UCLA will add Havana, Cuba to the list of destinations students can visit starting in summer 2015.
Preparations for a travel study program in Cuba began four years ago when the Obama administration eased regulations for study abroad programs, said history professor Robin Derby, who is heading the program along with history professor Andrew Apter.
But the final steps to implementing the program came recently when UCLA teamed up with the Council on International Educational Exchange, or CIEE, for on-the-ground operations in Cuba, Derby said.
CIEE is a nonprofit organization certified by the U.S. Department of the Treasury to run study abroad programs in Cuba. Before the collaboration, UCLA struggled to find others to run operations in the country, Derby said.
“Finally, UCLA folks were able to locate a group to work with and they were able to do the logistics on the ground in Cuba,” she said.
The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Cuba, an island country located in the Caribbean, since 1961, but on Dec. 17 President Barack Obama declared that diplomatic relations between the two nations would be restored. The U.S. embargo, which is still in effect, was declared in 1960.
Maria Torres, a second-year Spanish and Chicana/o studies student who will take part in the program this summer, said she first became interested in studying abroad in Cuba after taking a few classes her first year that addressed Cuban history and literature.
“Taking those classes got me interested in Cuba in general,” Torres said. “I think that studying abroad in Cuba will expand my knowledge of political affairs and will eliminate a lot of misconceptions that I have.”
Some other UCLA students who have wanted to study abroad in Cuba said they have done so through other college campuses because UCLA’s program was not yet in place.
Devin Murphy, a fourth-year political science and African American studies student and former president of Undergraduate Students Association Council, went to Cuba during the summer of 2014 as part of UC Davis’ study abroad program.
Murphy said he wanted to go to Cuba because of his heritage, but initially found it difficult to find a program to go with.
“I knew that I wanted to go to South America or Africa, but when I looked at the summer study abroad programs at UCLA, I realized that most were on the continent of Europe,” Murphy said.
After researching programs online, talking with professors and meeting with an associate director of the study abroad program at UCLA, Murphy said he finally found the UC Davis program.
Emily Moon, the travel study program coordinator at the UCLA International Education Office, said the demand for the new program is high, with nearly all of the 30 program spots already filled.
“When we first started, we weren’t sure that the program was something that a lot of students would sign up for, but it’s taken off,” Moon said.
Moon said the registration is first-come, first-serve and that a $300 deposit, due on April 3, is required to hold a student’s spot in the program.
Some students said they want to visit Cuba, but they have concerns regarding travel safety.
Claire Couch, a third-year Design | Media Arts student, said she was worried about safety when traveling abroad, but she feels safe going with UCLA’s program.
Students traveling to Cuba with the program will take one class in Cuban history and another course in Afro-Cuban religion. They will stay with Cuban families, which sets UCLA’s program apart from other study abroad programs, Derby said.
“Staying in homes allows students to talk to people in a more candid way and see Cubans in their everyday environment,” Derby said. “Doing a home stay will give students a much richer understanding of the complexities of life for Cuban people.”
Students going on the trip will arrive in Miami on June 26. They will fly to Havana from Miami on June 27 and will return on July 25. The program fee is $5,800 for UC undergraduets, and the additional costs of airfare, meals, spending money and textbooks are estimated to be $1,600.