Studying abroad in Cuba is about to get easier
By Emily DeRuy
The announcement that the United States will normalize relations with
Cuba is good news for students who want to study on the island.
After decades of restrictions and bureaucratic bickering, it will likely
become much easier for American students to study abroad in Cuba—and
perhaps even more importantly, for Cuban students to pursue an education
in the U.S., according to educators and researchers who have closely
followed Cuba's relationship with the U.S.
"I do think this will make a difference," said Brian Whalen, president
and CEO of the Forum on Education Abroad, which has advocated for the
easing of study abroad regulations. "It's still more difficult right now
than it needs to be."
It's been difficult for a while. During the Bush administration in the
early 2000s, the U.S. imposed restrictions that forced most American
universities operating programs in Cuba to shutter. In 2011, under
Obama, the U.S. opened the door for schools to resume study abroad
programs in Cuba, but the process still required navigating a web of
paperwork and licenses. And third-party study abroad providers like
Academic Programs International, which received a license to operate a
Cuba program for academic credit only in 2013, were largely left out of
the resurgence. About half of the students who go abroad do so through
such third-party programs, Whalen said, so the inability of those
programs to operate has severely impeded study abroad opportunities in Cuba.
"It's not like studying in Spain," he said, adding that some
organizations have complained about backlogs and roadblocks to starting
programs in Cuba. "Bottom line…there's greater demand, but we don't have
the supply in place. I have no doubt the normalization of the
relationship will help that."
Duke University may consider reestablishing a program it closed in 2004
if there is enough faculty interest. Wednesday's announcement would
"certainly make it easier," said Amanda Kelso, executive director of the
Global Education Office for Undergraduate Students.
Under the new diplomatic thaw, the Obama administration will expand
travel allowances for 12 categories, including educational activities.
American credit and debit cards will also work on the island, which will
make it easier for the university and students to move money, Kelso said.
The White House did not immediately return a request for comment
regarding how study abroad might be impacted. A spokeswoman for the
State Department, which has been encouraging more student exchanges with
Latin American countries in recent months, declined to comment.
For now, the numbers of students exchanged between the U.S. and Cuba is
During the 2013-14 school year, just 69 Cuban students studied in the
United States, down from 76 students the year before, according to the
Institute of International Education, which tracks study abroad figures.
In the 2012-13 school year, the U.S. sent 1,633 students to Cuba. Prior
to the Bush administration's restrictions, more than 2,000 students
studied in Cuba, a figure that tanked to fewer than 300 following the
Peter Hakim, a Cuba expert with the Inter-American Dialogue think tank
in Washington, D.C., agrees the news is positive for people hoping to
study in Cuba.
"I think there will be more exchanges with Cuba," he said, "and there
certainly will not be the kind of ridiculousness whereby a professor at
Harvard has to prove he's going to Cuba to do research or a student has
to prove they're taking courses or fulfilling a degree requirement to go
The benefits stand to be numerous, Whalen said. The changes will allow
more students to learn Spanish and gain cultural knowledge about an
island that is geographically close but about which many young people
know very little. There will be opportunities to study musical
traditions and the arts, as well as immigration and politics.
"I have a good friend…who is an expert on community gardening," he said,
"and Cuba is apparently quite a leader in that, so there are certain
content areas where students stand to benefit in learning in Cuba."
Hannah Levien, a current senior at Marist College in New York, studied
in Havana last fall, and said she gained a cultural understanding of
Cubans and their take on the embargo.
"There is no animosity against Americans and that's something I wasn't
sure of when I went there," she said, adding that she knows many young
Cubans who will likely be interested in studying in the U.S.
"All the Cuban students I talked to," she said, "would joke about coming
to the U.S., but it wasn't really a joke. They'll be excited with the
prospect of maybe coming."
The easing of restrictions could be even more eye-opening for Cuban
students, provided the government allows them to travel, Hakim said, a
move that could be risky for the island.
Source: Studying abroad in Cuba is about to get easier | Fusion -