University Lake School plans future Cuba visit after eye-opening experience

Posted: 08-Sep-16 10:25

American universities are sending more scholars, students, graduates and parents on educational exchanges to Cuba after diplomatic ties between both countries were fully re-established. A group from University Lake School is ready to organise a new school trip to Cuba in the spring next year following the success of a summer programme that included meetings with scientists, artists and community leaders. Other American universities are engaging in similar programmes and research partnerships with Cuban institutions.

University Lake School plans future Cuba visit after eye-opening experience

A group of 28 university professors, parents and recent graduates from University Lake School (ULS) in Wisconsin visited Cuba between July and August, in what would be the first step in a broader exchange programme. The academic and cultural trip organised in collaboration with EF Educational Tours brought down stereotypes of all sorts created by Cold-War-style propaganda from both sides.

Ann Mocchi, a Spanish teacher who led the group along with her colleague Robynn Horner, said that it was surprising for them to find out that there is no anti-American sentiment among the Cuban population. On the contrary, students and scholars admired the friendliness of the locals and their disposition to talk to foreign visitors about different topics.

On a report published by Lake Country Now, Mocchi made reference to the joy, gentleness and vibrant culture that can be appreciated in the Caribbean nation despite the ups and downs of the economy. She also mentioned that educational exchanges offer unparalleled opportunity for meeting the island´s history and culture:

“In Havana, there are so many colourful vestiges of both the Cold War and the Mafia heydays, while in smaller cities farther afield like Trinidad and Cienfuegos, it's all about Spanish and French colonialism. Not everything is in ruins, but there is a crumbling elegance that fires the imagination.”

The Spanish Department at ULS is planning an intersession consisting in a week-long study of a topic in Cuba for the next spring term. Usually, these concentrated courses involve the whole school, so the island´s political landscape, history and culture will be explored in different courses.

ULS is not the first and the only university that has approached Cuba in more recent years. An Open Doors report showed that in 2015 there was a 13 percent increase in American students studying in Cuba and a 36 percent of Cubans studying in the U.S. compared to the previous year.

Other institutions like Penn University have also embarked on school trips to Cuba providing intensive courses and meeting opportunities with artists, entrepreneurs and scientists. On its part, Brown University organises the CASA/Cuba program, which provides students with a unique opportunity to have direct access to Cuba’s leading institution of higher learning: the University of Havana, and to Casa de Las Americas.

Auburn University in Alabama, University of the District of Columbia and California State University, Fullerton, as well as Illinois College, University of Rhode Island, among others, all signed deals with Cuban universities that include research on agriculture, oceanography and environmental issues.

Other American institutions that have sent students or signed memorandums of understanding and agreements with Cuban universities include; Virginia Commonwealth University, Harvard, University of the District of Columbia, Drake University and Washington State University.

A 2016 report from the Education Advisory Board shows that until July 2016, the University of Havana alone has signed more than 40 memorandums of understanding with U.S. colleges and universities. Long-term plans for opening campuses in Cuba are currently being discussed within the American higher education sector.


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