Jan 18, 2012
Long-Standing LASP Study Trip to Cuba Now Part of All LASP Students’ Curriculum
posted under NEWS STORY
SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – For more than 10 years, students and faculty of the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ BestSemester Latin American Studies Program, based in San José, have found Cuba to be a vibrant classroom. Since 2000, LASP faculty have taken a portion of each semester’s students to Cuba for a two-week study trip. American government restrictions on its citizens’ travel in Cuba precluded taking the full complement of 30-plus students who attend LASP each semester. However, the 2011 lifting of those restrictions means that since the spring of 2011 all LASP students now visit Cuba, a trip described by alumni as one of the most formative aspects of their Latin American semester.
BestSemester’s Latin American Studies Program introduces students to Latin America’s literature, culture, history, politics, economics, ecology and religion. The semester-long study program includes home-stays with Costa Rican families and internships/practicums, allowing students to become part of day-to-day Latin American life. Four concentrations are available to students: Latin American Studies, Advanced Language and Literature, International Business, and Environmental Science.
Two study trips are included in the LASP curriculum: to Nicaragua for two weeks midway through each semester and, now, to Cuba for nearly two weeks at the end of the semester. Previously, only students in the Latin American Studies concentration were able to travel to Cuba because academic institutions could only take small groups of students to the country.
“One of the reasons we keep returning to Cuba, despite the fact that it’s expensive and time-consuming, is that we’ve gotten feedback from students who were here five to 10 years ago that Cuba is the experience that continues to provide input for meaningful reflection about the issues of social organization, defined as the relationship people have with their government, and development, or how countries see themselves moving ahead,” said Anthony Chamberlain, LASP director.
“The tangible highlight of the Cuba trip was our weekend trip to Varadero, where we were able to conclude our time in Latin America in what I consider one of the most beautiful places on earth,” noted Kirsten Witmer, who graduates this May from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., and was a fall 2010 Latin American Studies concentration student. “However, what impacted me more than simply where we went, what we did, or what we saw, was what I took away from the cumulative experience. In Cuba, I was presented with a reality that was far different from anything I had ever known, and through that, the beauty of the world of differences in which we live.”
She adds, “While we were there during an unseasonably cold time, I will forever remember Cuba for its warmth: of the people, the culture, the community. In the midst of such an open and welcoming environment, I found the importance of recognizing and, in turn, working to eliminate the borders and barriers we create for ourselves. Too often we shut ourselves off to these differences for the introspective questions they force us to ask, and if there is one thing LASP taught me, it is to become comfortable with the questions. After all, it is in being present in the process of searching for answers, not the answers themselves, where we truly learn and grow.”
During their days in Cuba, students dialogue with church leaders; interact with political leaders, educators, and economists; and visit hospitals, schools, and art centers. LASP students explore how Cubans unite faith with practice in response to their challenges and experience unique examples of how Cubans live out their Christian faith. Faculty view Cuba as important for helping students understand the history of U.S.-Latin American relations and for helping them explore the workings of Cuban socialism, a unique political and economic system.
“Cuba is a fascinating case study in an applied alternative model for development in the world, and certainly in Latin America, that is accessible to our students,” said Chamberlain. “It’s a rich opportunity to observe first-hand the social-economic-political experiment. It’s the kind of thing we can read about and study, but here’s the chance to see it and interact with folks who’ve actually lived it.”
Because access to Cuba has been so limited, almost no other academic institution has the history, and resulting relationships, that LASP has in facilitating study for North American students in Cuba. LASP’s trips are also made unique by their efforts to explore diverse expressions of faith in Cuba. In the early days of LASP’s trips to Cuba, students stayed with Cuban families and did community projects. When restrictions were tightened further by the Bush administration, these parts of the study tour ceased, but Chamberlain is very hopeful these experiences will now soon be part of the program again.
“The most important lesson I took away from the trip to Cuba was how much Cubans and U.S. citizens are alike, despite the fact that our governments have tried to emphasize our differences,” said spring 2010 LASP alum Matt Dearstyne, a 2011 graduate of Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y., and current LASP program intern. “We have so much common ground, but that only becomes evident once we get beyond the rhetoric, go to the island, and begin to form relationships with the people there.”
Victoria Chávez, a 2011 graduate of Malone University in Canton, Ohio, and spring 2011 LASP student, also noted that “going to Cuba was an invaluable experience which allowed me to see a different side of Cuba than the one so often portrayed by the United States. The concepts and ideas we discussed [at LASP] were amplified in Cuba. My questions were not necessarily answered on that trip, and, in fact, I find I have many more questions as a result. But now I know I am asking good questions; my learning continues.”
“Perhaps,” she concluded, “the most beautiful (and frustrating) thing about Cuba is its complexity, and I am blessed to have been able to experience a small piece of that.” Chávez is now working on a master’s degree in Spanish Translation at Kent State University.
In addition to taking students to Cuba this spring, LASP will host a faculty tour May 18-28 that will include time in both Costa Rica and Cuba, allowing faculty members to discover first-hand some of what students experience during LASP.
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 12 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.); Contemporary Music Center (Nashville); Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles); and Washington Journalism Center (Washington, D.C.). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre; China Studies Program; India Studies Program; Latin American Studies Program; Middle East Studies Program; Programmes in Oxford; and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.
The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 184 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 115 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.