Study Abroad In...Cuba?

Last month, the White House announced that President Obama would ease restrictions on academic travel to Cuba. This action removes regulations that many higher ed institutions and students have seen as barriers to academic exchanges with the island nation.

Cuban study abroad programs student exchange

A Reversal in American Policy

American tourists and businesses have been barred from visiting or doing business with Cuba for fifty years. A U.S. embargo against the Caribbean country - implemented in response to a communist takeover of government - caused the nation to be off limits for the vast majority of American citizens.

Despite travel restrictions to Cuba, thousands of students were allowed to go on exchanges to the island nation up until 2004. That year, however, President George W. Bush enacted provisions that severely limited the kinds of travel allowed to Cuba. One regulation requiring students to stay in the country for at least 10 weeks was particularly onerous for those desiring shorter-term academic exchanges.

At the time that more rigorous travel restrictions were imposed, 200 colleges and universities offered scholastic programs in Cuba. These exchanges allowed 2,000 higher ed students to enjoy unique academic experiences abroad. In 2010 - as a result of greater restrictions - only 60 American students studied in the Caribbean nation.

Cuban study abroad programs student exchange

Unique Learning Opportunities

Higher education analysts have applauded President Obama's easing of travel restrictions to Cuba, suggesting that it will re-open important avenues of academic study and research. Many point out that understanding the rapid transformation of Cuba's economy and culture is a matter of important national interest for the United States.

Academics throughout the country are anticipating changes that the relaxed travel regulations may usher in for colleges and universities. Many believe their home institutions will ramp up exchange programs so that students can once again experience firsthand university life in Cuba.

Professor René Hinojosa teaches in the urban and regional planning department at Michigan State University. In an interview with The State News, she highlights one area of excitement academics hold about more prospective study abroad opportunities in Cuba. Students, she says, 'can very clearly see the differences between how a free market economy works and how a planned state-owned economy works.'

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