Cuba Trip Gives U Students New Perspectives


(Photo Courtesy of Morgan Byrne)


(Photo Courtesy of Morgan Byrne)
(Photo Courtesy of Morgan Byrne)


A course at the U took a group of students to Cuba last October for a brand new type of study abroad experience.


Melissa Hall, the program manager for the class entitled “Cuba: Community, Complexity and Change,” said the group was a mix of undergraduate and graduate students. Once enrolled, students began preparing for their trip, learning about the country they would be exploring.

“Before we go, we spend a lot of time in the classroom focusing on the new culture they are about to experience, and once we are there they get to see a variety of groups, from redevelopment areas to the grassroots of Cuba,” Hall said.

Gina Russo, the assistant director at the Bennion Center and organizer of the study abroad trip, received a grant to do an exploratory of her choosing. After a visit to Cuba, Russo wanted to share her experience with the culture.

“I realized that it was viable and that students would love it,” Russo said. “We didn’t market it that well for that long of a time and we got 22 students right out of the gate who signed up. I was hoping for 12, and I was like “wow.” I think people were really intrigued to explore this mystery country that is only 90 miles away from us.”

Russo said she feels there are negative misconceptions about traveling to Cuba, saying some may view it as scary and illegal.

“People think they have Cuba in this little box, and once you start to peel the onion you see it’s different,” Russo said.

Russo wanted the exploration to focus on Cuba’s expanding cultural landscape and the different demographics of the people and country.

“[The] life expectancy in Cuba and the United States is only a year apart, and the gaps between the rich and the poor are much smaller,” Russo said. “In general the Cubans’ needs are met and therefore more people, you could argue, are getting their basic human needs met. Here people are really poor or living extravagantly. It is more socialism-oriented because it is socialism.”

Regarding physical safety, Russo said she felt safe to travel in Cuba.

“I can go out … at night and feel perfectly safe,” Russo said. “People speak English and are trying to learn it, so the language barrier isn’t as intense as people think.”

Russo said she values the experiences students have when they return to the states.

“My favorite part is once we are home and everyone has to reflect on the trip,” Hall said. “How they have changed, what they have learned; it’s a time for critical thinking of everything they just saw.”

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