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The Cuba Fellowship
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The Cuba Fellowship

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    8

  • Living Situation

    7

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    9

So worth it and now is the time to go

The Cuba Fellowship is the opportunity of a lifetime, and it’s a unique experience on multiple levels. First, there’s the group of people traveling with you. You’ll be in good hands with knowledgeable staff who have carefully planned the details of your trip and are there as a resource for you during your stay. And then there is the group of fellows--if your trip is like mine you’ll be surrounded by smart, talented adventure-seekers who make exploring Cuba even more fun, all while becoming new friends. Then there’s Havana. It’s a stunningly beautiful place. From the vibrant colors, to the architecture, to the old cars that roam the streets, its visual appeal is unmatched. There’s also a great local art scene, tons of live music, and a variety of food and drink options. The prices are beyond reasonable. You can “eat like a Cuban” for about $2-3 USD per meal--things like bistec (steak), black beans and rice, plantains, etc. were all common (and delicious). And you’ll also have opportunities to spend a little more on upper-end restaurants if you want, though you’ll still find them much cheaper than in the US. Taxi rides, souvenirs, and anything else you’d spend money on, are also much cheaper than their US equivalents. Lastly, Havana is incredibly safe. I was amazed at how helpful and kind the people were, along with how non-threatening the environment was. Even when we traveled in smaller groups, we had total peace of mind the entire trip.

I took away so many good memories from the trip, so it’s hard to narrow it down to a few favorites, but I’ll try. Our group had the privilege of scheduling a private meeting with the US ambassador to Cuba. The whole process of getting into the Embassy was intense (multiple security checkpoints), and just by entering the building you were reminded of past US/Cuba tensions. The ambassador talked to our group for 30-45 minutes, giving us a summary of the relationship with Cuba and his hopes for the future. It was a rare opportunity to get such insight from someone of his position, especially in such an intimate setting. Another important takeaway came from our trip to the Museo de la Revolucion. The exhibits here document Castro’s takeover and the government’s accomplishments since. While informative, it was interesting to read materials that were intentionally propagandistic and at times ran counter to the opinions we had heard directly from locals. There was also a significant portion of the museum dedicated to criticism of American government. Again, this was fascinating and an important reminder of the history of our country’s relationship with Cuba.

All in all, it seems like Cuba is changing quickly. We heard a lot about the transition from government-run to private businesses in multiple sectors and, combined with the influx of tourism, it seems like there is positive economic momentum there. Many of us wondered how quickly Cuba might change, and that remains to be seen. Not only is it an amazing place, but now is the time to see it, while you can catch a glimpse both of what it was and what it will be.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    9

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

Cuba fellowship 2017!

The best way to travel is with great people to interesting places. That is The Cuba Fellowship.

This was one of the best weeks of my life. From exploring Havana to deep conversations with the other Fellows, every day was full to the brim with memorable moments. We visited places throughout the city - museums, parks, the US Embassy, and restaurants - and every step was a new discovery. I learned about the history of Cuba from the government's perspective and from the view of Cubans we spoke with. To experience it all with the other fellows and with a feeling of safety the whole time let me relax and made it all so memorable.

The country is changing and I kept thinking how amazing it is to have visited now before Old Cuba is gone is many ways. Highly recommended this Fellowship.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

It really matters who you travel abroad with!

Cuba is absolutely amazing. I was blown away by how safe, nice (even the slum-streets of Havana are cleaner than NYC), and inexpensive traveling in Cuba was. I was also blown away by how much traveling with such an amazing group of people, specifically the cohort I was on that was brought together by The Cuba Fellowship, makes a difference in the study abroad experience. They really screen who they allow to come on the trip to ensure the optimal learning environment and adventure for the whole group. It really makes a huge difference in traveling with amazing people that can amplify the amount of Cuba you experience together. I couldn't be more thankful for the program The Cuba Fellowship developed and that I had the opportunity to go on.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

Exploring Cuba with great people

I go to school with a lot of rich people that can and have traveled anywhere they want in the world. However, until recently, it was impossible to visit Cuba--and even now, the ability to go is restricted to excuses to enter the country such as studying abroad. I got a kick out of the fact that my travels made them jealous. But Cuba is much more than just a bragging right, and The Cuba fellowship is far more than just an excuse to enter Cuba. The Cuba Fellowship provides you with the guides, support, and pairs you with the right students through their cohorts to maximize your learning and experience while in Cuba. Even if it were possible to travel to Cuba for cheaper on your own, which I doubt, I still would choose going with The Cuba Fellowship every time because the way they have designed their program allows you to see, learn, and experience four-fold what you could discover during the same time period on your own.

