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Reflecting on Cuba

Time January 27th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Just over a month ago, my semester in Cuba ended. As I’m sitting here awaiting a blizzard in Boston, I just wanted to sum up my experience in Cuba.

I was able to complete almost everything on the list I made in the beginning. The two things I unfortunately didn’t get to do were visiting Hemingway’s Cuban home and seeing a bee hummingbird, which one Cuban described to me as an occurrence so rare that you still probably wouldn’t see it even with an expert at the most ideal place and time. Fortunately, however, I was able to see many of Hemingway’s favorite spots and hummingbirds roaming around the neighborhood, which Cubans affectionately call zunzúns like “zoom-zooms.”

Of all the things on my list, I most enjoyed our trips to Viñales and Trinidad. Of the many things that weren’t on my list, I most enjoyed visiting the publishing house Ediciones Vigía in Matanzas and my trip to Santiago and Baracoa. Overall, however, I most enjoyed spending time with the family that ran my house and the other students.

I’m really glad I had the opportunity to visit Cuba and I will update my blog with a few remaining pictures.

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Wednesday, December 17th

Time December 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As my semester in Cuba is finally coming to an end, I’m really glad that I was able to be here after the release of the three remaining members of the Cuban Five, Alan Gross, and an unnamed intelligence official for the United States on Wednesday. This move by both the U.S. and Cuban governments could lead to restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries in the near future, and the University of Havana students were especially happy with the decision because the greatest political cause on campus had been calling for the release of the Cuban Five. We will have to see how the next few months play out between the two countries, but what happened Wednesday could be a crucial step in ending the more than five-decades-old trade embargo.

I’ve been doing everything I can to complete the remaining things on the list I made at the beginning of the semester this past week, and I will update my blog with what I was able to complete during my layover in Miami tomorrow.

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Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa

Time December 11th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last week after I finished up four of my five classes, I was able to travel to the other side of Cuba to visit Santiago de Cuba and Baracoa. After a very long 500-mile bus ride that lasted all night, I arrived in Santiago and was able to see Diego Velazquez’s house, the Moncada Barracks, Cementerio Santa Efigenia, Cayo Granma, Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, and a baseball game between Santiago’s Avispas (Wasps) and Matanzas’s Cocodrilos (Crocodiles). My favorite parts of Santiago were the Castillo de San Pedro de la Roca, an impressive castle completed in 1700 at the mouth of the bay of Santiago, and Cayo Granma, a small fishing village located on an island inside the bay.

After spending two days in Santiago, I left for Baracoa, a small coastal town just before the easternmost point of the country. Founded in 1511, Baracoa is the oldest town in Cuba and a possible place that Christopher Columbus visited on his first voyage. I really liked Baracoa because it was a laid-back town and I was able to visit a plantation just outside of the town where they grow and process the famous Baracoan cacao and coffee.

In addition to my trip to the other side of the island, I was also able to eat at Coppelia, a famous ice cream parlor in Havana. The design of Coppelia is so unique that it would be too difficult for me to describe and the ice cream is so cheap ($0.20 for a four-scoop sundae) that one of the people next to me kept ordering sundaes until she had filled a medium-sized bucket with ice cream to take home.

I only have 10 days left in Havana, so I will be trying to knock out as many things on my list as possible. I’ve posted a couple pictures of Santiago below and will post another update about the little time left I have in Cuba by the weekend.

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Lately

Time December 1st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s been a while since I last posted since I’ve very busy in Havana lately. Some of the highlights over the past weeks include attending the International Ballet Festival, going to the National Fine Arts Museum, and visiting Matanzas again. Although I had already been to Matanzas, I decided to go again on a weekday so I could visit Ediciones Vigía, a unique publishing house that makes all of its books by hand. Ediciones Vigía began making books in the 1980s out of recycled supplies and homemade paper because paper and printing supplies were no longer available from the crumbling Soviet Union. Today, the publishing house still makes its books in the same fashion, but the books include both Cuban and international authors and are prized as collectibles since only 200 copies of each book are made.

Some of my classes are already starting to come to an end, as I have to turn most of my final papers and projects in by the end of the week. I posted a picture of the books I bought from Ediciones Vigía, and I will write another post about everything else I’ve been up to soon.

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Columbus Cemetery and Matanzas

Time October 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Since the last time I blogged, I was able to visit both the Columbus Cemetery and the city Matanzas. The Columbus Cemetery is one of the largest in the world, spanning 135 acres and containing 53,360 plots that are almost all white and above-ground. Since so many Cubans want to be buried in the cemetery, there is even a waiting list, and after three years, remains are removed and stored elsewhere to provide more space.

I was also able to spend a day in Matanzas, a city west of Havana on the northern coast. While most people only drive through Matanzas on their way to Varadero, it is an important port for worldwide sugar exports and is called both “Creole Venice” and “Athens of Cuba” because of its many bridges and history as a center of Cuban culture and art. In order to get back to Havana, I took the old, electric Hershey Train, which used to transport workers and sugar to and from Havana and Hershey Chocolate’s sugar refinery. Now, the train makes many stops at tiny farming villages between Matanzas and Havana during the three-and-a-half-hour trip. Although the train is notoriously delayed and unreliable, it was actually on time and was a great way to see the beautiful countryside.

I posted a few pictures of the Columbus Cemetery and my ride on the Hershey Train below, and I am hoping to make another trip outside of Havana with some of my friends this upcoming weekend.

