Director’s Report – Dr. Michael Schnepf
The second year of the University of Alabama´s Semester program in Cuba began on Jan. 30 when nine students and one director left Tuscaloosa headed for Havana, Cuba. Now, after almost seven weeks on the island, all aspects of the program are progressing extremely well.
The nine students have four academic classes: two (conversation and Habana culture) at the University of Habana and two others (US/Cuba Relations and the speaker-based round table) at the nearby Núñez Foundation. The students travel to the downtown campus on the local ´guagua´(bus) that drops them approximately 7 blocks from the campus. The cost for this trip is less than one quarter.
The entire group is housed in the Montehabana, called an apart-hotel because it has qualities of both hotel and apartment. Open-aired and located in the Miramar district, the Montehabana offers a tranquil setting somewhat apart from the hustle and bustle of Habana. Students have access to a variety of small markets and shops as well as a farmers market not far down the road where they can purchase tomatoes, pineapples, lettuce, frijoles, green peppers, and much more.
When not in class the group is often on the road. In the first month alone they have travelled outside of Habana to Viñales, Trinidad, Soroa, the Hemingway House, Cojímar, and the Bay of Pigs. Within the limits of city they have already visited Habana Vieja, the Martí Tower, the Partagás Tobacco Factory, an Industriales baseball game, the Cannon Shot Ceremony, and the International Book Fair (Russia is this year´s invited country). Other projected excursions include Santa Clara and the Che Guevara Museum, The Bay of Pigs, and the two Bellas Artes Museums in Habana. Towards the end of March, the group will make a three-day trip to the extreme western side of the island, to Santiago de Cuba (quite near the Guantánamo Prison).
The day-long trip to the Bay of Pigs (Playa Girón)on March 16 was especially educational since our Cuban professor, Raúl Rodríguez, accompanied us to the two museums. He offered views of what transpired during this invasion that differed significantly from what is taught in US schools and universities. The students had a multitude of questions for Raúl at the end of the session.
The students are also mixing in quite well with their Cuban counterparts. Basketball games pitting Cubans against the Americans are common and the entire group has met and visited with the large Cuban family of Elaina Tirador. Dance lessons—salsa and more—are a common sight.
Based on several factors, the program is going quite well: students are speaking more and more Spanish; their linguistic comprehension level is improving daily; they are being exposed to new and different views of the long-standing battle between the USA and Cuba; and they are travelling to parts of Cuba that not many Americans have the opportunity to see.