So What’s It Really Like Studying in Cuba?

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As the semester comes to an end, the thinking back and reflecting have begun. My dad just came and visited me and he, like everyone else at home, has tons of questions about my life here and what it is like to surpass the “tourist experience” and live as close to the Cuban lifestyle as possible.

Cuba is unlike any other country I have studied abroad in. I studied abroad in Seville, Spain last semester and the hardest thing for me to adapt to was eating dinner at 9:30pm instead of 6:30pm. The culture shock I experienced upon arriving to Cuba was much more extreme. Yes, both nations speak the same language and some of the architecture is similar, but other than that the differences outweigh the similarities.

These are simply some of the many differences we have all experienced studying here:
In Cuba, sometimes I go to a “cafeteria” for a homemade ice cream sandwich but none are available because they couldn’t get ice cream to make them due to problems in the main ice cream factory.

In Cuba, students are very serious about school; they study, read, do all their work, and actively participate. Some even get in very heated debates in class over certain issues. And yes, classrooms without technology appear strange at first, but the teachers are very intelligent and don’t need PowerPoints, Internet articles, or videos, to teach.

In Cuba, a large percentage of jobs are government run jobs meaning people are paid a low, fixed rate regardless of the quality of their work. Also, it is not rare to hear of people making $20-30 CUC (about $20-30USD a month). Because of this, many professionals (doctors, lawyers, electricians) either stop practicing all together so they can get a private job, or they continue working and do something private on the side. For example, I met an electrical technician who, to be able to sufficiently provide for his family, runs a taxi service at night because his job doesn’t pay enough.

In Cuba, cultural activities and events are really cheap and there are always free shows and concerts, which motivates everyone, regardless of income, to attend. For example, it only costs 10 cents to go to the movies and 25 cents for a bag of popcorn.

In Cuba it is not uncommon to hear of shortages. There was a potato shortage of over a year that just ended about a month ago. When they started selling potatoes again people would line up for hours with buckets, sacks, bags, anything to hold them in. Also, it is not uncommon to go into a grocery store and see very scantily supplied (or even empty) shelves and freezers.

In Cuba its true, the men catcall a LOT. I have talked to a few of my male Cuban friends about it and they all say it is part of the culture, if you don’t do it you are looked at as weird, but regardless of the cultural aspect of it, for me personally, it is very hard to get used to.

In Cuba, people don’t wait in line for ANYTHING. People are in a cluster around the entrance of a building and when you arrive, you immediately ask who is “el ultimo,” meaning “who’s last?” Then you must remember the person in front of you so you know when it is your turn to go.

In Cuba, there is a LOT of political propaganda. All over the country there are signs about socialism, the triumph of the revolution, Castro, Che, working/production/farming, the Cuban 5, the embargo, etc. It makes it a little harder to formulate your own opinions about things.

Cuba is different, not better, not worse, just different.

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Kelsey Boeshore is a student at Marist College and an official API Student Blogger. Kelsey is studying abroad with API in Havana, Cuba.

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