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May 5, 2004


    OSWEGO -- SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley and Dr. Walter Opello, the college's director of international education, recently had an opportunity to see the progress of Oswego's study abroad program in Cuba.

    The administrators visited the program, one of only three undergraduate semester-long programs through accredited American universities, from April 5 to 8 under a U.S. Treasury Department license. The program grew out of a suggestion from Oswego's Professor Eugenio Basualdo, who now serves as the program director in Cuba.

    Most of their time was spent with the students, who were doing well in their new surroundings, Stanley said. "They are incredibly bright and well-prepared," she said of the students studying through Oswego. "They love being with Cuban students and professors in the classrooms of regular university classes."

    Opello agreed with Stanley's high assessment of the students. "They are a fine, fine batch, some of the best students we have ever had," he said. "They are forced to speak Spanish there a lot more than any other Latin American country where they could have studied, so they have become very fluent."

    Students participating in the program are from colleges and universities that include Oswego, Cornell, Binghamton, Tufts, Indiana, Reed, Portland State and Vanderbilt.

    The participating students joined Stanley and Opello for a dedication of Oswego's office space at the University of Havana. Getting that space and furnishing it with amenities like an air conditioner, a small refrigerator and a computer represent quite an accomplishment and resulted from Basualdo's ability to get things done, Opello said.

    "No other program in Cuba has this kind of arrangement," he said. Students in the Oswego program having access to this space, especially the computer. It is hard for many students in Cuba to have regular computer access because the high demand exceeds the small number of terminals, some of which are often broken, Opello added.

    That Cuba is a closed society without free expression was clear, Stanley said. "There are limitations on what an individual can say and possess," she noted. "People do not have choices or options they have in a free society. As a result, the students are understanding what it means not to be in a free culture."

    At the same time, students have taken advantage of many opportunities to explore historical and
cultural sites, and some even volunteered to go dig potatoes by hand, Opello added.

    The lack of the amenities found in the states, such as high-speed Internet, abundant cell phone service and cheap long-distance rates means the students are more cut off from their families than those in most other study abroad countries. But even that has had its positive side, Stanley said.

    "They are a very tight group," she said of the students in the Oswego program. "They have developed a lot of esprit de corps from their experience and have really bonded."

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