The Global Education Office for Undergraduates is exploring the possibility of hosting a study abroad program in Cuba due to loosened travel restrictions.
Chronicle Graphic by Rita Lo
The Global Education Office for Undergraduates is exploring the possibility of hosting a study abroad program in Cuba due to loosened travel restrictions.

Administrators are in the early stages of making Cuba an accessible study abroad locale.

In light of loosened government travel restrictions implemented in 2011, the Global Education Office for Undergraduates has initiated an exploratory group to consider a study abroad program in Cuba, said Margaret Riley, director of the GEO and assistant vice provost for undergraduate global education. The United States has imposed travel restrictions to Cuba since 1960. Currently, independent travel to Cuba by Americans remains prohibited, but some students and individuals taking part in educational and humanitarian tours are allowed to visit the country.

“[A Cuba study abroad program would] enhance our portfolio and geographic distribution of our programs,” Riley wrote in an email Tuesday.

The program administrators are discussing what would be an expansion of an existing study abroad program in Cuba through Brown University. The program would offer students the opportunity to experience life in the Caribbean country for an extended period of time. In the past, Duke has conducted programs in Cuba, but this would not be a reactivation of any previous programs.

In addition to meeting student interest for a program in Cuba, the study abroad option would also broaden the opportunities offered to students wishing to study Spanish. Last Fall, Duke only offered one semester-long international program in Latin America, which took place in Costa Rica. The other Spanish-speaking semester abroad program was in Madrid.

Duke is collaborating with other high caliber American universities to discuss the possibility of expanding Brown’s program, Riley said. If realized, the program would follow the same model as the Duke in Barcelona/Consortium for Advanced Studies in Barcelona program beginning Fall 2013.

The Barcelona program was formed as a combined study abroad effort among several universities who observed that there was growing interest in Barcelona as a host city for study abroad, yet there were limited program options for students. These U.S. partners created a consortium to offer academic study alongside Spanish natives in the area. Administrators hope to create a similar consortium called the Center for Advanced Studies Abroad, which would include a program in Cuba.

Brown in Cuba is based in the capital city Havana. Students in the program are introduced to Cuban culture and everyday life through orientation programs, and enroll in courses to understand the key issues facing the country today, according to the program’s website. The program centers upon the social sciences, arts and the humanities.

Joan Clifford, assistant director of the Spanish language program, reached out to the GEO to offer her full support of a Cuba program after returning from a recent eight-day trip to the country.

“At various times on my trip, I began to contemplate how enriching a study abroad experience would be, since I myself was enthusiastic about the warmth of the people, the rich artistic and intellectual tradition and the complex political situation,” Clifford wrote in an email Wednesday .

Junior Detti Belina, who studied in Madrid Fall 2012, is excited by the prospect of a Cuba study abroad option.

“Despite the complicated history of Cuban-American relations and concerns over the nation’s socialist government, a study abroad opportunity there would offer a mind-opening and unique experience to Duke students,” Belina said.

Duke is also participating in exploratory groups in other locations, Riley noted. One such program could be in Turkey, where Duke would be the lead institution. In addition, the University could collaborate with Stanford University on a program in Chile.

Although she is excited that the GEO is taking part in discussions on enhanced study abroad offerings, Riley said that all programs are in their early stages and no concrete progress has yet been made for the Cuba program.