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Fall 2015
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Cuba in contrast

Cuba-2The city of Indianapolis offers plenty of opportunities for fun and excitement for college students, but sometimes, something more exotic comes along. For 15 UIndy students, that meant the chance to take a 10-day trip to Cuba last spring.

For the third year in a row, professor Terrence Harewood of the School of Education took students on a Spring Term trip to the island nation.

Despite the recent buzz about both nations taking steps to mend their torn relationship, travel restrictions remain, making this trip a rare opportunity for most Americans.

Before the trip, students were assigned readings that provided basic information on the history of U.S.-Cuba relations and the embargos of the 1960s.

Cuba-6“I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first heard about a Spring Term trip to Cuba,” says Hannah Didelot, a sophomore majoring in history and social studies teaching. “I thought, ‘Is this even legal?’”

Changing perspectives

Dr. Harewood first visited Cuba as a member of the Barbadian national track team during the Pan-American games of 1991. He admits his initial perceptions were like those of many in the U.S.

“Everyone pictures the Cuban people as being starved and oppressed by an evil dictator,” he says. “The goal of my course was to teach the students about the danger of a single story…and allow them to come up with their own perceptions of this country based on what they witnessed.”

During the 10-day trip, students developed a more well-rounded perspective of the country through encounters with Cuban citizens from various walks of life, including musicians, artists, teachers, a family doctor, and a foreign service officer at the U.S. Interests Section (now a U.S. Embassy), to name a few. The most common topic of conversation was the impact of the trade embargo on daily life in Cuba.


“The country is nothing like what we hear in the news”


“Clearly it [the embargo] is not a good thing, especially when it is affecting the youngest people, like schoolchildren,” says Frank Bixler, a junior majoring in history and criminal justice.

“We met some very talented students from a music school. They don’t have access to new instruments when they are broken or in need of repair, because that would mean having to import them, often from a country that is not allowed to trade with Cuba.”

Leading in reading

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Stops on the group’s itinerary included a visit to the national literacy museum, where they learned about former commander-in-chief Fidel Castro’s national campaign that sent thousands of young adults into the most rural provinces of the island to teach people of all ages to read and write.

As a result, Cuba now boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Students were also surprised to learn that the Cuban educational system provides free schooling for all levels—including college—and includes access to special schools for gifted students who show exceptional talent in sports and the performing arts.

A visit to the Latin American School of Medicine was another highlight of the trip, especially for the nursing and pre-med students in the group. Melina Hale, a sophomore biology major with a pre-med concentration, was excited to visit the school.

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“It was such a great experience for me to be able to talk to medical students from all over the world,” she says. “I was surprised to learn that Cuba provides all of this training and preparation to these students free of charge and that they get a lot of hands-on experience at neighborhood clinics early on in their medical school careers.”

After returning to Indianapolis, Dr. Harewood and his students made presentations to the campus community on such topics as health care, religion, and education. Each student offered a final commentary on how their initial perceptions of Cuba had changed as a result of their experience.

“The country is nothing like what we hear in the news,” says Rachel Gravens, a sophomore anthropology and pre-art therapy major. “Having the chance to talk to people on the island and get their individual opinions about the U.S. and the embargo was such an eye-opening experience.”

Jasmine Rodriguez