Published: March 3rd 2011March 3rd 2011
Diandra, Sarah and Me
Spending time on our lovely balcony.
This week, I started my other classes through the University of Havana, the most prestigious institution in Cuba. The name seems to hold renown in other countries as well, though as of this week I have to say I am unsure. I will be taking two classes with Cuban students in addition to the more personalized arts and history classes. After a period of indecision, I chose Sociology of Ethics and Modern Political Theory, both of which should transfer to Madison. In spite of the directors here in Cuba telling us many times over that our university classes would be difficult, we have since been informed by another foreign student that we will get A’s for even minor effort. As in, she wrote 2 out of 10 papers and not only passed, but received the top grade possible. While disappointing, this may be helpful as the walls in the University of Havana are not meant to keep out outside noise, and it can be exceedingly hard to understand professors during lecture. Also, rather than being a professional environment like I had expected, out of perhaps a total of 10 different classes that started this week for my friends, at least 3 professors didn’t show up to class without explanation. In the classes that did have professors, students chatted during lecture, painted each other’s fingernails, smoked, walked in and out, and basically didn’t take notes. While such behavior may indeed be found in some universities in the U.S., I feel that it would not occur in classrooms with less than 40 students, and especially not in a class taught by the dean of the faculty.
I thought about the situation for a while afterward, and one of the only explanations I can think of is that these students have realized that even with a college education they do not even have the potential of a good paying job afterwards. Only 5% of Cubans have access to the tourist currency, which is worth 24 times more than Cuban pesos (10-15 tourist pesos=a month’s government salary). The 500 or so students in the philosophy program, which includes political science, will be unable to make much of a better life with or without the education they are receiving, and for this may feel that good conduct is optional. Or perhaps I'm analyzing too much, and they just aren't brought up with respect in the classroom here. Either way, it was extremely unexpected and I hope that I don't get into any of the same habits before returning to the U.S.