Just 90 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba seems like it’s a world away due to years of travel restrictions between Cuba and the United States.
Recently, however, the economic and political restrictions set in place since the revolution in 1959 have been relaxed, making Cuba more accessible to U.S. citizens and N.C. State students.
This summer, N.C. State students have the unique opportunity to travel to this mysterious country and earn up to six credit hours.
The program is N.C. State’s first study abroad trip to Cuba and is directed jointly by Nicholas Robins, a professor of history, and Mark Darhower, a professor of foreign language and literature.
The trip to Cuba will take place from May 17 until June 7 and emphasize the “exploration of the socio-environmental impact of the sugar, tobacco and coffee industries, as well as unique historical-political and linguistic aspects of Cuban culture,” according to the Study Abroad website.
Students can get credit for either HI 395: Environmental History of Cuba or FLS 295: Environmental History of Cuba and FLS 395: Language and Culture of Modern Cuba.
“The idea is that students can get Spanish credit and/or History credit,” Darhower said. “The history course is environmental history of Cuba so that would have an appeal to students who study environmental studies. This makes the trip a truly interdisciplinary experience.”
Darhower said that he’d always been interested in “increasing the visibility of the Caribbean” as it is often underrepresented in Spanish programs. Therefore he, along with the Director of the Spanish Teacher Education program, Karen Tharrington, created the idea of a trip to Cuba to replace the summer study abroad to Costa Rica.
Simultaneously, Robins, who has extensive experience taking students to Cuba from his time at Tulane University, was planning a spring break trip to Cuba. After both Darhower and Robins had submitted their individual proposals, the Study Abroad office put them in contact to plan a joint trip.
Surprisingly, according to Darhower and Robins, the program to Cuba met with “a supportive and welcoming response,” and planning the trip was straightforward since the Obama Administration relaxed the requirements for traveling to Cuba at the end of 2011, making it easier to travel in groups.
In addition, due to the recent changes of the requirements, there are now flights that go directly from Miami to Cuba and there are certain travel agencies licensed to deal specifically with Cuba.
Robins, who has years of experience traveling to Cuba himself, said “Cuban people have no hostility toward American people at all,” and suggests that there is an affinity between the two cultures.
However, according to Robins, there are some people that may have issues with the program, and claimed that study abroad programs such as this one pumps money into the Cuban regime and supporting their government. Robins debased this claim, and said the majority of the money supporting the Cuban government comes from Cubans living outside the country and that study abroad programs do not support the government whatsoever.
Going to Cuba will be a unique opportunity, according to Robins, because it’s the only study abroad program at the University in an embargoed country, and it will force students to exercise their critical thinking abilities and use all of the information from their experiences on both sides of the embargo to develop their own conclusions about Cuba.
“Cuba is changing,” Darhower said. “Fidel Castro transferred the power of the presidency to his brother, who has said that he will not rerun once his term is up.”
In addition, Darhower said students will get to see “the last few years of a socialist state that’s near our borders and they’ll never see it again because it’s going to disappear. They will actually see history in the making.”
“This is an unprecedented opportunity to see what, to most Americans, is the forbidden island, and students who are interested should sign up sooner rather than later,” Robins said.