The Door Opens to Cuba

Two students walk down a road in Cuba at sunset

Story by Robyn Rime |Photo by Keith Walters ’11

Geneseo begins study abroad in the country, offering students new pathways to global citizenship.

Studying abroad is one of the most beneficial things you can do in your undergraduate career, or in life, to connect with other people around the world.”

The statement from Marisa Sanquini ’20, an anthropology major with minors in history and Native American studies, echoes one of Geneseo’s values: Study abroad helps students become international citizens, adept at navigating and solving problems in a complex world. 

Sanquini participated in a January intersession course at the Universidad de Holguín in Cuba, the first in a faculty-led study abroad program made possible by a new Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Geneseo and the Cuban institution, signed by Geneseo President Denise A. Battles and Samuel Cardamone, interim director of study abroad at Geneseo, in Holguín last January. The MOU follows the 2017 historic partnership with SUNY and the Ministerio de Educación Superior in Cuba. 

“Education abroad has long served as the unofficial diplomatic relation-building that comes from people engaging with one another to achieve mutually beneficial goals and ultimately learning from one another,” said Cardamone. 

During the intersession course last January, Geneseo and Holguín students spent 10 days in Holguín together before the Geneseo students traveled to Santiago de Cuba to continue the course, Race, Racism and the Black Experience in the Americas. 

“This course demonstrates Geneseo’s commitment to giving students global and cross-cultural experiences, acknowledging that our students need these experiences to be global citizens and to contribute to the world in a broader way,” said course instructor Melanie Medeiros, assistant professor in anthropology. 

In addition to covering material on Afro-Cuban identity, students sampled local culture through Cuban meals, music and dance; lectures by Holguín faculty; and informal interviews with Cuban university students. 

“It’s easy to read about Cubanidad (or Cubanness) in textbooks, but it’s much different to hear about it from someone who’s in front of you,” said Rayan Ramirez ’20. “That lived experience makes it more valuable.”

Their experiences in Cuba led Sanquini, Ramirez and Sharon Becerra ’21 to research language barriers in international academic settings. Their work is based in large part on in-person interviews with Geneseo and Holguín students. The three students later presented their paper at Holguín’s international interdisciplinary conference and symposium, where they were joined by Medeiros and several Geneseo faculty members.

The students say this first study abroad experience is much more than academic. It is rich with opportunities to connect with people who represent different identities and cultures and to help to create an international awareness. 

Ramirez found that his immersive in-country experiences altered his predetermined ideas and nourished his growing global perspective.

“The narrative that we’re taught about Cuba in our history classes does not necessarily paint what Cuba is and what Cubans do on a daily basis,” he said. “They’re very similar to us. That sense of otherness, that preconceived notion that they’re different, hinders our understanding of Cuban culture.”

Those reflections demonstrate why “study abroad is uniquely positioned to encourage us to expand our worldview and better understand people’s differences and recognize where we have commonalities,” said Cardamone.

That “citizen diplomacy” can have long-lasting effects as students stretch their international awareness, begin to navigate the world and launch themselves into 21st-century problem-solving as alumni.

“We may not see the immediate impact of our relationship today,” said Cardamone, “though perhaps we’ll see it 20 years from now when these students are in their own careers and making an impact because of the positive experience they had in Cuba.”


Author: geneseoscene

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