Category: Student Blogs

“Getting Fit in Cuba”

For my semester project on Cuba, I want to learn about the different ways the Cuban population exercises, and what sort of a diet they have when they are working out. On the main streets near La Montehabana, the hotel we are living in, there are always people running, rollerblading, and stretching at all hours of the day and night. In order to investigate the different exercise methods people use here, I plan on looking into local gyms and the classes they offer, as well as visiting several tracks and stadiums in Havana that are used by the general public to stay in shape and talking to people on the main streets.

I also want to learn what people here think are the most effective ways of working out, aerobic or anaerobic training, and how common it is or is not to lift weights as well as to run. In addition, I want to learn about the regular diet of the Cuban people who exercise, and see how all of these aspects of their physical make up compare to what is done in the United States, and consider the differences in the common diet of both countries. There has been concern recently in Cuba and the United States on the rise of obesity in both nations, and I would like to see what is being done in both countries to stop this trend.

“The Elephant in the Room: Diplomacy in Cuba”

For Americans and Cubans alike, political relations between the United States and Cuba are a curious and often tense issue. As we delve into the history of U.S.-Cuba relations this semester, we can only wonder how the currently tense relationship between the two has affected diplomacy overall in Cuba. With that in mind, Cory and I plan to research diplomatic relations in Cuba with various countries. In order to provide a baseline for comparison, we will begin with the U.S. by researching the diplomatic capabilities and limitations of a country with a less-than-ideal relationship with Cuba. We will then study Cuba’s relationships with other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Spain, Venezuela, and France, focusing specifically on how they conduct diplomacy in Cuba. Our driving questions are: how do these nations relate with Cuba differently than with other countries, if at all? Do their respective relationships with the U.S. have an effect on how they operate diplomatically here, and how so?

In our research process, we have already had the opportunity to interview a Deputy Public Affairs Officer from the United States Interests Section here in La Habana, which gave us a better understanding of how the Interests Section functions here and how it differs from an actual embassy. We plan to try to set up appointments with functionaries of other embassies here to find out more about their countries’ diplomatic relationships with Cuba and their day to day operations in Havana. I cannot wait to uncover more on this topic so relevant to Cuban politics.

Tourism & Its Effect on the Cuban People

I have always loved to travel. Everywhere I travel, I always wonder how the locals really feel about tourists, and what it would be like to live in an area people go out of their way to visit. For my semester project, I want to find out all about the tourism industry in Havana and how it affects Cubans who live in the city. I plan on researching the amount of revenue brought in by tourists, a normal day for someone who works in the tourism industry here in Havana, and how tourists affect the daily lives of Cubans. I want to speak to Cubans who deal with tourists on a day to day basis, such as hotel maids, taxi drivers, and other hotel staff as well as normal citizens who just see tourists passing by. I also want to know their opinions about other countries based on the tourists they have met from that country, and how their perceptions about an entire country are formed by just meeting a handful of natives for a few days. I’m really excited to start researching my topic, and to start speaking to Cubans and find out their opinions!

The Elephant in the Room: Diplomacy in Cuba

Diplomacy has always fascinated me, specifically its inner-workings. I had no hesitation in gravitating towards it when confronted with my semester project here in Cuba. Cuba provides a truly unique and thought-provoking environment in which to explore the world of diplomacy. I will, in conjunction with my compañera Kate, visit various embassies, consulates and interest sections throughout out the city of La Habana seeking to answer the question, “How do countries conduct their diplomacy here? And how do these countries’ relationships with the United States, be what they may, affect their diplomatic conduct here?” We will answer these questions via interviews with diplomatic workers, funcionarios diplomáticos, of a number of different embassies throughout the city of Havana.

We will also delve into the functions of the U.S. Interests Section here in La Habana, seeking to learn more of its functions and limitations. How does it differ from a true American Embassy anywhere else in the world? How is America working around these limitations? In all, we hope to gain a better knowledge off the often not-so-seen inner-workings of diplomacy in Cuba and how, perhaps, it will look in the future.

First Impressions – Molly Duncan

When I first arrived in Cuba I was pleased to be met by sun shine and warm weather. I was nervous because I do not have as much practice speaking Spanish as all the other students on the trip. However, my classmates have been very helpful and have been teaching me a lot. I have also noticed that the Cubans I have met are very willing to talk to us and are patient when I am trying to find the right words to say. I was surprised to see what kind of foods the Cubans eat, before I came here I thought they only things they ate were chicken and rice and pork. Well, I was very wrong; we have actually eaten quite a bit of pizza and ice cream. We have only been here for three days but it already feels like we have done a week’s worth of activities. We have explored different places in Havana everyday and have spent time in various places. We visited La Universidad de Havana which is very beautiful. It reminded me of an ancient city because the buildings were very old; the columns gave it a Greco Roman feel with a Caribbean twist. I also got a chance to visit where I will be studying, it is an art institution called ISA. The school is so beautiful and green, back in the 1950s it was a very famous golf course where the mafia and other famous people used to gather. Once Castro took over he put an end to the golf course and turned it into a school. My favorite place in Havana so far is Havana Vieja, which means old Havana. There were many shops and vendors and people of all kinds it gave me a good sense of how Havana grew into such a large city. There were books and magazines being sold from the 1950s and even before. I hope to spend a lot of time down there taking pictures. Our hotel seems to be a little far from where all the action is but it is not bad at all because it is only and ten to twenty minute ride in a taxi or in la guagua (a bus). I am so lucky to have been able to come on this trip because it is such a beautiful country and I am very excited to be able to document it with my camera.

