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Heading Home

Time May 26th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, my four months in Cuba has finally come to an end, and I couldn’t imagine having any other kind of study abroad experience. After so many excursions with IFSA around the island, and having the opportunity to do some many new things, Cuba was truly amazing. The culture, art, and society are like no other place in the world, and it’s so hard leaving it behind.

As we woke up the morning for a flight back to Miami, nothing seemed real, just a dream. Some of our Cuban friends came to spend our last hour before having to leave, exchanging contact info and memories from the entire semester. But saying goodbye as our van pulled away from our house was one of the hardest things ever. Yes, tears were shed. Though, we’ll return someday. Relations between our two countries are already improving, and it’s going to super interesting to see what is in store for the near future.

Although I’m going to extremely miss a lot of Cuba, I’m also really excited to return home to see family and friends. However, before all that lies 2 flights, layovers, and 12 hours of traveling in total. In the coming week, I hope to get another post out to try and describe being back in the United States, but until then, time to dread thinking about returning to the “cold” of PA.

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Only one more week!

Time May 15th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The time for the end of our program is approaching so fast, and it still doesn’t seem like we’ve been here long enough. With only a week left, the other students of the residence from different programs are leaving one by one. The dinner table that used to have over 30 has dwindled down to less than half of that. So it’s time to get in all the last minute traveling and plans to spend with everyone before we all return home.

While it is really nice to think about going home to see friends and family again, I’m still not all that ready to leave Cuba. There are some things that I won’t mind leaving behind like the air pollution, stray animals, or all the rice and beans. Although, it’s going to be extremely difficult to leave all the great friends that we’ve made here. With the trouble and of communication in this country, contacting each other is going to super tough. Hopefully, we’ll witness the bettering of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, and traveling here will be a much easier thing. After the entire semester of hearing from representatives from both countries, I’m very optimistic for the future and that I will return to Cuba someday.

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Spring Break!

Time April 28th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

With a week long recess, we all decided to all head our separate ways to each see different parts of the island. One of the professors that advises for study abroad students was so helpful that she found me a program route that a friend and I could see a bunch of cities in a short amount of time.

Stop 1: Santa Clara

Even though we didn’t spend much time here, Santa Clara was one of my favorite places. It is the city where you can see the huge monument dedicated to Che Guevara, which includes a really interesting memorial and museum dedicated to him and other that fought with him during the Revolution.

Stop 2: Cienfuegos

This was an incredible city sitting next to this really beautiful bay. We spent the afternoon eating at the Nautica club, and then walking around one of the main squares, La Plaza Martí. Since the city was founded by a Frenchman, the architecture there was unlike any other place that I’ve seen in Cuba.

Stop 3: Trinidad

As one of the oldest cities in Cuba, it is also the one of the best preserved to its original colonial state. The buildings are all super colorful, and the view from the top of the church in the center of the city lets you see absolutely everything.

Stop 4: Topes de Collantes

Our last stop took us up to the park in the mountains that surrounded Trinidad. This part of the trip included a hike through one of the trails that took us through one of the coffee plantations, an unbelievable waterfall, and then finally to a natural pool where we could all swim.

Although I only had a short period of time to spend in each city, this was a great trip to see so much of Cuba. However, as the end of the semester is approaching really quickly, we’re all going to be glued to our computers trying to finish up all of our final papers and exams. It’s crazy to think we have our down to our last couple weeks here, and I am nowhere close to being ready to leave.

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Los Juegos Caribe

Time April 7th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

Over the past couple of weeks has been the annual Juegos Caribe at the university. All the facultades at UH compete against one another in a mix of sports, sort of like the Olympic Games, but with fewer events. In each event, the top 3 individuals or teams would even receive bronze, silver, and gold looking medals. Even better, each participant gets a University of Havana shirt that is unique to your facultad. As study abroad students, we are registered in the facultad de Filosofía, Historia y Sociología, and our Cuban friends were really thankful for our help.

Personally, I competed in mostly running events, getting 2 silver medals in the 5k and the 4x400m relay. In addition, we had a bunch of people from our program and residence compete as well in a bunch of different sports like, soccer, swimming, basketball, and Judo. It was also really cool to see all the people coming from each facultad to come and support everyone in all the events. No matter what sport it was, each one pulled in a crowd to support your team. As I normally run for my university’s club cross country team, competing was something I really missed, and having the all the support of our friends from school made it even better.

As the games came to an end, points were tallied amongst all the events, ranking each facultad. Economía placed first once again, but some of my Cuban friends joke that their classes aren’t very difficult, so they have way more time to train for the games, but with everyone’s hard work, Filosofía, Historia y Sociología placed third. So if you plan on coming during the spring semester, definitely don’t forget your soccer cleats, track spikes, or goggles, because the facultad really appreciates the help of all the foreign students each year!

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Santiago de Cuba

Time March 20th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

 

This past weekend was our IFSA sponsored trip to see some of the other side of the island. After an early flight at 5:30 Friday morning, we landed in Santiago de Cuba. Since this was our one day to spend in the city, we tried to make the most of our time. First, we went shopping through some of the market streets, and then saw a few museums. Then we made our way to the church in the main square of the city, and although it was closed for restoration, we were still allowed in for a couple of minutes to see the amazing architecture.

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Vida en La Habana

Time March 11th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

It’s crazy to think that an entire month has already passed by, there is still so much I want to do. In the short time that we have been here, we’ve tried a lot of the local food places around our residence as well as trying to see as all the museums and cultural events around the city.

