First Impressions of Cuba – Lauren Nolan

From the moment we stepped off the plane in Havana up until now our first week has been an adventure and learning experience.  As we were first driving through Havana there were no billboards advertising consumer products there were only a few billboards praising José Martí or Che Guerva among others.  Of course, one of the first things we saw and all marveled at were the old classic and colorful American cars.  It is obviously very different from living in the United States but in many ways those differences are not unwelcome.  For instance, not having our cell phones or a constant connection to the internet can be a little difficult to adjust to but it made me realize how much time I spent on my phone or Computer.  Not having constant access to internet or our cell phones allows us to get out and see the city as well as practice our Spanish.

This is my second semester in college and it is markedly different from my first semester at the University of Alabama.  We’re learning in a different language and navigating through an entire city as opposed to one college campus.  We spent our first few days figuring out good places to buy food, how to juggle the two currencies, and the different modes of transportation.  There are no dining halls where we can eat our meals so I’ve been trying to figure how to make some good Cuban food.  It’s all very exciting; we’re constantly learning about so many things all at once.  Every day brings new words that we quickly scribble down to look and up and remember for the future.

One of the best things we’ve done thus far is simply walk around the neighborhood meeting and talking to people.  We stop at some of the small stores run out of people’s homes to buy some food and talk to the people who live there.  A few people have begun to recognize us and they stop to ask us about our friends and how our classes are going.  Fresh produce isn’t sold at a grocery store so you have to find a market to buy fruits and vegetables.  It’s actually pretty fun to walk to the local produce market and pick out exactly what you want from each vendor.  It’s a fantastic place to practice Spanish and learn the words for all the fruits and vegetables, some of which are familiar and easily found in the United States and others which are completely foreign to us.  The local bakery is also a good place to visit; you never know exactly what you will find but so far everything I’ve tried has tasted very good.

Our first few classes have gone very well and the topics are very applicable to the entire study abroad experience here in Cuba.  I felt like our very first Cuban culture class addressed many of the things we’d seen and wondered about in our first few days.  Our class over the history of United States and Cuban relations is very interesting because we’ve all learned about U.S. history but few of us know much about the long and detailed history between our two countries.  The University of Havana campus is very beautiful and I’m very much looking forward to begin our class with Cuban students there.  So far our semester in Havana is off to a promising start!