Still Processing: University Life in Cuba

After enduring what might as well have been my one-thousandth lecture on Cuban history and culture, I can attest that college here is far different from Amherst College. I am not expected to read and analyze as much, but more so listen and digest. My small liberal arts college centers dialogue and critical thinking, but college here is book driven and direct, however, professors are transparent about wanting students to ask questions. As a foreigner, lectures provide comfort since it only requires listening, but I do wish for something more rigorous at times. In all, I am processing this time as an opportunity to learn through digestion, self-reflection and summary rather than my current model which focuses on constantly responding with insight and critique. Am I voiceless at this point or am I just seeing things for what they are and accepting it? This in-between feeling is interesting and I am still reflecting on what education looks like here. As I watch young Cuban children walk to their primary schools with their burgundy shorts and red ties, I understand that school and the acquisition of knowledge have been emphasized in an honest way; “leer es crecer” which means to read is to grow. Hence, the focus on basic understanding and self-diligence, which includes reading, listening, and independent research, seem to be important here. Never have I found myself not wanting to know about something, and then it is up to me to look deeper into the lecture topic, whether or not I was assigned a reading or not.

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My favorite class definitely has to be Advance Spanish, which is inside FEHNI (Varona), the faculty for non-Spanish speakers. This class encourages us to speak conversational Spanish openly and without much restraint. Our professor, Lilian, pushes us to contribute and attack speaking head-on. although at times class can be intense, we just wrapped up our presentations about the famous Cuban legend, La Milagrosa, which concluded with evaluations and grammar corrections. Lilian means well when she corrects and reinforces grammar rules, no matter how picky she may be about our phrasings and mistakes. This style differs from U.S. Spanish classes because the focus of the class is not a predetermined structured lesson plan, but it is more free-form; tackling the problems in the room, which gives way to fruitful teaching moments and meaningful-dialogue. Thus far I am very excited for this class and my classmates definitely contribute to the class’ awesomeness.

Estudios Afrocaribeños (Afrocaribbean Studies) comes in second place for my favorite classes. This class is at the Facultad de Arte y Letras and is part of the Art major at the University of Havana. It focuses on Afro-Caribbean influences on art throughout the Caribbean, and more specifically, Afro-Cuban peoples impact on the island’s larger culture. The existence of African cultures in Cuba has immensely impacted art and has been appropriated by artists like Picasso.

This class is integrated with Cuban students, which is great, but also breeds an interesting classroom environment with an obvious divide in the room between international and Cuban students. Nonetheless the university encourages us to interact with each other; I think we are all just waiting for someone to take the first leap. Problem is, I do not know if I am in a leaping-mood after a 3-hour seminar…

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Cuban Literature class has been interesting thus far, I really enjoy the overview of reading themes…More specifically, our readings which fall under neoclassic and the romanticism of the 19th Century …other than that…not much to say, so I won’t say anything else about it…Luckily I did get assigned to analyze a poem! It was splendid….

The university experience differs for everyone. I have made friends with bio-chemistry students who complain about how rigorously they must study and also how brilliant some of their classmates are. Although my work may not be as intense as I am used to, I know I am doing the right thing by continuing to enrich myself. Whether it is going to a museum or a quick google, I am processing my own agency here about what I wish to learn more about and dig deeper into. Education can never be linear and yeah, I am still processing what learning even looks like when I only have a year of college left…

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