SIUE Students Excited to Visit Cuba’s University of Havana

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Students are excited as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville takes its first step in enacting the educational agreement between SIU and the University of Havana (UH) in Cuba this week. Senior Roberto Saenz and junior Alyss Diaz jumped at this once in a lifetime opportunity to visit Cuba.

Cuba always has been that forbidden fruit, so to speak, so it’s exciting to take advantage of what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Students are excited as Southern Illinois University Edwardsville takes its first step in enacting the educational agreement between SIU and the University of Havana (UH) in Cuba this week.

SIUE College of Arts and Sciences colleagues Larry LaFond, faculty member with expertise in linguistics, and Wendy Shaw, faculty member who focuses on social geography, will lead a group of four students to Havana. In addition to the students visiting Cuba, 17 students will take a tandem course online. All 21 students will come together as part of the course to share what they have learned.

Senior Roberto Saenz is a history major with a double minor in philosophy and art history. An Aurora native, Saenz is of Puerto Rican descent and is curious about the similarities between Cuba and Puerto Rico.

“My focus has been on Latin American history, and I’m interested in how other Latin American countries’ relationships with the U.S. differ from Cuba’s,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting new people and experiencing a different lifestyle and culture. Cuba always has been that forbidden fruit, so to speak, so it’s exciting to take advantage of what could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“With a better understanding of Cuba and its people, maybe someday I’ll help bring the embargo to a lesser extreme, and people will look with less of a blind eye to the island.”

Junior Alyss Diaz, a special education major from Chicago, was curious about study abroad and wanted to experience it before she graduates.

“This is probably my only chance to experience Cuba in my lifetime, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity,” she said. “I’m interested in 1800s history and am studying Cuba in general. So, I’m interested in the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs invasion and Guantanamo Bay.”

Along with lectures at UH and a meeting with the University Students Federation, SIUE students will study interrelated aspects of Cuban culture and history. The group will visit various historical and cultural venues during the 10-day visit.

CAS Dean Aldemaro Romero’s goal is to demonstrate that a Midwestern university with no apparent connection to Cuba can create a variety of diverse programs to develop academic diplomacy by establishing connections both academically and culturally. Romero has worked vigorously on the project since 2009 to define the cooperative relationship between the universities.

This interdisciplinary studies class allows students to visit Cuba for 10 days and then return to SIUE to complete the course. Romero believes the alliance between the universities will give students a broader world perspective in an ever-growing global economy, while providing faculty with opportunities for the development of new academic initiatives.

The initiative between the University of Havana and SIUE is only the second in the nation - the first being with Harvard University.

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Doug McIlhagga
Southern Illinois University Edwardsville
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