So the blog post I promised to write at the airport didn’t happen. It was a long day of travel and I just wasn’t feeling like writing, nor did I have much new information to share. I left home around 3am to catch my 6am flight from Chicago to Toronto and spent most of the day at the Toronto airport catching up on last minute work before going off the grid. The IFSA-Butler students flew out of Toronto because commercial flights from the U.S. to Cuba weren’t available a little over a week ago when we traveled. We heard the next day that direct flights had been established from a few U.S. cities to Havana, which was exciting to hear.
Since arriving in Cuba I’ve done and saw a lot. On our second day, our resident director Michelle took us on a bus tour of the city. We boarded a double decker bus and spent about three hours seeing the city. It was a really nice way to acquaint us with our surroundings, since we left the airport in the early hours of the morning and weren’t able to see much during the drive since there are few street lights here and the illumination from businesses and advertisement is noticeably absent compared to in U.S. cities. During the bus ride, we passed all of the recognizable sites—the Plaza of the Revolution, Old Havana, and el Capitolio, to name a few. That day we also had lunch at the Havana Libre hotel near our casas, which used to be a Hilton before the Revolution and was temporarily a headquarters for Castro’s rebels in 1959. Later in the afternoon, a group of us visited the Malecón but only stayed for a few minutes before it started to downpour. We arrived home soaking wet, but it was definitely a memorable first trip to the Malecón and end to the day.
The next day we took maquinas (American cars now used as shared taxis) to Old Havana. We walked down Calle Obispo, saw La Floridita and Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Ernest Hemingway used to stay while he was in the city. We also visited all four of the plazas of Old Havana and spent time at an open air market in Plaza de las Armas. Despite the fact that Old Havana attracts many tourists, this part of the city is still very much a residential area and people were going about their daily lives as tourists roamed the streets. It was an interesting dynamic being in a place that is a regular neighborhood while simultaneously being a World Heritage Site and an iconic tourist destination. Soon, we will be going back for a guided tour with the professor of our core course on Cuban History, Culture and Art and I’m excited to return and hear more about the different neighborhoods in the area and learn more about the historical significance of the sites.
This week, classes also started at the University of Havana. The IFSA-Butler students are taking classes in the faculty of philosophy and history and the faculty of arts and letters. For the first two weeks, all international students are in the “shopping period” where we can attend any classes we want and then decide what to sign up for. So far I’ve attended a lot of courses: Theory and History of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, Aesthetics, Sociopolitical Theory, Political Sociology, Urban Sociology and Sociology of Migration. I still have yet to try Political Economy and a class on Social Structure and Social Inequality, but I’m confident I will find a schedule I like. So far, it’s been a little bit difficult adjusting to the Cuban university system just because there are a lot of luxuries college students have in the U.S. that aren’t available here. For example, there is no online registration system or any platform to distribute course information and materials online. Everything, from the course offerings to class readings, are distributed from person to person via flash drive. There are also no syllabi! All of this adds up to have created a bit of confusion on my part this week, but it’s making me appreciate the fact that there are a lot of things U.S. college students have that we could go without. Extracurricular activities and social events are just starting up at the university. Next week, there will be a ballet performance in the courtyard and the first fiestas to celebrate the beginning of the school year. Despite the constant sweating in class, I’ve really been enjoying school so far and I’m excited to delve in to the academics and the social scene. Next week, the IFSA-Butler students will attend class through Thursday and then embark on our fist excursion to Viñales, after which I will write my next post. Stay tuned!