By Nora Heaton, The Daily Iowan
The gates to Havana could open once again for U.S. students.
The UI has penned its signature on a request sent to President Obama, asking the administration to lift restrictions on academic travel to Cuba.
“The regulations implemented in 2004 all but put a stop to educational exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba,” the letter read, noting only around 250 U.S. students studied abroad in Cuba in the 2007-08 academic year compared with more than 2,100 students who studied there four years earlier.
The letter, dated Oct. 28, was signed by 28 higher education institutions and written by the Association for International Educators and the Association of International Education Administrators. Eight Big 10 universities signed the letter, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ohio State University, and Michigan State University. Drake University was the only other Iowa school to sign the letter.
“Because Cuba is so close to the United States, it has been uniquely affected by the U.S. in a way that I think should be fascinating for students in many, many disciplines.”
Under the 2004 Foreign Assets Control Act, students may not travel to Cuba under the license of an educational institution other than their own, even if their own institution will accept those credits, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation website.
The Obama administration will consider a package of new policies in response to the transition underway in Cuba and the recent release of political prisoners.
Cuba is the only country in the world the government has specifically restricted study abroad access to.
“There are lots of places that aren’t particularly safe for our students to go to, but there is no other specific policy,” Janis Perkins, director of the UI Office for Study Abroad said. “I don’t believe there are legitimate reasons for Cuba to be singled out in that way.”
At least half a dozen UI faculty and numerous students have expressed interest in study abroad opportunities in Cuba just within the last few months, Perkins said. She said the UI would likely have several programs in Cuba lined up within a year of it becoming possible.
Such programs have existed in the past. In 2003, for instance, a year before the embargo, UI students went to Matanzas, Cuba, to study Afro-Cuban folkloric dancing and drumming.
And Cuba provides something for every department, Perkins said.
“Because Cuba is so close to the United States, it has been uniquely affected by the U.S. in a way that I think should be fascinating for students in many, many disciplines,” she said.
UI sophomore Nibriti Dhungana said she would consider hopping on a plane to Cuba for school, should the opportunity arise.
“A student needs to go out and explore and learn,” she said. “And right now we’re only getting one opinion and one view of the situation there. It’s better to have more than a single story.”
UI junior Kara Mathis said she would consider a program as well and pointed out that taking advantage of the Office for Study Abroad is important.
“What other time am I going to have these resources available to me?” she said. “It’s great for when people really want to study and get an enriched experience in another country, something other than a vacation.”