Overall Rating

10/ 10

  • Academics

    10

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    10

A brilliant time in a brilliant country

The Cuba Fellowship was an extraordinary experience. I really got to experience Cuba, and not just the fancy tourist areas. We stayed in a colorful neighborhood just outside of the main tourist areas, so I got a chance to practice my very basic Spanish with locals: ordering food, negotiating cab rides, exchanging money, etc. It was a pleasant surprise discovering that I could actually get pretty far with the couple years of Spanish that I had.

The program itself was a blast! I learned so much about the country. The trips were fun, educational, and creative. The other fellows were all friendly and impressively accomplished, and I was glad that we were all able to become so close through the course of the trip. I highly recommend the Cuba Fellowship to anyone interested in experiencing a truly unique culture at an historic time. You’ve got to have a sense of adventure, but if you do, it will be well worth your time.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Academics

    9

  • Living Situation

    9

  • Cultural Immersion

    9

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    8

Cuba Abroad

The Cuba fellowship planned out a very well detailed program for 3 weeks. I appreciated all of the cultural aspects of the program, immersing with the locals, while still learning about whats going on their both past and present. Cuba is definitely a place worth visiting for a week or two, and by going through this program I felt as if I learned more about their governments' ways and peoples livelihood. One should also remember how Cuba is still not a touristy location and are far beyond almost all countries.

Overall Rating

9/ 10

  • Academics

    8

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    10

  • Program Administration

    9

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    9

An Ideal study abroad experience

I spent one week on the Cuba Fellowship, thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and would recommend it to any one of my friends who are interested in immersing themselves intensively and educationally in the Cuban culture first hand. I was not entirely sure what to expect when coming here, but was pleasantly surprised by the balance between work and “play,” as the mornings were occupied with studies on topics such as US-Cuba relations and Hemingway, with afternoons left for free time to explore Havana. Personally, I appreciated the freedom to explore the city on my own terms with the fellow students on the group, while still feeling as though I learned relevant information to my career, and had insightful conversations with college students from all over the country during class. I would have maybe suggested a bit more information about the Cuban Revolution, which I find to be a particularly fascinating topic, but nonetheless enjoyed the discussions specifically revolving on the history of Cuba’s relationship with the US, punctuated by a trip to the US Embassy here in Havana.

The Cuba Fellowship did an excellent job of finding a great housing option with the most caring and considerate host family I have ever met, and I really appreciated the opportunity to be able to experience Cuba such a personable environment. The group leaders, Joshua and Lauren did a good job of explaining things to expect around the city specifically due to the fact that Lauren has lived here for several years and knows so much about Cuban daily life. Other than being guided by Lauren and Joshua, I felt so free to explore and experience Havana myself, as I learned to navigate the different transportation systems and restaurants around the city. The Cuba Fellowship was great in that I immersed myself in local culture, was able to practice my Spanish, and meet so many fantastic Cuban people through interactions on the street or in taxis. One week was certainly not enough, as I wish I could have stayed for the entire three-week time period, but I am most definitely eager to find any way to return to the city to use my experiences from the Cuba Fellowship to frame future visits to Cuba.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Academics

    7

  • Living Situation

    10

  • Cultural Immersion

    6

  • Program Administration

    10

  • Health & Safety

    10

  • Community

    9

Cuba!

I had a really wonderful time in Cuba. Elizabeth, our mentor, was fantastic. I learned so much in such a short time being in Havanabut I fell in love with the food, the people, the history, and the country. I would definitely go back.

Overall Rating

8/ 10

  • Academics

    4

  • Living Situation

    3

  • Cultural Immersion

    9

  • Program Administration

    2

  • Health & Safety

    8

  • Community

    9

Cuba is Amazing, but The Cuba Fellowship is Deceiving.

This program was overall good and I learned a lot, BUT it did not match up to what they advertise on their website and what you’re told by staff. Here are a few things that were different in Cuba than what they had told us in the contract, emails, and on their website:

1. Deceptive Online Reviews. Some of the early reviews (even reviews on this site) are not from typical students like us, but are from people like the professional photographer and videographer who traveled to Cuba and made marketing materials for The Cuba Fellowship. The Cuba Fellowship staff claimed they are typical students but they were hand-picked from Ivy League schools to go to Cuba to produce marketing materials and they were all heavily compensated for their work. I told The Cuba Fellowship staff about the deceptive 10/10 reviews from these paid “students”, but they disagreed
2. College Credit. There is simply no way you can receive college credit. Once we arrived, we found out “class” was in our coordinator’s and my bedroom. “Class” was also taught by our coordinator who has no formal education on Cuba, US relations, or the embargo. Mostly, we just read online articles and discussed what we read.
3. Specialized Classes. It is advertised that you could specialize in Government & Economics, Cuban History & Literature, and Spanish Language Immersion. There was no specialized class and The Cuba Fellowship coordinator knew less Spanish than all of us students.
4. Number of Students. We were told multiple times there would be 10-50 students. We only had 4 students the last two weeks and I shared a room with our coordinator because I was the only other male.
5. Covered Expenses. Typically, our coordinator would pay for our taxi to a required event but then would leave us and we would have to find, and pay, for our own transportation back. They also did not pay for the visa which was promised in the website. (After sending them screenshots of the websites info, they reimbursed me for both the visa and expenses)

If you’re looking for a more experienced, formal, study abroad opportunity, this may not be for you.

