Study Abroad in Havana, Cuba




Havana, Cuba

Be one of a select group of students to experience Cuban culture and customs firsthand, learning how and why the country has shaped—and reshaped—the regional and international landscape.

The Sarah Lawrence College in Havana program has, since its beginning, aimed to expose American students to a unique society about which much has been written, but little is widely known.

As the longest continuously running study abroad program in Havana, we offer a small and intimate classroom experience, as well as full Spanish language immersion. These experiences promise a sense of authenticity influenced by Sarah Lawrence traditions and ideals.


Each student in the Sarah Lawrence College in Havana program takes four courses for credit:

  • A required seminar at the Center for Demographical Studies (3 credits)
  • Three electives at 4 credits each in either the humanities, social sciences, and/or the arts (12 credits)
  • Students may be required or permitted to pursue an Advanced Spanish language course as one of their electives

All courses are taught in Spanish. Students are enrolled in classes with their Cuban peers at the University of Havana and Instituto Superior De Artes (ISA).

Program Segments

Students participate in seminars, conferences, fieldwork, and site visits designed to provide the fullest of Cuban experiences. 

There are an assortment of independent study opportunities, such as researching certain aspects of contemporary Cuban society with a faculty mentor, or blending theory and practice in music, dance, and visual art. 

Students take the seminar course through Centro de Estudios Demográficos (CEDEM), a unique research center at the University of Havana. Designed exclusively for Sarah Lawrence students, the course examines gender, health, education, and sustainable development throughout Cuban society. Students study theoretical as well as practical perspectives on life in Cuba. 

Sarah Lawrence in Havana students follow the same curriculum as Cuban students and are subject to the same standards and requirements. 


Fieldwork in Havana, Cuba

Fieldwork moves the Cuban experience beyond the classroom and academe.

One such program is with the Cuban Worker’s Union, Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC).

“Our internship was a valuable experience, as we had an inside perspective on labor and political systems very different from that of the United States,” write Elizabeth Coakley and Laila Berstein, participants from Sarah Lawrence.

“The Director of Labor and Social Affairs in the National Office of the CTC acted as our mentor, teaching us about labor law in Cuba, the structure of union organization, and the political system. We also interviewed union leaders and lawyers in more specific areas such as the agricultural and fisherman’s union, and the harbor worker’s unions. We were able to tailor these interviews to our own interests, and ask questions about women in the Cuban labor system, what role race plays, unemployment, and other specific topics of interest.

“We were invited to attend a regional labor meeting, where we met people from all over the area and observed how the meeting functioned. We also were in contact with a sector of Cuban society that we did not interact with in our University classes or in the city. In addition, our internship was important to the CTC, as it enabled them to increase international understanding of the Cuban political system.”

Cultural Activities & Excursions

Activities in Havana, Cuba

Visits to medical facilities, schools, sugar mills, historic sites, caves, and tobacco plantations help intensify understanding of Cuba and its complex culture.

Site visits have included:

  • Sugar mill at Santa Maria del Norte
  • Cooperative farm
  • Clinics, hospitals, and maternity wards
  • Schools
  • Centers for the aged
  • Museums
  • Ballet, theatre, and concerts
  • International Havana Film Festival
  • Santiago (the main city in the Orient province; Fidel’s revolutionary power base)
  • Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and the Valle de los Ingenios (Sugar Mill Valley)
  • Matanzas and Varadero, Pinar del Rio, and Vinales (tobacco country)
  • Santa Clara (site of Che’s victory and memorial)
  • Playa Girón (site of Bay of Pigs invasion)

Where Students Study

University of Havana: Humanities, Literature, Social Sciences, and Film History

University of Havana StatueFounded in 1728, the University of Havana is the largest and oldest institution of higher learning in Cuba. Sarah Lawrence students have access to a broad range of classes taught by faculty in five general areas:

  • Philosophy, history, and sociology
  • Arts and letters, including literature
  • Psychology and women’s studies
  • Biology
  • Health sciences

While the Cuban students are enrolled in carreras, or “majors,” with fixed programs of study and fewer electives, Sarah Lawrence students choose individual classes from within the curriculum to suit their interests and areas of study. Students will find both subtle and significant differences from the US approach to each discipline. For instance, the Cuban psychological tradition emphasizes family, community, and the social environment, rather than the individual.

Centro de Estudios Demograficos (CEDEM): Seminar Research Course

CEDEMCEDEM is the home of the Sarah Lawrence program within the University of Havana, and is a 15-minute taxi ride across the river Almendares. This social research institute works exclusively with Sarah Lawrence College and offers a seminar research course that introduces students to a broad spectrum of issues, particularly those affecting the Cuban people since 1989.

Past research topics include:

  • The Impact of the US Embargo on Cuba
  • Employment in Cuba
  • Sustainable Development and Organic Agriculture
  • AIDS in Cuba: Governmental Action and Social Perceptions
  • The Interrelation of the Process of Urbanization and Gender in Havana in the ‘90s
  • Characteristics of Community Work in Cuba and the US
  • Cuban Women and Socio-Economic Participation
  • Cuba: An Aging Population
  • The Role of Youth in Social Programs for Young People
  • Sexuality and Sexual Education in Cuba
  • Children and Family in Cuba

Students are paired with a Cuban professor, who serves as a research advisor throughout the semester. Through CEDEM, the Sarah Lawrence program has also organized panels on subjects ranging from AIDS to women’s and gender issues, changing each year to accommodate student and faculty interests and concentrations.

