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Spring 2013: Experiencing Cuba

As the United States loosens its economic sanctions and travel restrictions to Cuba, Elon students are discovering the island for the first time.

Photo by Randy Piland

When interactive media student Rachel Brent found out her Winter Term fly-in course was taking her to Cuba, she couldn’t contain her enthusiasm.

“If I remember correctly, my first reaction was to go ‘EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE’ and jump up and down for a few minutes,” she wrote in her course blog. “It’s been said before, but with good reason: this is a once-in-a-lifetime [opportunity].”

Indeed, for more than half a century, the idea of visiting Cuba was almost unthinkable for most Americans. Soon after Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959, relations deteriorated between the two countries. By 1962, the United States enacted an economic embargo and severed diplomatic relations with the island. Additional educational travel restrictions imposed in 2004 drastically affected the number of U.S. study abroad programs on the island.

During the 2003–04 academic year, about 2,148 U.S.  students studied on the island, according to the Institute of International Education’s Open Doors 2005 report. By 2010–11, the number decreased to 375. And while U.S.-Cuba relations remain tense, the loosening of travel restrictions in 2011 has opened a window of opportunity for U.S. colleges—including Elon.

Earlier this year, two groups of Elon students visited Cuba as part of their Winter Term studies. Brent was one of six students in the interactive media graduate program who spent five days on the island under the guidance of communications faculty member Randy Piland, reporting and producing material for Organopónico Vivero Alamar, an organic farm on the outskirts of Havana. Two communications seniors, Kassondra Cloos and Rachel Southmayd, traveled with the group as part of a project for the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

Meanwhile, Kevin O’Mara, professor of management, and Art Cassill, the Wesley R. Elingburg Professor of Accounting, led a group of 23 students as they made stops in the Cayman Islands and Cuba to explore the impact of globalization and how countries make decisions in a globally competitive world.

“Five years ago, we wouldn’t have thought about it,” says Woody Pelton, Elon’s dean of global studies, whose office gave guidance to Piland and helped O’Mara coordinate the program through a Canadian educational tour agency. “It’s still a challenging place to go to; it still requires a certain license.” But, he adds, “It’s a new opportunity.”

Click on the links to the right to explore Cuba through the eyes of the students who visited the island. Read the full story as it appeared in The Magazine of Elon here.

Keren Rivas,
5/6/2013 10:55 AM