Students participate in first SUNY study abroad program in Cuba over winter intersession period

Seven students and assistant professor of anthropology Melanie Medeiros went to Cuba for two weeks as a study abroad opportunity over winter intersession. A working relationship has now been established between Geneseo and Universidad de Holguín in Cuba, according to an article published on Geneseo’s website.

This initiative was the result of years of work trying to establish a partnership with universities in Cuba. Efforts to establish this program have been going on since 2015, according to the article. 

Students were able to travel to Cuba despite the troubled relationship between Cuba and the United States, with an embargo currently in place from the U. S., preventing U.S. citizens from visiting Cuba, according to The New York Times.  

“One of the great things about international education is that it’s often at the forefront of diplomacy before nations can make relationships,” Interim Director of the Study Abroad Office Sam Cardamone said. “Oftentimes the good work that universities do, which is scholarly research, educating the next generation of the population as well as service to local communities. All of those things are good things that are in many ways apolitical.” 

Cardamone explained that while there was skepticism at first from Cuban universities due to the troubled history between Cuba and the U.S., the establishment of interpersonal relationships allowed things to go smoothly.

A primary aim of the agreement is to connect Geneseo to Cuba and Cuban universities.  When those who have gone to Cuba come back, they often have an information session on what Cuba is like for other students and faculty, according to Cardamone.

 In the future, trips to Cuba will probably continue to happen over the intersession or summer break as opposed to semester-long study abroad programs.

“What was unique about this faculty-led program was that about 25 to 50 percent of the content was actually being delivered by Cuban faculty members, which is kind of unique and something that we don’t have with our other faculty-led programs,” Cardamone said. “I envisioned the majority of the programs that we’re going to continue to run in Cuba will be short term faculty-led … but we have talked about the possibility and how could we structure a semester-long program.”

Student feedback from the trip has been extremely positive, with many who went feeling that the experience changed their lives for the better, as well as gave them a new and different perspective on identity and Cuba itself. 

Adolescent education and Spanish double major sophomore Sharon Becerra Pachon and anthropology major junior Marisa Sanquini, who went on the recent intersession trip, emphasized cultural differences between the U. S. and Cuba. 

“I loved how there were so many different diverse cultural aspects in Cuba … it was such a different way of looking at identity,” Sanquini said. “So that was really refreshing. It made you think about your own identity a lot. The trip is not only academically challenging, but it’s also emotionally and mentally challenging in a lot of ways.”

When it came to concerns Americans might have when travelling to Cuba, Pachon stressed being open to experiences.

“I think in the United States and around the world, there are some stereotypes about Cuba that are not true. You don’t realize it until you are there,” Pachon said. “So I would recommend everybody to open their mind about Cuba and try to go there. It’s an amazing country, especially the people are just incredible. That’s what I enjoyed most, the people.”

Students of Geneseo, like English major senior Chris Odiam, are excited about the new prospects of studying abroad in Cuba and feel it could be beneficial for students to bring information back and teach others about their experiences. 

“Cuba is just one of those places that people aren’t really aware of and they don’t know much about,” Odiam said. “I feel like it’s important that if students are going to take that kind of trip they should definitely come back with information.”