OSWEGO -- When a dozen students started a study
abroad experience in Cuba in early February, SUNY Oswego established
one of only three comprehensive college-run semester-long programs in
Participants in Oswego's first-ever Cuban semester
exchange program from Feb. 12 to June 12 at the Universidad de la
Habana had to be academic achievers fluent in Spanish because of the
rigorous demands of the university there, said Dr. Walter Opello,
director of international education at Oswego.
Students will take mainly social science courses and
will learn more about the culture from out-of-classroom experiences.
"There will be an educational tour of the island of Cuba in the first
two weeks of the program," said Lizette Alvarado, the college's
coordinator for programs in Latin America. Plans are to pair a Cuban
student with each incoming student to serve as a guide and cultural
mentor throughout the semester.
The program's seeds were planted when Eugenio
Basualdo, an associate professor of vocational teacher preparation,
asked to bring two Cuban professors to speak on campus, Opello said.
After speaking and meeting with members of the college community, "they
proposed that we establish an exchange program at their university,"
Creating the program in a country where the United
States has an embargo meant the Office of International Education had
to do "probably 10 times more than we had to do for other countries,"
explained Josh McKeown, Oswego's associate director for overseas
academic programs. "A lot of footwork and a lot of infrastructure went
into this program. Plus there's this hurdle we had to get over to
convince students" to go to a place many consider off limits.
To create one of the few such programs in Cuba,
organizers had to navigate a maze of red tape, including getting a
special license from the U.S. Treasury Department. Cuba also required
the college to furnish an American professor to serve as a special
director for Oswego's students -- an additional logistical challenge
and expense -- but Basualdo was available to fill this role, Opello
"The kind of student this would appeal to is the
mature, politically aware student who wants to really know Cuba beyond
the superficial treatment in the U.S. news media," Opello noted.
As a result, Alvarado believes the students bound
for Cuba aren't too anxious or worried. "The interview process I did
with students helped them prepare for Cuba, not only linguistically but
for what they will actually find in Cuba," she said.
Despite all the political rhetoric between the
countries and the challenges in establishing the program, organizers
believe the experience will prove invaluable. "It's a really exciting
time to be there," McKeown said.