White House announcement on Cuba may boost IU study-abroad classes

The easing of U.S. restrictions on travel to and from Cuba could come as good news for students hoping to study there. And at least two IU Bloomington study-abroad courses in Cuba are scheduled this year: one in SPEA and the other in the Department of Geography.

The School of Public and Environmental Affairs was planning its first study-abroad course in Cuba before this week’s news. The one-credit undergraduate course, “Public Policy in Cuba,” will take students to Havana over spring break in March 2015.

Dan Preston

Dan Preston

The Department of Geography in the College of Arts and Sciences will offer “Issues in Latin America, the Caribbean and Contemporary Cuba” during the first summer session of 2015. The course includes two weeks in Cuba, primarily in Santa Clara, Bloomington’s sister city.

Clinical assistant professor Dan Preston, who is teaching the SPEA class, sees President Barack Obama’s initiative to normalize relations with Cuba as a positive development.

“It will make my program easier to operate and should increase the learning opportunities for students while in Cuba,” he said. “This opening may even provide more opportunities for more expanded educational programs for SPEA and IU in Cuba.”

The only possible downside, he said, is that easing travel restrictions may mean the opportunity for IU students to travel to Cuba won’t seem as unique and special.

On a broader level, Preston said he’s in the camp that believes the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and restrictions on travel and other exchanges do more harm than good.

“It does more to entrench the current regime and government structures than foment a counter-revolutionary movement,” he said. “I believe that slowly easing sanctions in a thoughtful way is a much more effective approach to encourage change.”

Frank Marshalek, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Geography who is teaching the summer-session course, said he isn’t yet sure how much will change as a result of the White House announcement. He has been able to travel to Cuba multiple times for do research for his dissertation and with Cubamistad, the Bloomington-Santa Clara sister-cities group.

The geography class’ stint in Cuba will include tours of Havana and Santa Clara and visits to a university, a coastal eco-resort, urban farms, a cigar factory, museums and other highlights. The goal is to provide students with the knowledge and analytical skills to understand Cuban society as the country moves away from a state-centered model to a more diversified economy.

The IU Bloomington Department of Geography planned a similar course a decade ago, but it was canceled after the George W. Bush administration instituted a rule that study-abroad students had to be in class in Cuba for at least 10 weeks. Marshalek initially hoped to organize a class in the summer of 2014, but it took longer than expected to make arrangements and recruit students.

Students at other IU campuses have traveled to Cuba for study-abroad classes. IUPUI geographer Timothy Brothers and IU Southeast political scientist Cliff Staten taught classes in 2012 that included travel to Cuba.


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