While most college students use spring break as a time for rest and relaxation, 20 Belmont students spent their spring break studying in communist Cuba.
The seven-day trip was part of a three-hour study abroad course that focused on small businesses in a communist setting.
Students went to Cuba, which has been under an American embargo since the 1960’s, thanks to people-to-people educational licensing program that came into use under President Barack Obama and originally put into place under former President Bill Clinton.
Heading into the country caused some apprehension among some of the trip attendees.
“Initially in the airport it was a little bit ominous because you have this big empty space and then you go into these little slots and you have to stand in a certain spot when you are talking to people so it’s just a bit intimidating,” said Nick Miller, a junior accounting major and trip attendee. “But once you actually get out in Cuba the people are incredibly friendly and I felt safer there than I do in the U.S.”
Along with sightseeing trips, the students heard lectures from one of Cuba’s Supreme Court justices and the Japanese ambassador to the country. Each student also had the chance to explore Cuba’s few free enterprise businesses including co-op farms in urban settings.
In this case, Miller recommends traveling in a group of students as opposed to traveling with your family because “you are basically with 20 people you don’t really know that well and most of them you have never met but you are similar enough that by the end of it you are really great friends.”
He also believes travel studying also allows for students and professors to build stronger relationships.
“Because of just seeing them for an hour a day completely in the context of the classroom, you get to spend seven, eight days with them, where you are basically get to know them like any other student or friend. It is probably the best way to get to met a faculty member and get to know them.
According to Miller, the trip provided more than a unique study opportunity, especially in a place Americans know little about.
“Things there aren’t as bad as we think it is,” he said. “One thing that it has taught me is to really question what we’re taught, and even here in an academic setting, that it is still important to check what your teachers are saying and check what the government is saying and do some independent research to ensure what you are being told is actually the truth and not just a biased opinion.”