Population: 2.14 million
Currencies: Cuban peso and convertible peso (CUC)
Famous for: The Malecón boardwalk, Colonial architecture, baseball, ballet
Choteo: A distinctly Cuban attitude
This attitude of Cubans is one of the most remarkable features that distinguishes them most markedly from Americans. It is a positive attitude, a defiant resistance to the despair and adversity that permeate their lives. How do Cubans express their “choteo?” By sharing stories (often very humorous!), telling jokes, or playing music. A Cuban writer said it best when he wrote, “En esas levedades, a veces sanas, otras premeditadas, el cubano desarrolla una resistencia que le permite encontrar luz donde todo parece apagado.” This best captures the Cuban choteo: to find light where there is total darkness. Perhaps the biggest lesson that American students can learn when they go to Cuba is one regarding perspective of life.
The Weather and How to Dress in Cuba
Comfortable is the word that best describes the climate and dress in Cuba. June will be very hot (upper 80s and 90s) with high levels of humidity. Breezes blow in Havana throughout the year, especially along the waterfront Malecón, and the rainy season (May – October) tapers off as winter approaches. Always remember that the sun can be quite intense and come prepared for that probability.
Clothing is casual for going to classes at the university. Lightweight semi-dressy or dressy clothes are appropriate for an evening out at a special restaurant or a nightclub. Rain gear should be lightweight and comfortable to use in the hot weather.
Traditional Cuban Dishes
Breakfast (Desayuno):Breakfast is typically a small amount of strong coffee with hot milk, bread, fresh fruit, and eggs.
Lunch (Almuerzo): Your class schedule will determine your lunch schedule. Depending on your schedule you may wish to buy your lunch in one of the modestly priced cafetería snack stands near the university or to eat at a paladar or other restaurant.
Dinner (Cena or Comida):Dinner is served at 6:30 pm and typically consists of a soup or small salad, followed by rice and beef, chicken, pork or fish in a salsa criolla, that is, a typical Cuban sauce, and is accompanied by a beverage of your choice. Dessert and coffee are also offered. Cuban food is not spicy, but mildly flavored.
Note to Vegetarians and Vegans
Meals in Cuba can be repetitive with lots of pork and rice, and very few vegetables. We recommend that all our students be careful about their health, but vegetarians and vegans especially should make sure they are getting enough food and protein. We suggest bringing multi-vitamins with you, as well as granola or power bars, peanut butter or other supplementary snacks.
Some vegetarian restaurants in Havana are:
- Biki Vegetarian Restaurant (corner of Infanta and San Larazo)
- Restaurant Vegetariano Carmelo (Calzada between Calles C and D)
- Restaurante El Bambu (Jardin Botanico)
Cuban Social Life
Aside from the considerable entertainment of just walking around and watching people in this safe city, there is much popular music. The cafes and restaurants in areas popular with visitors all seem to have groups of guitar, bongo and flute players drifting in and out.
Many young people get together at neighborhood meeting places to play dominoes in the daytime and to dance salsa and rumbas in the evening. In addition, there are several popular salsa dance halls and discos in Havana, with entrance prices from 5-20 CUC. Dancing is something that moves all Cubans and they love to have you join in!
To enhance your cultural experience in Havana, Spanish Studies Abroad organizes various excursions, study visits and other activities throughout your semester. These activities are coordinated to enhance your class studies. Some sample cultural excursions may include:
- Old Havana
- Museum of the Revolution
- Afro-Cuban rumba performances
- Salsa concerts
- Cienfuegos Province
- Viñales in Pinar del Rio Province
- Matanzas Province
You will live with a host family in a casa particular. They will provide you with daily breakfast and dinner. For lunches, you can explore Havana on your own!
Your homestay will be located about a 25-minute walk from the Universidad de La Habana, where your classes will take place. Lodging is composed of double rooms with private bath, air conditioning, refrigerator. It is important, however, to understand that the living conditions in a developing country are neither luxurious nor fully functioning. Therefore be prepared for minor inconveniences such as occasional cold showers or low water pressure, a noisy air-conditioning unit or a malfunctioning television. It is important to remember that these minor inconveniences are an integral part of “the Cuban experience” and can be rich in their educational value.
For legal and safety reasons, students are required to live in Spanish Studies Abroad housing for the duration of the program. Contracting private housing is not permitted of students enrolled in programs taking place under the auspices of the University of Havana and may be illegal as well. Students entering into a housing agreement are therefore committed to living in the casa particular for the duration of their Spanish Studies Abroad program.
You will find that your Cuban family will become like another family for you. They not only welcome you into their homes, they are there to support you in your Havana living experience; tell them if you need something.
Universidad de La Habana
Cuba’s principal and oldest institution of higher education, Universidad de La Habana (UH), is your the best opportunity to interact with Cuban peers and faculty. In the relatively small UH, virtually all students and professors know each other and enjoy a relaxed and comfortable learning atmosphere. This maximizes the opportunity for contact between Cuban and Spanish Studies Abroad students.
Spanish Studies Abroad has designed a selection of courses in Spanish language and Cuban studies, including Cuban literature, Afro-Cuban history, Cuban socialism, and Cuban cultural studies.