UI Study Abroad officials see little interest in Cuba program as deadline looms

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By Rishabh R. Jain, The Daily Iowan

 
No students have registered for the University of Iowa’s Overseas writing program in Cuba 10 days before the deadline, despite program managers opening its gates to graduate and non-degree seeking students.
 
Leslie McNelius, a study-abroad adviser and one of the pioneers of the UI’s program in Cuba, said she was not too concerned because she expects a lot of last-minute applications.
 
“We’ve had quite a few email and phone inquiries from potential participants in the last weeks," she said. "There’s an info session coming up … so some may turn in apps after that."
 
The Sept. 28 deadline is also a flexible one, and it will be extended if need be, said John Rogers, assistant director of the UI Study Abroad Office.
 
UI started the study-abroad program in Cuba last January, after President Obama lessened travel restrictions on university-sponsored trips to Cuba in January 2011. Thirteen students participated in the two-week excursion.
 
While the courses offered in Cuba remain the same as last year–travel and ethnographic writing–students will experience an added two-night excursion to the city of Trinidad, a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritage Site.
 
“How can someone not be interested in Cuba,” said Robin Hemley, the director of the Nonfiction Writing Program. “It is so close to the U.S. geographically, yet so distant in terms of its politics and accessibility.”
 
Hemley said one of the students on the trip last year wrote an excellent piece on an American fugitive who had escaped the country and taken asylum in Cuba. The exile met 13 UI students who had enrolled in the UI’s study abroad program to Cuba last winter.
 
Some Big Ten universities are also taking advantage of the removal of the ban.
 
University of Michigan — one of the few Big Ten universities to offer a home-based study-abroad program in Cuba — had to cancel its 2012 anthropology and Spanish courses in Cuba because of low levels of enrollment.
 
“We had a big problem with enrollment last year,” said Kate Lilly, inter-cultural program adviser at Michigan. “We made a big marketing push this year to get the program up and running again.”
 
Lilly said that as a part of the marketing push, students who first attended the program invited a drumming band from Cuba to perform on their campus.
 
The 11-week program, which runs during the spring semester at University of Michigan, costs students a $5,750 program fee on top of their regular tuition.
 
Officials at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Ohio State University, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison said they don’t offer programs in Cuba.
 
At the UI, the program lasts two weeks and has a fee of $4,025 for UI students and $4,225 for non-UI participants, in the winter of 2013.
 
Unlike last year, students will have to make their own arrangements to get to Miami, where the program will begin with the flight to Havana.
 
Rogers said he expects registration to pick up in the upcoming weeks with promotion of the program at the Study Abroad Fair today and an information session specifically for the Cuba program on Sept. 27.
 
UI Study Abroad officials expect a minimum of 15 students to enroll this year and have received many phone and email inquiries despite no registration.
 
Hemley said he encourages more students to register as this is perhaps one of the only ways they would be able to see Cuba due to the Cold War era embargo that is still in place.
 
“The Cuban intellectuals that we interacted with went out of their way to say how sympathetic they felt with Americans. We have political differences, but on a person-to-person level, I found the Cubans to be quite receptive to Americans,” Hemley said.

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