By: Chris Swasko
Dr. Christina Perez was excited for new opportunities when Barack Obama took office in 2009—she was most excited for changes she knew students would most profit from. During his campaign for the presidency, Obama promised changes to the United States’ policy regarding Cuban travel for families and universities, and after two years her hope for Dominican students is being realized.
On Jan. 14 the Obama administration announced loosened restrictions on travel to Cuba, making it easier for American students and religious groups to visit. The average American tourist is still not allowed to vacation in Cuba, as the US economic embargo from 1960 is still in effect.
The laws have been loosened from the restrictions the Bush administration placed on Cuban travel that Dr. Perez said made it “nearly impossible” to visit Cuba after 2004.
With the campaign promises made by Obama in hand, Perez has been organizing the trip since she first drafted the proposal in 2009. She has worked closely with other educators at the University of Havana, as well as FLACSO, the Latin American Social Sciences Institute, to set up the program for what she calls an “historic opportunity.”
A self described crusader to bring the US and Cuba together, Perez hopes the trip challenges the preconceived notions students have of what the country is like.
The study abroad program is the “only way” for someone to be able to visit, and an opportunity “to meet the diverse Cuban people closed off to most people of this country,” Perez said.
The enthusiasm Perez has is evident over her two years of work, but Dominican students are growing enthusiastic about the opportunity as well. Last fall, before the law had even changed, over 60 students declared interest in the Cuba program, followed by another 30 at recent information sessions.
Karen Delgado, a junior, has been interested in Cuban culture since reading “Dreaming in Cuban” in a Latin American literature class. She says she has always had a “fascination for other people’s way of life.”
“My mom said to take a chance and be adventurous,” Delgado said.
Laila Abousamara said that she would go and take part in the study abroad program to learn more about Cuban culture as well.
“It’s a new experience to get to go there and a chance to learn a lot about the country,” Abousamara said.
But some students, like Jaime Campos, are more wary of travel to Cuba.
“I think it would be too much of a liability,” Campos said. “I don’t think it would be safe to go.”
With the law changing so recently, Perez described finalizing details for the trip as doing three months worth of work in three weeks. Because the study abroad department normally announces programs the semester before trips, the window for participants to gather money for the $3,700 trip will be unusually short.
Delgado says she is counting on financial aid to cover part of her expenses and her tax return to cover some as well.
“Normally I would be scrambling to find money,” she said. “But the price of this trip is economical and worth the money.”
Perez says she believes the price of this trip is the lowest it will ever be, and she hopes that students take this opportunity to learn about a culture that is only 90 miles away from America, yet can seem so far away.