First Impressions – Zack Wepfer

I knew Cuba was close but I didn’t realize how close until our flight from Miami to Havana took about 40 minutes. Over the past few days we have already gotten to tour much of Havana and in my opinion, the city is extremely beautiful. Even though buildings are in desperate need of repair, it is still easy to see their original appearance and many of these buildings, houses, churches, etc. are absolutely amazing. One of the differences between the US and Cuba is with the advertising. There is no advertising for businesses on billboards in Cuba; the advertising that is seen is political. One such sign spoke about how Cuba is a country that lives in the past and the present and that is easy to understand after simply flying into the country. However what has struck me the most so far about this country has been the people. In the states, many people naturally segregate themselves: on the bus, in the cafeteria, in Church, etc. So far in Cuba, there is no or very little segregation. Everyone talks to everyone and everyone helps out. According to some, public transportation in comparison to other places is a nightmare. Personally, I think it’s brilliant. Busses don’t have limitations to the number of people that can get on, if they fit, they fit (it may not be particularly safe, but they make it work and I have yet to witness any sort of vehicle accident). Taxis work pretty similarly to other places, but there are special taxis called “maquinas”, that are all really old cars, that run in certain routes all day. Also, many men and women will stand by the street and get a ride, like a hitch hiker. This appears to be very common and safe. It seems that everyone kind of accepts that they are all in the same boat, and they have to make do with what they can, and they are very quick to help a neighbor. Cubans love to talk, and seem to be some of the friendliest people in the world. I’m very excited to be here for a study abroad!

First Impressions – Kate McKenney

The Cuban flag flying over the airport in Havana was at first an odd sight. Now I don’t think twice about seeing “¡Viva la revolución!,” Fidel’s face, and José Marti quotes plastered everywhere I go. After only a few days here in Havana, I feel like I’ve been here for weeks and I don’t want to leave. There is a clear sense that life is not easy here but it is overshadowed by a uniting sense of pride in being Cuban. Something about walking through the busy streets filled with overcrowded buses and classic cars to the beat of salsa or reggaeton is in its own way enchanting. I am already proud of our adjustments we have made to living in a third world country, and I am sure that by the end of this semester Havana will have tested our language skills and street smarts to the fullest extent

First Impressions – Emily Swartz

My first few days in Cuba have been amazing! I love Havana and I can’t wait to see the rest of the country. Everyone I’ve spoken to has been very patient and willing to help. It’s so cool seeing and riding in all of the old cars. All of the buildings here are beautiful, even the ones that are dilapidated and falling apart. The University has a great campus, and it is very easy to get to on the bus. The buses are always an adventure since there’s no limit to the amount of people who can ride it. They’re always jam packed, and I think last time there was over 70 people! I have yet to meet a rude person here, everyone has been very willing to help me with my Spanish and I can already tell that I’m improving a lot. Havana is so full of life, and I can’t wait to explore more of it. The people here are always laughing and joking, even though they don’t have much. My goals for this trip are to improve my Spanish enough so that I feel comfortable speaking in any situation, make friends with at least five Cubans, and get an A in all of my classes. I’m ready to start my classes and get our routine down, it’s been strange having so much downtime. Everything here is very easygoing and moves a little slower than the states, so it’s been very relaxing. I’m not used to not having my cell phone around or constant internet, but I’m getting used to it and it’s nice to not have any distractions. I can’t wait to see what the rest of my trip has in store for me!

First Impressions – Cory Weaver

I tried hard to imagine how Cuba would be before arriving here. After four days here in la Habana, I can honestly say it’s more than I could have ever imagined. The city’s most sticking feature is undoubtedly its people. Their personalities parallel the beauty of the city in that they’re interesting, open, warm and colorful. What’s more, la Habana offers much as it’s truly a polar opposite to any city I’ve visited before and, thus, has already opened my mind to things that I’d never before conceived. Everyday has been an adventure, in every sense of the word. La Habana has yet to cease to amaze me with its diversity and oddly beautiful aesthetics. I’m certain that this country has much more to offer and I’m equally certain that this experience will be life changing.

First Impressions – Amanda Wynn

My first impression of Cuba was that it is a country unlike any other. Ever since landing, my days have been one adventure after another. Havana is a beautiful, busy city with a culture that is very warm and welcoming. People here are always willing to stop and help if you have a question, and are patient when you are trying to learn and practice the language. La Universidad de Havana has a very different campus from UA, but it is incredible nonetheless. We’ve already seen a lot of the area surrounding us, and visited Old Havana. This first weekend, we’re going to see Hemingway’s house, as well as the village he used to fish in, and the rest of our trips outside of the city promise to give us an even better glimpse into Cuba, the country that to me has for so long been a mystery.

I’m very excited for the next 3 months, and I plan to make the most of this trip. I love meeting the people, and the opportunity to study in a Cuban classroom will be one of the aspects of this program I value the most. I cannot wait to make friends with people my own age and make this city my home. From riding the máquinas (taxis) to hopping onto a gua-gua (bus) for just a few cents, the experiences I have here will never leave me.