I am very proud of the (6) students in the 2012 edition of The University of Alabama semester program in Cuba. We have been here for a month now and the students have shown a great deal of intellectual curiosity, linguistic growth, and impressive behavior. We have been involved in a myriad of activities: from the weeklong conference with Cubans and UA professors, to moving award ceremonies and impressive guest lectures.
We have traveled extensively: Cojímar (where Hemingway fished and drank), the Hemingway Museum, Viñales (and the famous ¨mogotes¨), the ¨Cave of the Indians, ¨ Soroa (with its cascade, mirador, and famous orchid farm), the maqueta (where we first learned about the overall structure of La Habana), and the Habana Club rum museum (where we learned about the history of rum in Cuba especially in the 19th-century).
The students have also finalized the details for their semester projects (see our web page) which will be formally presented at the conclusion of the semester (power point, lecture, explanation). The topics this year are quite challenging and range from a study of diplomacy to tourism and the new interest in self-employment.
In Dr. Schnepf´s roundtable class we visited with the Catholic priest (José Félix) at Santa Rita in order to learn more about the history and the contemporary role of the church in a socialist country. Next, the class enjoyed the visit of a young anthropologist from the University of La Habana, Vanesa Vázquez, who spoke about her research on the role of women in Cuban society. Next in the roundtable, is a visit with Otto Randín, the man who joined the struggle against Batista in the 1950s and who is now in charge of all monuments in La Habana.
The students are progressing nicely in their other classes. In Cuban culture they are currently focusing on the historical trajectory of music and eventually will move on to dance, literature, and food. In their class dealing with relations between the US and Cuba, Rosa and Raúl (the two Cuban professors) are leading the students through the 19th century and will soon begin their explanations of more contemporary issues such as the Bay of Pigs (which we will visit) and the missile crisis.
This year the Alabama students are also taking a regular class at the University of La Habana along with Cuban students. The subject is US History, so the students will get the chance to see their own country´s history explained from a uniquely Cuban point of view. This curiosity along with the linguistic challenge will make Monday afternoons quite interesting for the (6) students from UA.
The Alabama students here in Cuba—Emily, Kate, Amanda, Molly, Corey, and Zach—all face difficult challenges: linguistic, cultural, nutritional, and social. But given what I have observed during this first month of intense activity, this impressive group of students and travelers is more than up to the task.