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Cienfuegos and Trinidad

Time October 14th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

This past weekend, we went on our second trip to Cienfuegos and Trinidad, two beautiful cities toward the center of the island on the southern coast. On the first day, we explored Cienfuegos’s historic center, walked along the bay of Cienfuegos, and saw the botanical gardens outside of the city before traveling to Trinidad to spend the night. On the second day, we visited many of the important sites of 500 year-old Trinidad, including the Church of San Francisco, Brunet Palace, and Plaza Mayor before heading back to Havana.

After we got back to Havana Saturday evening, a couple American students and I were able to see famous cellists Carlos Prieto and Yo-Yo Ma and Brasil Guitar Duo at the Martí Theater in the Capital district of Havana. Although tickets were sold out, once the crowd standing outside became smaller and started chanting to let them in, the theater let us in to see the second half, which included a cello duet and a guitar and cello quartet.

I posted a few pictures from the weekend below, and I am hoping to at least visit the Coppelia and the Columbus Cemetery by the end of the week.

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Viñales and classes

Time September 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

During the last weekend of August, we went to Viñales, a town west of Havana in the countryside. On the first day, we walked through one of the area’s largest caves and rode a boat through its underground lake. Then, we visited a tobacco “finca,” where we were able to see the fascinating process of how a family has been growing tobacco and turning it into cigars for generations. On the second day, we further explored the valley and its “mogotes,” large limestone mounds that jut out from the valley’s floor, on horseback before heading back to Havana.

The Monday after our weekend in Viñales, our classes started at the University of Havana. The classes have been very similar to my classes in the U.S., and I am taking our program’s core course Cuba: Cultura, Arte y Sociedad, a public health tutorial with a Cuban professor and two American students, and three classes at UH – Migration Cuba-USA, History of Latin American and the Caribbean I, and Ethics. I am starting to get used to the fact that all my classes are taught in Spanish, and so far I have had a great experience at UH.

In a few days, I will receive my Cuban residency card for the next three months, which will allow me to use Cuba’s non-tourist currency and visit many of the country’s cultural attractions, like the National Fine Arts Museum on my list, for less than $1. Since I also crossed out traveling through Viñales and visiting a tobacco Finca off my list, I would like to add having ice cream at the Coppelia, an iconic ice cream shop that was made famous by the Cuban movie Fresa y chocolate or Strawberry and Chocolate, and visiting the Museum of Colonial Art.

Below are some pictures from my first few weeks:

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My first few days in Cuba

Time August 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The past few days have been very busy since we arrived in Cuba Saturday morning. We had to check-in at Miami International at 3:30 in the morning after only a couple hours of sleep, but our travel day was seamless and the flight was only 40 minutes long. For the rest of the day, we settled into our home where we will be spending the next four months in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana and met our host family.

Thus far, we have been spending a lot of time getting to know Havana and the surrounding area. In Havana, we have already visited La Habana Vieja (the old district of the city), the Museum of the Revolution, the Malecón, and the Plaza of the Revolution. Outside of Havana, we have visited Regla (a town on the east coast of the Bay of Havana), the Castillo del Morro, and Playa Santa María. My favorite part was walking through the historic streets and plazas of La Habana Vieja, some of which date back to the 16th century.

Tomorrow is the first day of the program’s core course Cuba: Cultura, Arte y Sociedad and Monday we will register for classes at the University of Havana. In addition to the core course, I am thinking about taking Cuban Film since the Revolution, Migration Cuba-USA, and Philosophy and Society. I am really interested to see how different the structure and focus of UH’s classes are from the classes I’ve taken at Boston College.

I am excited that next weekend we are taking a trip Viñales to visit the valley, its caves, and a tobacco factory. Since I’ve already crossed out visiting the Museum of the Revolution and walking through the Castillo del Morro on my list, I would like to add visiting Cuba’s Cayos (a group of islands off of the northern coast of central Cuba) and seeing a production by Cuba’s National Theater. After a good first few days, I can’t wait to see what else Cuba has to offer.

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Leaving for Cuba

Time August 21st, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

After a long summer, I will finally be leaving for Cuba on Saturday. When people find out that I will be studying abroad in Cuba, they ask me why, out of all the countries I could have chosen to study abroad in, did I choose there? My answer to them is simple: I think Cuba is one of the most fascinating countries in the world, and fortunately, study abroad is one of the few ways that I am able to experience the country as an American.

Located just 90 miles from my home state of Florida, Cuba has been the only country run by a communist government in the Western Hemisphere and has operated without diplomatic or economic relations with the U.S. for more than 50 years. While the average Cuban lives off only $240 a year, the country has great education programs, world-class arts, and a mean life expectancy of almost 80 years. And although Cuba is often described as “frozen in time,” many aspects of the country have been changing. For example, Cuba has become a popular tourist destination, recently allowed farmers to sell some of their surplus that was previously collected by the state, and made it easier for citizens to travel abroad.

I am excited to have this opportunity to live and study in Cuba. I posted a list below that I hope to add more to and complete over the next four months because who knows the next time I will be able to return to Cuba.

  • Visit the Museum of the Revolution and the National Fine Arts Museum
  • Walk the colonial streets of the city Trinidad
  • Attend the Festival of New Latin American Cinema
  • Visit a rum distillery
  • See Hemingway’s Cuban home
  • Take local dance classes
  • Go to baseball games
  • See live jazz in Havana’s clubs
  • Visit a tobacco plantation and cigar factory
  • Travel through the Valle de Viñales
  • See a bee hummingbird, the world’s smallest hummingbird that is only found in Cuba
  • Visit the monumental Columbus Cemetery
  • Walk through the Castillo de Moro outside of Havana
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