The Happiest Four Months of My Life September 13, 2017

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 01/25/2017 to 05/13/2017 with

IFSA-Butler: Havana - Study Abroad at the Universidad de La Habana

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
In addition to gaining an extreme increase in confidence and my abilities, I learned how to truly live in the moment and that productivity can be achieved through different mindsets and measured in different ways. I also learned that the American educational system can be extremely one-sided in teaching its history (especially of imperialism) and about the true privilege that accompanies a U.S. citizenship. Finally, I learned a lot about the ways in which economy and politics are intertwined, and about the advantages, disadvantages, and goals of different systems.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

As a student directly enrolled at La Universidad de La Habana, where Fidel Castro himself attended, I found my courses to be challenging and rigorous for three reasons: 1) Cuban Spanish is particularly difficult to understand, given their strong accent, 2) Cuban classes can be particularly long -- 4 hours -- which requires a much longer attention span than I am used to in the U.S., and 3) Limited wifi access, combined with unorganized syllabi that do not order or specify pages or dates and require the attainment of a flash drive, where hundreds to thousands of pages of readings are stored, can make it difficult to access necessary resources. Professors, however, make themselves very available for 1-1 discussions before or after class and are particularly attentive and flexible with non-Cuban students. The core program class (made up of foreigners only) provided interesting field trips and projects but was often mundane on 4-hour lecture days and was taught by professors who could improve their ability to interact with, lead, and guide study abroad students.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

I did not see the on-site coordinators frequently and think they could have done a better job of connecting with their students individually and handling difficult country-specific concerns (choosing classes, illness, stress, etc.).

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I was placed with a wonderfully caring and interactive host family within very close walking distance to the University and transportation. Despite the lack of resources in Cuba, I always had clean drinking water, sufficient space and shelter, and great food. I lived with three other students on my exchange program as well, which was extremely helpful in the beginning, when trying to navigate an entirely new way of life, language, and country, and by the end, had become an incredible support network.

* Food:

simple, but always fresh, appetizing, and cheap

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

Cuban culture will always be one that separates extranjeros from true Cubans, but joining university sports teams, participating in Cuban traditions and holidays, and talking to neighbors in the streets provided me with many friends, resources, and informal learning opportunities.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Upon arrival, I developed a serious sinus infection. The on-site coordinator immediately offered to accompany me to the hospital one night in the first week, which was a lengthy process, but I received great medical care and antibiotics, all included in my program tuition. Hospitals are not as clean and much more outdated than what we are used to in the U.S., but the doctors are extremely knowledgeable and the integration of Western and home-remedy style healthcare treatment is very impressive and effective.

* Safety:

Foreigners are rarely harmed in Cuba -- the most dangerous aspect is the volume and speed of cars on city streets.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes

It is the oldest in Cuba, and the only one that can provide an authentic experience (host family, direct enrollment at the university, access to all parts of the country, not just Havana, etc.) for an affordable price and scholarship opportunities.

Finances

* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

You can buy lunch each day for 50 cents to a dollar. The only real costs are travel, nights out, water, and wifi (which is bad quality and I only utilized for an hour or two at most each week).

Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? Keep a log.

Language

* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

It encouraged each student to speak in Spanish at all times, especially in the presence of Cubans, but ultimately left the decision up to individual students and their comfort levels. I aimed to adhere to Middlebury's Language Pledge and wish some of the students had come in with better Spanish so that group settings with foreigners on my program could have always been conducted in Spanish.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Intermediate
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Advanced
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? make local friends and journal in the native language

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Local Students
  • Americans
  • International Students
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • my host family
  • my opportunities for interaction with Cubans and Cuban culture
  • travelling
* What could be improved?
  • organization re: the choosing and setup of classes
  • the role of resident advisors
  • community service and activity opportunities (had to find all of these on my own)
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? The extreme importance of writing down all of my thoughts, experiences, feelings, and memories; More ways to practice the language in a conversational way ahead of time; Details regarding classes and grades; That putting myself out there from the start, even when extremely uncomfortable, is the hands down best way to grow and learn

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Economia Politicia II

Course Department: Economics
Instructor: Blanca
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments:
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Sociologia de La Salud

Course Department: Sociology
Instructor: Prof. Reina Fleitas
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments:
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Course Name/Rating:

Arte Latinomericano I

Course Department: Art
Instructor:
Instruction Language:
Comments:
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Course Name/Rating:

Estudios Afro-CaribeƱos

Course Department: Art/Interdisciplinary
Instructor:
Instruction Language:
Comments:
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Course Name/Rating:

Cuba: Cultura, Arte, & Sociedad

Course Department: Philosophy/Interdisciplinary
Instructor:
Instruction Language:
Comments:
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