The country of Cuba is simply amazing and one-of-a-kind. If you want to experience an enriching culture and a country “stuck in time,” Cuba is the place to go. Overall, I learned a lot and came to love the country of Cuba.

Overall Rating

4/ 10

  • Academics

    1

  • Living Situation

    3

  • Cultural Immersion

    7

  • Program Administration

    3

  • Health & Safety

    9

  • Community

    5

Review: the Cuba fellowship

Because I graduated from undergrad in May 2017 and did not have the opportunity to study abroad during my college career, I was excited to find the Cuba Fellowship as an opportunity to do a brief study-abroad immediately post-grad. The program was relatively new and lacked online reviews that were not from Joshua DeGastyne, the program founder and director, so both my parents and myself took the opportunity to call Joshua’s office on many occasions during and after the application process to get questions answered directly. Not only was he misleading, but on many occasions, legitimately lied about what the program would entail. I had a fantastic and educational experience in Cuba and with the three other American students who were a part of the program, but this in fact had very little to do with the Cuba Fellowship.

I was interested in studying in Cuba primarily to learn Spanish. Every conversation I had with Joshua involved me being placed in the Spanish course I placed as my first choice, which he thoroughly implied. A week before the program began for the three-week fellows, I was added to a Facebook group with six other students called “G&E,” which turned out to mean government and economics. Our contract, which we received very close to our departures and after we had paid a significant nonrefundable portion, said we might not be placed in a different course than the one we initially specified, which is counter to the phone confirmation I had already received.

Additionally, after looking at the Facebook group, I was immediately concerned about the size of the program because Joshua had told me that the group of fellows would include 10 to 50 other students. When I emailed with this concern, Joshua repeatedly told my mom that although there were six other students in my class, there would be 15 students in total. However, there were never more than four students here at a time. Although I had a wonderful time with the other students in this group, it was sometimes difficult to not travel as a full group because no one wanted to travel around a new city alone and, with staying here for different periods of time, obviously not everyone wanted to do the same activities at all times.

I was also told that courses would be taught my either Cuban professors or staff of the Cuba Fellowship in classrooms that would be rented by the program at local schools or universities. For this reason, I was quite surprised when I was placed in a government and economics course of Joshua, who did not appear to have much experience as a teacher, with three other students that took place in Joshua’s bedroom at the AirBnB we shared. The class occasionally included a one-hour activity, but primarily involved reading 15 to 20 pages of PDFs on his laptop that we passed around, each reading aloud one page at a time. This was a completely ineffectual and unengaging educational technique. Additionally, the files were often added to the flash drive on which we occasionally received articles or photos to read along with always within an hour of class itself, implying a lack of preparation. (This was different in, of course, situations of breaking news of US-Cuba relations.) Joshua repeatedly asked me if I was practicing my Spanish, my goal of the trip, which I was but almost entirely with an employee of the family that owned the AirBnB.

In my opinion, more time could have been structured than was, especially because only the structured time included payment for our food and transportation by the Fellowship. The program stuck to its word about paying for food, but I am apprehensive about how the cost of the trip was put to use. I initially assumed that a significant amount of the cost would be attributed to our classes, but that seems unlikely based on the lack of preparation and resources put into them.

On a more positive note, Lauren Piekert was the on-site coordinator for the program, and she was wonderful. She was there for lunch each day, one day of class time, and occasional excursions. As a fluent Spanish speaker, she helped us communicate and organized our lunch excursions as well as going above and beyond to organize our one weekend excursion, which was entirely separate from the program. She is an American who has lived on and off in Cuba for about five years, and her knowledge of the culture and desire to expose us to Cuban food, events, and even her personal experiences were invaluable. She told us that she was hired only a week before the three-week program departed, and I am so grateful that she was present. Because of both her knowledge and the way she interacted with us, I felt significantly safer when she was around. Joshua, meanwhile, knew very little Spanish and was very secretive around us, which many of us found uncomfortable and unsettling as we were spending class time, lunch, and sleeping in the same apartment as him.

In conclusion, I am extremely grateful that I had the opportunity to finally study abroad in somewhere as amazing as Havana. I thoroughly enjoyed improving my Spanish, and loved getting to form relationships with the other fellows. However, my experience with the Cuba Fellowship itself, due to misleading and incorrect information from the director as well as the mysteriously utilized overhead cost, does not lead me to recommend this program to others traveling to Cuba.