Tuesday, October 26, 2010

half way there

So we've finally come to the last week in October. We've already passed the half-way point. You could say that things have been a blur. But then again, sometimes time has a way of slowing down here. I'm thinking back to when I was sick with that parasite.

Classes at the University are getting mixed reviews. It's frustrating to try and fit in to a completely different academic environment. I'm also taking art history, a subject I've never studied before. My two art history classes each have different professors. We're getting to the confusing part of the semester where we start having tests and papers and these things called "seminarios," which I'm still in the dark about. What I can gather is that they're group presentations covering a topic pertaining to the course. They replace the professor's lecture. Today they referred to them as teams. And they also mentioned that the following week's team needs a written copy of the material covered by the previous team, in order to give some sort of evaluation. And then there is a group discussion.

I completed my first paper for my cuban art history class. The assignment was open-ended: give a critical evaluation of the work of a cuban artist exhibited in the gallery in the Nacional Art Museum devoted to the 60s and 70s. It was to be turned in last week, when the class was supposed to meet at the Museum for a practical class. I was in Santiago, so I couldn't go. So I turned it in today. But apparently the practical class at the Museum didn't end up happening. They had class as normal. I have a strong suspicion that had I not been in Santiago I would've been the only kid in class to show up at that museum. And I would've missed class. I explained my situation to the professor, who said it was fine and happily took my paper. But after class when I asked for a copy of the powerpoint from last week's class that I missed, she reminded me of her policy: no students can have copies of the powerpoints. You miss a class, you miss the material.

This type of thing happens all the time in the states. If you don't show up, you pay the consequences. But here, people show up to class really arbitrarily. It's simply not as big a deal. We don't even take attendance in one of the art history classes. So it's very strange that a teacher is not willing to share her lesson with a student who missed a class for a legitimate reason (my group of students had a mandatory trip outside the city).

It's all the little things, the uncertainty, the doubts, the cancellations, the lack of electricity...the lack of consistency. Consistency is something we are very accustomed to in the states. But here, lack of consistency is just a way of life. Even so, I can't help getting frustrated sometimes when it seems impossible to fit into this university. The only thing that calms my nerves is the notion that I'm really only here to observe. Yes, to learn, too. But I think our program acknowledges the disadvantages of the system, and understands that there's only so much we can expect to get from these classes because it's so difficult integrating into the school here. The rest is about us living here, and absorbing as much as we can while observing the differences between our societies. It does make me proud of certain things about the united states that I have never thought of as being positive traits. That very same consistency that I mentioned earlier. It really is nice. Sometimes it can be a pain in the ass, sometimes it can be boring, but at least you know what to expect.

But on the bright side, our class at CEDEM (the Institute for Demographic Studies linked to the University of Havana) is consistently interesting and relatively challenging. We've just started meeting with our tutors, who have each been assigned to us based on the topic we've selected for our final project. I've chosen to research transportation in cuba and its relationship to the environment. So I finally get to do academic work about cars, a subject I've been crazy about since I was three years old. My tutor for this transportation/environment project is absolutely great--he's provided me with lots of good sources for research, he himself is really knowledgeable, and he's really personable and laid-back. So it's a big sigh of relief that I'm finally on the same page as one of my teachers.

And, I've gotten more good news. Someone from home (shout-out to Athens, Ohio!) who now lives in Brooklyn (shout-out to Brooklyn, NY!) is coming to Havana this weekend to visit for a few weeks. I'm so excited for this living-breathing connection to the outside world, and especially two places that are really dear to me. Not to mention the cookies I am hoping my sister will send along!

I forgot that I began this post by mentioning that it's the last week of October. I have to say that I'm going to miss Halloween USA style, in all it's tacky, drunken glory. But I think we're gonna do something with the kids from Tulane. They really know how to party. I think the only costume option I have here in Cuba is cowboy. And I think that would be the second year in a row...

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