Like many things in Cuba, getting signed up for courses can be both a straight forward process and also a very overwhelming one. You may find courses advertised online before you arrive on the island (as getting online can be its own challenge once you've arrived), but then when you actually arrive in Cuba it can be tempting to check out other local courses that maybe didn't get the chance to get their business online and are actually cheaper and are still teaching the same things.
For example, Spanish classes can be taken at private schools across the city, and if you wish to take them at one of the institutions like Estudio Sampere or Sprachcaffe, definitely arrange it online before arriving in Cuba (because as I said it will be difficult trying to get online and arrange it once in the country). But the courses taught in established schools are way more expensive then doing them privately at home- which is what I opted to do.
From what I could gather during my time in Cuba, doing things a la ‘particular’ was always an alternative option and always cheaper. You could take dance or Spanish classes at a school, or do 'particular' classes at home, where the teacher negotiates different rates to come to your place a few times a week. You could take a regular taxi, which is pricey, or a taxi 'particular'- share with a bunch of other people and bring down the price. You could choose to eat in a restaurant or eat at someone's 'house restaurant'. You could choose to stay in a hotel, or stay in a 'casa particular'- a share house with a family, and it’s cheaper, etc. etc. I found it awesome that you always have those options in Cuba as people are thrifty and entrepreneurial, and as a traveler on a tight budget I didn't feel pressured to take on options I couldn't afford.
Benefits of Spanish Classes in Cuba
I definitely think having a bit of Spanish knowledge is not just useful when you arrive in Cuba, but kind of necessary if you want to have any kind of meaningful interaction with locals. Sure, there were people who speak bits of English… but Cuba is a Spanish speaking country, and without the local language, you only end up getting a particular kind of experience. I noticed that a lot of jineteros (street hustlers) had stock standard icebreakers they use to draw you into a conversation (in English of course)- and then sell you something. The basic question they ask is where you’re from and when, for example, my partner said Australia, they launch into little anecdotes about Australian wrestlers they know or inexplicably this Australian children’s TV show that is really popular in Cuba called ‘Skippy’- about an a kangaroo who goes around helping to solve mysteries.
Cultural Cosmopolitan (Even Outside the Classroom)
When asked where I was from I chose to say India for several reasons. For one, I thought that if I said Canada they would wonder about my ethnic background- which is an assumption that was confirmed the moment I landed at the airport here. At immigration a little conference suddenly formed at the desk, with officials muttering something about ‘New Delhi’ under their breath and squinting at my Canadian passport and then back up at me in confusion. Second, I thought if they heard India and not an industrialized Western country, it may help to establish some kind of connection. What kind of connection I can not say exactly. As a cultural cosmopolitan, I find myself constantly negotiating identity frameworks depending on my surroundings, so it’s nothing new for me here. I also thought, if they hadn’t really heard much about India, they perhaps wouldn’t hustle me as much as they would a Western foreigner. Well, while they might not have been hustling me quite as much as they were my gringo boyfriend, they also had a stock standard responses for Indians- ‘we love Indian movies’! Ahh so wide is the reach of Bollywood movies that they even play them Cuban theatres regularly!
With some hard work at my Spanish 'particular' classes which I opted to take in a lovely former middle school teacher's house in Old Havana, I was actually able to watch Bollywood movies that were dubbed in Spanish- a trippy experience, but cool nonetheless. I also learned some basic Cuban salsa from a neighbour who was a dance teacher and taught lessons with her brother out of their apartment. And finally, for the days were I was homesick and missing my mama's cooking, I discovered a local 'home kitchen' where the good old Cuban rice and beans were served up with chicken or pork for pennies! I was definitely a fan of supporting these little home businesses, what do you think? Is this the kind of thing you would like to support in your Cuban travels? Let me know by leaving me a comment below!