Berkeley Study Abroad offers summer program in Havana, Cuba

“Berkeley Study Abroad offers summer program in Havana, Cuba”

by Ishaan Srivastava via “The Daily Californian


After a historic resumption of U.S.–Cuba diplomatic relations and a relaxation of bilateral tensions, Berkeley Study Abroad is now offering a summer study abroad program in Havana, Cuba.

The course provides students with the opportunity to spend one month exploring the geographical and historical transformation of Cuba from colonial times to the present, all while living and studying in “the spirited capital of Cuba.”

“Cuba is — and has always been — a marvelous and fascinating country,” said program director Elizabeth Vasile. “It is a great place to see rapid transformation taking place.”

Vasile, who received her doctorate in geography from UC Berkeley and now conducts research in Latin America, has been leading tours of Cuba for about five years on behalf of organizations such as National Geographic. She approached the geography department chair and study abroad office last year with plans for the program, and received swift approval.

“Unlike a traditional classroom, we’re going to be going out in the field and observing the landscape for ourselves,” Vasile said, adding that her two primary objectives for the program are to instill in students a nuanced understanding of the complexity of Cuban history and the ability to critically observe the world around them.

Peer institutions such as Harvard College and Princeton University have offered similar programs even before President Barack Obama announced his intention to renew diplomatic ties with Cuba. The campus had previously offered a similar program that lasted from 1999 to 2003.

Other organizations such as the travel agency Marazul — which will be providing logistical assistance for UC Berkeley’s program this summer — have been organizing visits to Cuba since 1979.

Members of UC Berkeley’s faculty have maintained professional ties to Cuba despite longstanding diplomatic tensions. Anthropology professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes fondly remembers having invited Cuban medical professionals for a seminar in the early ‘90s, noting that then-Chancellor Chang-Lin Tien was happy to write a letter officially inviting her guests onto campus.

“He even asked whether we could invite Fidel Castro,” Scheper-Hughes said. “That would probably have been a step too far.”

According to Scheper-Hughes, such programs provide students with an opportunity to experience Cuba “before it becomes totally neoliberalized.”

Despite a history of bilateral political animosity, both Scheper-Hughes and Vasile said student safety would not be of exceptional concern in Cuba. Kaylee Yoshii, a campus senior who has visited Cuba multiple times on research trips,noted that the attitude toward Americans in Cuba is welcoming despite the decades of diplomatic hostility.


Johns Hopkins expands study abroad options in Cuba

“Johns Hopkins expands study abroad options in Cuba”

by Rachel Chism via “HUB

In years past, studying abroad in Cuba meant securing a travel license and flying with thousands of dollars in cash stashed in a suitcase.

Today, as the U.S. moves to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba, American credit and debit cards are accepted on the island, and the Internet is more accessible.

Johns Hopkins University students will soon have an opportunity to see these changes firsthand during a full semester in Cuba, thanks to the new Consortium for Advanced Studies Abroad, or CASA.

Hopkins, in partnership with Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Northwestern, and Penn,launched CASA-Havana during the 2014-15 academic year as the first of many study centers around the world that will be developed by the consortium.

Since 2012, JHU students have been able to travel to Cuba as part of a two-week Intersession course taught in English under the direction of Professor Eduardo González. But no other study abroad program offered students a glimpse into daily life for Cuban students.

CASA-Havana, the largest U.S. academic presence in Cuba, developed a program of study that gives students direct access to the country’s leading academic experts. At Cuba’s oldest university,University of Havana, students will take direct-enrollment courses alongside Cuban students and also have the option of taking courses at Casa de las Américas, the Cuban government’s premier research institute. All the courses will be taught in Spanish.

At the program center, students will take CASA-delivered courses and immerse themselves in Cuban culture with lectures from experts on key issues facing the country, exhibitions, recitals, and local field visits. Students will be encouraged to conduct research, too.

Housing will be provided in a recently renovated guest residence located within walking distance of the Cuba study center and Casa de las Américas.

“The CASA Cuba program gives Hopkins undergraduates a unique opportunity to experience Havana during such a time of social and economic transition,” . . . .


4 things to know before studying abroad in Cuba

“4 things to know before studying abroad in Cuba”

by Caleb Diehl via “USA TODAY

In mid-February, Elliott Young, professor of history at Lewis & Clark College, will carry tens of thousands of dollars in cash and travelers’ checks through Cuban customs. He leads a study abroad program where, in addition to surviving without the luxuries of capitalist economies (like banking), students take classes in Spanish and contemporary Cuban art, literature and politics.

“Traveling to Cuba is unlike traveling to almost any other country,” says Young. “You don’t see any advertisements other than for [the] government. You don’t have a lot of stores selling basic goods, like clothing.”

For many students, that’s all the more reason to go.

“The difficulty in some ways is the attraction,” Young says. “It’s taboo for Americans.” It doesn’t hurt that with loosened travel restrictions, U.S. citizens can now bring home up to $100 of famed Cuban rum and cigars.


If those sound like good reasons, Lewis & Clark, Harvard, Princeton, Tulane, Hampshire College and a number of other schools offer long-standing abroad programs to Cuba. Other schools are showing renewed interest in Cuban affairs with their abroad offerings this year. The second group ever from the University of Delaware is touring the country on a winter 2015 session. This spring,Princeton launches its second program, focusing on Latin American culture, politics and history.

As colleges bolster their study abroad offerings, they must prepare students for a country bereft of the resources Americans take for granted. Living for months in Cuba is exhilarating, but not carefree. Before you pack you bags, there are a few things you should know.


You have three options for accessing money. Wire it through Western Union at fees ranging from 7% to 20%, depending on the amount. Obtain a TransCard, which allows ATM withdrawals, but charges fees of up to 20%. Bringing a stock of cash or travelers checks, on the other hand, gives you accessible funds at no extra charge. The Lewis & Clark program recommends that their students carry $2,000 – $3,000 each.

Cuba runs on two economies: the convertible Peso (for restaurants and imported goods) and the Cuban Peso (for bus rides and some stores). One convertible peso is roughly equal to one U.S. dollar, or about four Cuban pesos. Some Cubans con tourists by pretending Cuban Pesos are convertibles. Study the colors and images on each type before you go.

In any case, it helps to be a shrewd negotiator. You can negotiate prices for almost any good or service, and to stay on budget, you have to. Some restaurants, for example, hand Americans a special menu with exaggerated prices. It takes a bit of haggling to uncover the real options.


In Cuba, it’s hard to tell if someone wants you or your money. Jineteros (jockeys) charm tourists and offer to show them around town in exchange for meals, clothes and gifts of cash. Some tourists develop long-term relationships with their jineteros, to the detriment of their wallets.

Young recommends making friends with Cuban students to experience local life and avoid Havana’s plentiful tourist traps.

“Stay away from anything that says Buena Vista Social Club,” Young says, “or anything expensive.” Cuban students might drink rum and play music on the streets, or attend a government-sponsored concert, while tourists lavish their funds on gimmicks and inflated prices.