CORVALLIS, Ore. – Students from three campuses will travel to Cuba in June for the first official study abroad program to that country in the history of the Oregon University System (OUS).
The 15 students from Oregon State University, Portland State University and the University of Oregon will venture to Cuba in the summer after taking a class this term on Cuban Society, Culture and Politics through Film.
Michele Justice, associate director of OUS international programs, is charged with finding new study abroad opportunities in the university system.
“Making this system-wide means students from different universities can learn from each other, and it gives all students a chance to have resources and faculty to go places like this that they wouldn’t otherwise,” she said. “We have faculty across the state with expertise on Cuba, and a willingness to share this expertise.”
Dwaine Plaza and Amy Below from Oregon State are teaching the class, along with guest lecturers from the other colleges and universities. Plaza is a sociologist with expertise in migration studies and the Caribbean, and Below is an expert on Latin American politics.
“The students are experiencing Cuba through films, virtual guest lectures and through instruction by different faculty with Cuba expertise, and then they’ll be there to experience it all in person this summer,” Plaza said.
Students from the other campuses watch the class remotely when it is in session on Mondays, but congregate over several Saturdays this term to meet as a class in person.
“It’s important to us that the students bond and interact in person before they take this trip together,” Below said. “Once we get to Cuba, it’s going to be an intense learning experience.”
Each day they spend in Cuba will be built around a different theme. The students will learn about topics ranging from education, agriculture, and public health to Cuban culture and politics.
Tawny Garcia, a first-generation Cuban-American, is taking the class in part because she wants to reconnect with her roots. Garcia, a senior majoring in sociology at Oregon State, has never been to the country where her father was born.
“I am still in shock about being able to do this trip; not many Americans get to go to Cuba,” she said. “My understanding over the past couple of years is that Cuban Americans and Cubans see things differently. I plan to go there with an open mind and gain a better understanding of a part of me.”