Reflexiones antes de llegar a Cuba (Reflections before arriving in Cuba)

Anna Aagenes ‘18

Tomorrow morning, thirty Columbia Business School (CBS) classmates and I will land in Havana for our Chazen Global Immersion Program (GIP) Cuba trip, where we will build upon our classroom-based learning and understanding of the business and economic environment in Cuba.

As a socialist country, most Cuban companies remain under the direct control of the Cuban government and most workers are state employed. In 2015, the average take home salary in Cuba was estimated to be $20 a month. Despite economic stagnation, however, Cubans remain optimistic about their future, with 70% believing their incomes will increase in the next 6-12 months. Our class has been told by multiple guest lecturers that Cubans are welcoming, warm, and optimistic about the future of their country.

Unlike past CBS trips to Cuba, our class will be spending the first few days in casas particulares (private houses) in Cienfuegos before we go to Havana. As someone who has had very positive experiences with homestays in both Spain and Guatemala, I’m very much looking forward to a private homestay with a family in Cuba. According to, Cuban casas particulares “can be recognized by a small sign on the door, with two blue triangles (‘roofs’) against a white background.”  When we aren’t getting to know our host family, we will be exploring cultural, community, and historical attractions in Cienfuegos along with visiting Trinidad, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, for a day trip.

Cienfuegos, Source: Full Compass Guides

After the weekend in Cienfuegos, our group will travel to Havana for a busy week of presentations, company tours, and continued travel to historical and cultural sites. Yes, we will get to see old cars and tour Havana Club’s Rum Museum, but one of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to meet the women who run Clandestina. Clandestina is a contemporary design store that sells T-shirts, bags, prints, with a recycled clothing line that, per their website, “addresses the operational challenge in supply by creating a line of clothing from the limited second-hand clothing and goods markets—producing products that are unique and distinctly-Cuban.” About one year ago, the owners had the chance to speak with President Obama about their business and I couldn’t help but love the shout out to CBS!

I am hoping my Spanish language skills will be good enough to have meaningful conversations and to ask all the questions I have (and will have) once I arrive in Cuba. After months of hearing from others about what Cuba is like, I’m incredibly eager to be there and experience it for myself.

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