the final publication that was mentioned above. I was so happy and excited to see my name at the bottom in the fine print!


I will miss my boss terribly and am forever grateful for this experience and for the wealth of knowledge she has given me. Thanks to Hiatt and the WOW/EL fellowship, this experience has truly solidified my desire to pursue a career in academia and specifically, a PhD in Latin American History or Politics with a focus in Cuba. Although I have done several internships in different cities and across different fields in the past, this summer has most definitely been the most instrumental to my personal and professional growth. It was incredible to work solely on projects that I am passionate about and can see myself pursuing in the future.  I would recommend applying for this fellowship to anyone and everyone who has a passion! Many thanks to Hiatt!

Midway through my time at Columbia

The view of campus on my way to the office.

Things are going really well at the Cuba Program. Lately, we’ve been having a lot of people visiting from Cuba. We have a meeting a few days ago with the President/Director of the Fundación Antonio Nunez Jimenez which focuses largely on sustainable development and environmental issues in Cuba. I was able to meet her and sit in on the meeting. FANJ had worked with several European funders that also donated to our office (as well as with the Environmental Defense Fund, Ocean Doctor, and others from the US). They are in the process of building the first ever solar paneled “green” building in Cuba and wanted to see if Columbia could collaborate in any way. More information on the Fundación Antonio Nunez Jimenez can be found here:

I have also been gathering data for a book my boss/mentor is helping to write. The book is focused on academia and the direction the modern discipline of international relations (not specifically in relation to Cuba) is taking. It seems as though the field of international relations isn’t as “international” as one may think- the US hegemony is growing more and more evident. Looking at the graph below, one can note how the majority of the respondents to the question of who has the greatest influence on the discipline cite US-based scholars. In her upcoming book, my mentor is calling for a diversification of influences in the scholarship so that students can learn and grow from a variety of theories/countries rather than just one.

Graph made available by:

Maliniak, Daniel, Powers, Ryan, Peterson, Susan, Tierney, Michael J. January 08, 2018. “Is  International Relations a Global Discipline?            Hegemony, Insularity, and Diversity in the   Field.” Security studies, (accessed August 02, 2018).


Also, some advice for students who have a passion but don’t know what to do with it:

I walked into this internship knowing only one thing: I loved Cuba and cared dearly for its financial/political progress. If you know that you’re passionate about something but don’t know how to make that into an internship, the university research setting is a great place to start. There are so many programs (at Columbia and elsewhere) that are similar to the Cuba program in the sense that they focus on one thing specifically. I was able to find my internship simply by Googling “research on Cuba NYC”; once you have a passion and know where you would want to pursue it, finding like-minded people is easier than you think!

And some tips for future interns who may be a bit shy (like myself):

Don’t be afraid to ask questions! Taking a genuine interest in your boss/mentors’ career should be part of your experience. Chances are, if they chose you for the position, they’ll want to share their knowledge and experiences with you. By asking, you’ll not only learn more about the industry but also more about what you may want from your own time there.

If you have any questions about the Cuba program or Columbia or NYC in general, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Learning about Cuba at Columbia

To provide a quick background of the Cuba Program at Columbia University in New York, the program is aimed at increasing scholarly exchanges between Cuban and U.S. based scholars and other experts in other countries on topics of mutual interest through a variety of mechanisms, such as publications, public lectures, and academic visits. Columbia academics also visit Cuba to engage in comparative analysis of topics of mutual interest. The research undertaken by both Cuban and US scholars has resulted in a variety of publications in the US and abroad. Cuban entrepreneurs and scholars have spent extended periods at Columbia on study trips to deepen their knowledge of strategies to meet the challenges of the non-state sector on the island. The Program has also actively cooperated with the media in promoting greater understanding of US-Cuban relations.

Today marks the end of my first two weeks on the job. The amount of resources available here at Columbia is absolutely incredible. The Institute of Latin American Studies here at Columbia has its own library and reading room along with a full-time librarian who is an expert on all publications, databases, etc. pertaining to the region. I met with him this week and he showed me how to navigate through the different databases. I was introduced to a whole world of knowledge that I had only scraped the surface of before coming here. In the photo below, you can see my official ID  (figure 1) which gets me into all different buildings on campus (including the libraries and archives) and thus, allows me to checkout different books/documents needed for our research.

I am already learning a lot about Cuban history, culture and politics but I feel like I am also learning a lot about how academic/research institutions function and are successful. My boss/mentor/professor is so well versed, wise and knowledgeable. She has gone into conflict zones in Latin America to conduct research and serves on several Human Rights councils. Not only has she traveled to Cuba 63 times for research purposes alone but she is also considered one of the world’s leading scholars on religion and society in Cuba. It is truly an honor to work alongside her. I have a feeling that I am going to learn a lot from her. She was even kind enough to invite me to her home this past weekend to borrow a few books from her personal library. I was so happy! Below you can find the book she and her colleagues published last year (photo 2) and the one for this year (photo 3).







My mentor will be heading to Miami in a few days for a conference at the US Southern Command (the part of the military that deals with the Latin American) to do several presentations on human rights challenges facing the armed forces in the region. Most military leaders of the Latin American countries will be in attendance! We’ve been working tirelessly for the past few days on gathering data for that. It can be tough at times because you can look through countless books and articles and still not find what you’re trying to convey. That being said, nothing tops the feeling of accomplishment when you finally find the perfect data! Below you can find one of the graphs (figure 4) we’ll be using (source: Isacson, Adam. and Kinosian, Sarah. U.S. Military Assistance and Latin America – WOLA. [online] 27 April 2017) as well as a chart (figure 5) that I put together regarding US involvement and human rights program effectiveness in Latin America.

I am so excited to see what the rest of the summer has in store!


Natalia Gonzalez