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U. starts Cuba abroad program

Fall term will coincide with revolution anniversary

Though the average American can't travel to Cuba, 10 Brown students will have the opportunity to spend next semester in Havana studying with 10 Cuban students at the Casa de Las Americas, taught entirely by Cuban professors.

"This is the perfect opportunity to look at the past, present and future of Cuba while sitting next to Cuban nationals," said Kendall Brostuen, director of international programs and associate dean of the College. Brostuen began working with the Center for Latin American Studies a year and a half ago on this program, which may be an option for Spanish-speaking students every fall semester. The program- which will charge Brown's tuition plus $1,000 for room and board - has already generated a lot of student interest, and Brosten said he expects it to be competitive.

Brown has a license from the Department of the Treasury authorizing semester programs in Cuba for its students, Brostuen said, meaning students can travel only by going through Brown's program. There were once more University programs that allowed students to travel and study in Cuba, Brosuten said, but the Treasury tightened the restrictions on Cuban study abroad programs in 2004. Many schools could not maintain their programs due to these changes, and now only a handful of schools, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Harvard and Sarah Lawrence College have programs for students in Cuba, Brostuen said.

Brostuen said the University adheres "scrupulously" to the restrictions, informing the Treasury when faculty or graduate students travel to the country. Adrian Lopez-Denis, a postdoctoral fellow in international humanities who was born in Cuba and came to the United States in 2000, said Cuban study abroad programs flourished during the Clinton administration but became harder and harder to maintain during the Bush administration.

"The issue is not connected to study abroad programs specifically but tied to the Cuban-American relations, which are very intense," Lopez-Denis said.

He added that while "academically these restrictions on the programs are good news," because those approved programs would likely be good ones, he said he regrets that "not as many people are going to have access."

Lopez-Denis, who said he came to Brown last semester because he knew this program was in the making, will be in Cuba during the next fall semester and will teach one of the four classes that students will take.

He first became involved in American programs in Cuba when he was a student, he said. "That's why I insisted for the Cuban students, because I am a product of a program just like this," he said.

Because the 10 American students will be taking their four classes together with Cuban students, Lopez-Denis said he expects there to be a unique opportunity for Brown students to see the city and experience the culture from the Cuban perspective.

"Having Cuban students as classmates will make for a very fast foot in the door," Lopez-Denis said. "Students will be exposed to the official views and the commoners' views. It's going to be a very involved experience."

This first semester in Cuba comes at an interesting time. Students will be in in the country as it prepares for the 50th anniversary of its revolution - on Jan. 1, 2009.

"Cuba is in a moment of transition and in such a unique political context it will be a real eye opener," said Esther Whitfield, assistant professor of comparative literature. "Historically the Cuban revolution was a really important thing and living in Cuba the way it is now will be a really important experience."

In addition to the academic opportunities available, the Brown students will attend three festivals that attract audiences from around the world - an international ballet festival, jazz festival and a Latin American film festival. Students will also take tours of the Cuban countryside and have field visits incorporated into their classes.

"Cuba is a rather unique place in terms of history, politics and culture," Lopez-Denis said, "and a lot of it is going to be new and challenging for students."

"The experience is going to be very unique because there is almost no other way for American citizens to get to Cuba," he added.

Lopez-Denis, who said he benefited from programs like Brown's when he was a student, said he believes the Brown program will inspire other universities to do the same.

"Academics are suffering from issues that are not of an academic nature," he said. "I believe that for people in a situation like this, change can only be good and having more people talking and sharing can not be a problem."

Cuba, Lopez-Denis said, is "a place that is very close and very far."

"Some things are going to seem familiar," he said, "and students will really wonder why we have the problems we have."


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