At the University of Havana, international students have a privilege that Cuban students do not – they get to choose their classes. Whereas each semester Cuban students are given a schedule, based on their major and year, that has all of their classes already chosen for them, international students have the opportunity to create their schedule by taking 4-5 classes in a number of different departments, including History, Philosophy, Sociology, Arts, Foreign Languages, Spanish and Cuban culture.
The History, Philosophy and Sociology classes are all in the same building – Edificio José Martí, a beautiful hall inscribed with a Marx quote and a giant portrait of Simon Bolívar in its hallway. The three departments are really quite fascinating. History offers in-depth classes on Cuban, Latin American and European history. Its numbering, i.e. Cuban History I, Cuban History II, etc., refer to the era of time that it covers with History I covering the earliest periods.
Philosophy is a much more popular major in Cuba than it is in the U.S. and it offers some courses not found in American universities, such as Marxism-Leninism I and II. Taking a sociology course is a great way to better understand how the Cuban system functions and how Cuban society runs. I took a great class named Sociopolitical Theory, in which we studied and compared the Cuban and American political systems. We even had the chance to visit the former Cuban capitol building, Capitolio, and meet with members of the National Assembly. Other classes cover the Cuban economy, agricultural system and healthcare system, and there are also courses on race and gender in Cuban society.
International students can also take art or foreign language classes in the Artes and Letras building, or Spanish language or Cuban culture classes in the FENHI. Unlike in the other departments, only foreigners take FENHI (Spanish for non-Spanish speakers) courses, which can be a downside for those that want to have the most authentic Cuban student experience. However, if this does not faze you, the course material is very interesting. Through FENHI, I took a really great course on Cuban film, which introduced me to most of the amazing Cuban classics.
Regardless of what classes you chose, there are bound to be some obstacles. For starters, class schedules aren’t released until the first week of classes – and even afterwards, room numbers and times are prone to change – so the two-week shopping period at the start of the semester, when you can observe and test different classes before having to finalize your schedule, can be quite hectic. Beyond this, there are mostly just adjustments one has to learn: syllabi are not typically used by teachers; Instead of buying books, students receive PDFs and other resources from the teacher via flash drive; graded discussions are quite common; While you should always be on time to class, you should know that it might not always (or ever) start on time, etc. Also, exams from Cuban students are typically given after international students have left – so finals for foreigners tend to be different assignments.
Beyond these few words of advice, I recommend that you don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, even if that means making mistakes with your Spanish or looking like a silly yuma (foreigner) now and then. It’s worth it for the opportunity to take full advantage of being in one of the most remarkable and unique places in the world by integrating yourself into day-to-day life alongside Cuban students. ¡Que disfrutes!
~ Daniel Marion