My Return to Cuba

Bella standing on steps of University of Havana
Me standing on the steps of the University of Havana. So happy to be back!

 

Hello! Welcome to my first official post during my second semester in Havana, Cuba. I can’t believe how fast the first four weeks of the new semester went by! I was initially nervous to start another semester in Havana with a new program. How would I maintain old connections while also trying to fully integrate myself within a new group of people and new academic space? As the Brown CASA program is a lot more academically challenging than my last semester, would I struggle at the fast academic pace after a semester of very little academic work? How would I find time for myself between traveling between friend groups and different spaces in the city? Would I have time to do all that I need and want to do? These questions stayed on my mind leading up to my departure from Miami. After four weeks, I can confidently say that, although I might still be working on how to manage my time and finding spaces where I can be alone, I do feel well integrated into my new program! And, wow, things are very different from last semester…

Philosophy and History building at University of Havana
Another full shot of the University of Havana where you can see the Philosophy and History building to the left.

 

While the city is the same city I fell in love with during the fall, so many things have also changed. It’s definitely been a process trying to adapt my expectations from last semester with the new expectations and experiences I’ve formed during the last four weeks. My new program has 22 other students, instead of 3 like last semester. Sometimes I feel like I am still not fully familiar with everyone in my program, which can be a little disorienting, especially since all my classes are at the Casa de las Americas (CASA) gallery and not the University of Havana (UH). The CASA gallery specifically caters to Brown’s academic system, so it’s felt a little like living in a tiny American bubble in Cuba. We even have some privileges that I didn’t, nor do most Cuban people, experience last semester. For example, during the fall, I did not have access to any free wifi and had to make frequent trips to buy wifi cards. The Brown CASA program offers free wifi through the gallery (during select hours), which increases overall convenience, but also facilitates people staying inside with their screens more. And, although I love the CASA gallery, I’ve found it can be really easy just staying within the small, confined space throughout the day. I’ve been constantly encouraging myself to try new lunch spots, take walks to explore my new neighborhood, and try to make friends outside of my program as well. Due to the bubble feeling at CASA, I often miss interacting with Cuban students, but it’s been nice becoming closer friends with everyone in my program.

I also recently joined the Philosophy and History department’s athletic team through UH, which should give me a great opportunity to meet new UH students. My residence also sometimes feels like a small American bubble because I am living in an 8 student residence apartment, unlike the smaller homestay (or casa particular) I was in last semester. I miss the familial feeling of being able to come home after a day at UH to my host mom, who often had stories, chisme, or some general comment she thought might interest me. I do like that my residence gives me a space to comfortably reflect with other American students going through a similar academic experience, though. Each night we talk through homework, what we should do for the weekend, and share new lunch spots or shops we’ve discovered.

Although I’ve been adapting to my new program, it’s also been amazing seeing old friends, taking advantage of unique opportunities through my program, and slipping back into my old routine. As soon as I got back, my Cuban friends showered me in besitos and eagerly told me all the group chisme I had missed over winter holiday. I started running again at the José Martí stadium, where all my former soccer teammates also started gathering to resume our daily pickup games. A close friend and I have even started cross training and running everyday after classes and work. Students in my program have enjoyed hanging out with my Cuban friends, even going so far as to join me in playing sports and going to the malecón to listen to music and drink rum. The program even has some amazing new opportunities of things I did not do last semester. We all get to take weekly dance classes, which nearly everyone in my program participates in. It’s been hilarious, albeit kind of sad at times, to see our dance instructor shake her head at our pitiful salsa skills. Luckily each week we improve…sort of. Best of all, however, I’ve also found an amazing group of women of color who genuinely love and support each other. Unlike last semester, when I often felt isolated within my small program, I’m able to pass hours with these women simply talking, laughing, or studying. We often lean on each other for guidance, company, and to share thoughts that are oftentimes specific to our experiences as women of color.

I can’t wait to see how the rest of my program goes now that I’m four weeks in. Time really has flown so far!

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