Student in Cuba Ethnic Studies hosts second annual spring break trip to CubaImage of

Ethnic Studies hosts second annual spring break trip to Cuba

By Megan Skeehan, Department of Ethnic Studies

The Department of Ethnic Studies is planning a second trip to Cuba over spring break in 2016, following a successful trip last year. This year the cost for this program has been significantly lowered, and the program is open to students, faculty, staff, and the Fort Collins community with an application deadline of October 1. The 2016 trip will allow participants to learn from local citizens, experts, and policy makers about the sustainability issues in Cuba. Participants will be immersed in Cuban culture, developing cross-cultural understanding and communication skills. There will be site excursions to Colonial Havana, the Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples, Antonio Nunez Jiminez Foundation for Nature and Humanity, Muraleando Community Art Project, Federations of Cuban Women, Cuba Solar, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and more.

Student in Cuba

A CSU student poses for a photo in Cuba.

The trip will include a big emphasis on Cuba’s agricultural production and how the move toward organic urban farming has alleviated food insecurity. Due to the withdrawal of Soviet trade and aid, as well as conventional farming techniques that depleted the soil, Cuba struggled to support its population of 11 million people after the Iron Curtain fell in the late 1980s. While the road to sustainability has not been perfect, Cuba is now a model in Latin America and the Caribbean, and its urban agriculture provides cheap organic food for the islands population.
The education abroad program to Cuba began when Dr. Karina Céspedes attended an international conference on global sustainability in Havana. Céspedes saw that Cuba, along with Costa Rica, was doing excellent work around environmentalism. She came back to CSU and joined forces with Dr. Ernesto Sagás, who had been doing his own research on issues of environmentalism in Latin America. Céspedes and Sagás both have roots in Cuba and teach classes on the Caribbean and Central America, so they began to explore the idea of an alternative spring break program in Cuba geared towards sustainability so that students could visit Cuba and witness the changes taking shape on the island. Both professors believe that the alternative spring break trips are important as a full semester abroad is not feasible for all students. Both have noticed as educators that students who have had experiences doing these kinds of trips come back with a different understanding of the world and a different commitment to their own education. Working with International Programs, all of the logistics and complications of traveling to Cuba are taken care of for those participating in the program.

Students explore Cuba's natural beauty.

Students explore Cuba’s natural beauty.

Last year’s trip took many months of planning and scheduling to satisfy travel restrictions that were in place prior to President Obama’s executive order to loosen the U.S. embargo on Cuba after over 50 years of isolation. Although diplomatic relations have begun to normalize, travel to Cuba is still restricted and requires a special license.
Céspedes and Sagás hope the trip will break down common misperceptions about Cuba. According to Céspedes, “The last 50 years lack any real information about Cuba in the US, because people couldn’t travel there, and of course that feeds perceptions.” In reality, Cuba has a very progressive education system and has attained a 99% literacy rate, which was surprising to Ashley Martinez, a graduate student in Ethnic Studies, who participated in the trip last year. Women in Cuba are also more visible in politics and science, two fields that are dominated by men in the U.S. “The gender norms in Cuba were so different than in America. Contrary to American perceptions, In Cuba, women are in the top professions and make the most money,” observed Martinez. Céspedes shared that “over 70% of those in sciences in Cuba are women, and most engineers are women.”
One of the main reasons we encourage students to travel is to experience new things and to learn from exploration, and on an educational trip like the program to Cuba students are being taught that there is more than one way of life. Martinez said, “I really enjoyed the lack of access to technology. No cell phones, no internet, no technology. We were actually living life.” Less than 1% of Cubans have an internet connection since the only connection to the internet runs from Venezuela. While some Cuban’s have email on their phone, they don’t have access to the world-wide-web like American students are used to. “The way we are constantly connected here is very different there. It doesn’t happen and it changes the interaction,” said Céspedes.

Sagás adds that most memorable part of the trip was the warmth and openness of the Cuban people, and that students were able to have very good conversations and interactions. Céspedes enjoyed the urban and rural aspects of the trip. “It was really great to get out of the city. The balancing of the urban and rural was one of the best parts.”
For more information on the Education Abroad program in Cuba please visit the CSU Education Abroad website.