Instituto Superior de Artes (ISA): Performing & Visual Arts

Instituto Superior de ArtesIn addition to studying at the University of Havana, students can take classes at the Instituto Superior de Artes—the national Cuban art school. ISA houses five schools in the arts, and professors are all active musicians, dancers, or artists.

Each facultad (faculty) in the arts provides a combination of theory and practice. Studying at ISA is comparable to conservatory work in the US, so it is ideal for students who are serious about pursuing artistic achievement through concentrated study.

Visual Arts: ISA’s Facultad de Artes Plásticas offers studio courses in the visual arts. Students interested in enrolling should bring work samples to Cuba for portfolio review. Most Cuban students who enroll at ISA have highly developed visual arts skills and have attended art schools. Assessment of level is therefore important for appropriate placement.

Past studies include:

  • Studio work in painting
  • Tutorials in special areas, such as wood sculpture
  • Cuban and Latin American painting, history, and theory

Music: ISA’s Facultad de Música offers a music program combining tutorial study in composition, voice, and/or instrumentation, with work in theory, history, and performance. Music students need a basic proficiency level and must audition before enrolling. ISA’s music professors are active professionals who help students access Cuba’s cultural scene.

Past studies include:

  • Canto Clásico Cubano
  • Guitar: Practice and Theory
  • Percussion: Cuban Rhythms
  • Percussion: Practice and Theory
  • Popular Dance (Danza Folklórica)
  • Cuban and Afro-Cuban Rhythms

Fundación del Nuevo Cine Latino-Americano (FNCL): Film History


Students interested in Cuban and Latin American film history may attend the Fundación, which offers classes exclusively for US students. Founded by Nobel laureate Gabriel García Márquez and located in a beautiful estate, FNCL organizes film festivals and retrospectives, and houses one of the best film libraries in Cuba. The program faculty member is both a documentary filmmaker and a film critic, in addition to being an excellent teacher.

Living in Havana

Students studying in the Havana program stay in a casa particular: a part of a Cuban home available for rent, similar to a homestay.

Casa Particular

  • Students stay in double rooms in a building in the Vedado neighborhood, between the central road of Línea and the Malecón, a 20-minute walk from the University.
  • Hosts provide bed linens and towels.
  • Each room has its own bathroom and refrigerator.
  • Students coordinate with their hosts to determine laundry arrangements.


Shortly after students arrive in Cuba, they are immersed in the language to prepare for academic written Spanish and classroom discussions of text. 

Throughout the first week, students also participate in several orientation sessions and register for classes. The resident program director provides assistance and remains available for the entire semester.


The Sarah Lawrence College in Havana program is highly selective and is open to juniors and seniors enrolled at any accredited American college or university. Students may apply for application in either the fall or spring. Students are not permitted to stay in Cuba for an entire year.

Applications & Deadlines

Completed applications, including letters of recommendation, academic interest statement, study abroad approval, unofficial transcripts (guest students only), and application fee (guest students only) are due:

  • February 1 (for fall applicants)
  • October 15 (for spring applicants)

Tuition & Fees

Listed below is an estimate of costs to help you plan for the semester ahead. Sarah Lawrence tuition, per semester, will be $26,300.

Room with breakfast and dinner (all students will be in double rooms)


Room deposit


Study abroad medical insurance (per semester)*


Costs in Cuba (includes local transportation, lunches, and personal expenses)

$1,500 (approximate)

*Students still need to have their own coverage or coverage through the Sarah Lawrence plan to ensure they are covered before they leave the US and upon their return.

Financial Aid

Sarah Lawrence College students who normally receive financial aid may apply their awards to any College-sponsored program abroad.

Sarah Lawrence College offers limited financial assistance to guest students on this program. Students should consult their home school's financial aid office for guidance on other financial aid resources.

For more information about Sarah Lawrence financial aid options, e-mail the Office of International Programs.

Academic Calendar

Fall 2017
Thursday, August 24

Students arrive in Havana

Saturday, August 26 - Sunday, August 27 Orientation trip to Las Terrazas
Monday, August 28 - Saturday, September 2 Orientation activities, including language classes and registration, at University of Havana
Monday, September 4 Classes begin at University of Havana
Friday, September 15 - Sunday, September 17 Trip to Matanzas
Sunday, October 8 - Saturday, October 14 Trip to Santiago
Friday, November 17 - Sunday, November 19 Trip to Trinidad
Saturday, December 16 Students must vacate housing and depart for airport

Spring 2018
Thursday, January 25

Students arrive in Havana

All students must arrive by 5 p.m.

Saturday, January 27 - Sunday, January 28 Orientation trip to Las Terrazas
Monday, January 29 - Friday, February 2 Orientation activities including language classes, advising, and registration at University of Havana
Monday, February 5 Classes begin at University of Havana
Friday, February 16 - Sunday, February 18 Trip to Matanzas
Saturday, March 17 - Friday, March 23 Trip to Santiago
Friday, April 13 - Sunday, April 15 Trip to Viñales
Saturday, May 19 Students must vacate housing and depart for airport

Arrival and departure dates are fixed. Internal travel dates may be subject to change.