Our house provides us with a really nice breakfast and dinner every day, but getting lunch is up to us. El jardín del Edén on calle C between 17 and 19 has the best milkshakes. Our IFSA director took us the day we arrived, and now I’m addicted. I have to go at here at least twice a week to get ropa vieja (pulled pork) with a batido de plátano. Doña Laura, on calle H between 23 and 21 has also been a really popular place to go. Even though it always looks packed, their food is amazing and the food comes out extremely fast for how many people are always there. If you want tacos, El Burrito Habanero on 23 is also really great. It’s also nice that all of these places are priced in Cuban pesos (24 CUP/U.S. dollar), so you get a ton of food for 1 or 2 U.S. dollars.

The other currency used here, the CUC (1 CUC/U.S. dollar), is usually used at more touristy restaurants, museums, shows, and for club entrances. Since a significant amount of the country’s money is made through tourism, many places here have a tourist or resident price. (Tourist paying significantly more) In being a student here, we are able to receive a temporary residency card, allowing us to avoid paying tourist prices for anything around the city. This makes it very easy and inexpensive for us to see everything Havana has to offer. So far I’ve been able to see Rent at the local theater, Swan Lake at the National Ballet, and I still haven’t been to half of the museums yet.

So even though IFSA helps us through planned programs throughout the city and around the island, it is extremely easy to find places to see or eat throughout the city on your own. There are so many things out there beyond the typical guidebooks, you just have to look out for them.

 

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Getting Settled In

Time February 10th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

With getting all unpacked and having a general idea of where everything is that we need in the city, it was time to begin the process of registering for classes. The Sunday before classes began, an advisor from the faculty of philosophy and history as well as arts and letters met with each of us individually to discuss the potential classes we would like to take at the university. In order to test out a couple of different options, we are given a 2 week “shopping” period to see what we would like to take in addition to our core course. As classes started, they required some adjustments; some professors being easier to understand than others, but as the week goes on you catch on very quickly. Also the other Cuban students in the class are more than happy to help you out if you need it.

However, with getting settled in, the original infatuation and euphoria of being in a new place eventually dissipates (Which is a good thing). In becoming more acclimated to your surroundings, you begin to experience all aspects of a different society and culture. For instance, Cuba’s infrastructure is obviously very different. Most of the sidewalks are crumbling or broken, many of the buildings are in disrepair, and the air pollution in the city can be pretty bothersome. Also limited internet access is very frustrating. Sometimes hotels charge you different amounts for internet cards, and even if you’re able to buy one, there is no guarantee the Wi-Fi is even functioning. Contacting home is also very expensive, and often times when trying to by an international phone card, they’ve run out. So you can imagine that it could be a little frustrating to get used to.

Although, with these differences, it really changes your view on the world. As Americans, for the most part, we are always connected to the internet, checking social media/emails, or texting. Even if you study abroad anywhere else, communication back home is still relatively easy, and that’s part of the reason I chose to come to Cuba. It forces you out of the mindset of being constantly connected and reliant on technology. Cubans seem to live more in the moment then we do at home. We’re always panicking about the future, where we’ll be or what we’ll be doing. However, the occasional phone call from my mom or email from a friend (thanks Jess) is always uplifting, they are definitely more appreciated.

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The First Days in Cuba!

Time February 2nd, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

After waking up at 3 a.m. and sitting in the Miami airport for an extra hour, we all finally arrived in Havana. The airport was super small and it took forever for us to get our luggage, but as soon as we passed through immigration to begin our time abroad. Soon we met our resident director, Michelle, to take us to our residence in Vedado.

Getting settled in took no time at all, and even though we were exhausted from the flight, we couldn’t wait to see the city. Words cannot do justice to how incredible the architecture is here. Everything is so colorful, and even the building in disrepair make this one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, especially our apartment. It is truly a city stuck in time. The classic Chevrolets serve as “maquinas,” which are taxis for Cubans that are different from the tourist cab system.

As we returned to our apartment for the day we met some other students of other programs in our residence for dinner, and the food in amazing. Afterward we decided to walk around our neighborhood to check out the surrounding restaurants and clubs. Finally we made our way down to the Malecon before returning home, and the waves from the ocean crashed up over the seawall extremely high in the air. Although the day was long and exhausting, this day will be a memory that I’ll retain for the rest of my life.

 

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Countdown to Cuba

Time January 12th, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Cuba | No Comments by

It’s only a few days now until I begin this next semester in Cuba, and I can hardly contain my excitement. First, I would like to explain a little about myself and how my blog will be in the coming weeks. Personally, I love anything to do with the outdoors. During my summers I work at a camp for at risk youth, so most of my time is spent hiking, caving, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. However, I also love living in the city and attending Pitt. I think that it’s really great to experience two completely different living environments throughout the year. I am a member of our club cross country team to keep up my outdoor activity through the school year.

As someone who majors in political science and focuses in Latin American studies, I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to study abroad in Havana. I’m most excited to experience their culture first hand while improving on my Spanish skills. As this semester progresses, I want to provide a description of what it’s like to study there, especially being an IFSA-Butler student.

Too often while I was filling out my application, I was asked why I ever considered going to Cuba, and through this blog, I want to make it clear that I wouldn’t want to study anywhere else. Especially as U.S-Cuban relations are beginning to improve, I could not have asked for a better opportunity to travel there. Hopefully through my upcoming posts and photos, I can convince anyone that the University of Havana is one of the greatest places in the world to study abroad.

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