Open University begins study abroad options in Cuba

Posted: 09-Dec-16 09:10

Students will head for Havana next March, participating in a range of activities, visiting various sites of historic significance, and staying with local families. In a vital time for US-Cuba relations, with the death of Fidel Castro and incoming presidency of Donald Trump, the students will learn plenty about past relations, as well as looking at future policy.

Open University begins study abroad options in Cuba

The death of Fidel Castro couldn’t have come at a more crucial time in terms of American-Cuban relations, given the huge turning point around the corner for the US when the Obama administration gives way to that of Donald Trump.

The ongoing US embargo, imposed more than 50 years ago, has long prevented travel to the Caribbean island for American nationals, while severely restricting, if not completely eradicating, all trade and diplomacy ties too.

Under Barack Obama, this policy has been eased, meaning it’s now possible for citizens of the US to visit Cuba, providing they fit with one of 12 possible criteria that makes them eligible for a visa. One of which is educational purposes, and this has been a catalyst for renewed interest in on-the-ground research among higher education institutions, with the Open University ahead of the pack.

From March 10-19, 2017, a group of students will complete "The Exceptional Island: Cuban Culture and Politics", a trip that will see them make the journey to Puebla, Mexico, before travelling on to Havana, Cuba, in search of knowledge and understanding of one of the world’s most unique modern cultures. On the agenda will be tours of historic locations, and engaging in special activities that are part and parcel of both everyday and occasional life on the island, all whilst staying with local families.

Charles Kenney, associate professor of political science and international and area studies at the Open University, told OUDaily.com in a recent interview about the new offering:

“There’s been very little travel by most Americans to Cuba for 50 years, and so only recently have opportunities begun to open for these kinds of study abroad programs. So, the timing of this program really has to do with the opportunity that’s really just beginning to emerge for the first time."

He continued:

"I think what students will get out of the course will, in the first place, be an understanding of the nature of politics in this country and the history of US-Cuba relations, and I think that is essential to making wise policy choices looking forward — if you don’t understand where you’re coming from, it’s very difficult to make good policies and achieve the kinds of goals that you want to achieve.”

Cuba’s tourism industry has skyrocketed in recent times, and with more relaxed restrictions for Americans this trend is expected to increase. Meanwhile, Trump has previously stated that he would consider reintroducing more stringent legislation for travel to Cuba if the current government did not start to make more concessions. Whether that will happen or not, the impact of more and more visitors arriving is bound to change the culture, atmosphere and individuality of this incredibly special corner of the globe over the coming years, meaning those embarking with the Open University may be doing so just before the country changes forever, or again becomes off limits to them.  


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