Study Abroad: Havana, Cuba

We close out November with a post from junior Maya Golliday, who is studying abroad in Cuba. She provides an exciting perspective on academics and student life outside of Cornell's campus in Ithaca, NY. Enjoy!

By: Maya Golliday '17

What’s good, prospective students and parents!? I am currently almost finished with my semester abroad in the beautiful “La Habana” and would love to tell you a little bit about my experience thus far. I guess I’ll hit the ground running and start with why I chose Cuba (and also how I’m able to study in Cuba given the history the US has had with Cuba and restrictions on travel). As we know, the Obama administration has made efforts to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba and in doing so, restrictions on travel to the country have been lessened. Americans are able to get licenses to travel to Cuba for very specific purposes and studying abroad or “educational activities” is one of the permitted occasions for travel.

I chose Cuba specifically because out of all the countries that Cornell Abroad offers, the Cornell in Cuba: CASA Consortium program seemed to fit perfectly with my interests and passions. As a government major, I study international relations and comparative politics; given the political history of the two countries and President Obama’s recent efforts to normalize relations, Cuba could not have been a more attractive country to spend my fall semester abroad in. I am also a Spanish major and Latin American studies minor, so my time here is providing me with an opportunity to better my Spanish and broaden my knowledge about another Latin American country. The first week or two in Cuba felt like an eternity because so many things had to be taken care of. First on the agenda was to introduce us to our host families and get settled in to our “casas particulares” (home stays). The “casa” that I was placed in is an awesome apartment near the “malecón” with incredible views of the ocean. I eat breakfast and dinner every night with other students from the program in this apartment complex.

Next on the agenda of things to accomplish was picking classes. The CASA consortium program gives us the option to take classes at Casa De Las Americas (CDLA) (a research institute in Havana) or the University of Havana (U.H). I, as did many of my peers, chose to take classes in both. CDLA and UH both have a shopping period where students can sit in on classes and see which ones they would like to take (very similar to Cornell’s add/drop period), so I spent my first two weeks attending multiple classes and talking with professors to finalize my schedule for the semester. After a couple of weeks, things slowed down and we all settled into some sort of groove and were able to start venturing out on our own to figure out our social lives here in Cuba. Our program funds many group activities/trips on the weekends (such as bike rides, beach excursions, weekend-long trips to other parts of the island, etc.), but when we do have downtime, my friends and I love to just stay in Havana and find things to do on our own.

Havana is an invigorating city because there is always something going on and you can always find something to do. Almost every couple of weeks there is a new cultural/arts festival and on any night you can find a plethora of musical concerts, theatre performances, or dancing events. And for those chill nights where you just feel like sitting and talking with friends... the “malecón” seems to be the local favorite! On this rocky barrier that rests against the ocean and borders the entire city to the north, you can find families, teens, and everyone in between chatting, dancing, or listening to music. To me, this spot is the heart of Havana. My friends and I have found ourselves spending a lot of our free time taking dance classes. I compete for Cornell’s Varsity Track and Field team back in Ithaca, so to stay active (and because you can’t come to Cuba and leave without becoming a “salsera”) I’ve been a Salsa class regular. All in all, though, I’ve been enjoying my time here in Havana. There is no doubt in my mind that my decision to study abroad was the best decision I’ve made at Cornell and I am so lucky to have found a program that is such a great fit for me!

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