Mason Students Encounter the “New Cuba”

Mason Students Encounter the “New Cuba”

Over winter break, Mason students traveled to Havana, Cuba for an intensive two-week study of the island's economic and social challenges over the second half of the 20th century. 

“Cuba is uniquely positioned politically, geographically, and culturally,” points out Global Affairs MA student Christopher Wingate, ”It is one thing to read about Cuba and culture, but it is quite another to actually experience it firsthand.” Whether in the classroom or on the street, every moment in Havana added to a rich learning experience in this city marked by an utterly unique modern history. Lectures with prominent economists, excursions in and around the city, and daily interactions with ordinary Cubans, contributed to this once in a lifetime experience.  “Every conversation, whether with locals or fellow students, was intellectually stimulating and unforgettable” says undergraduate Global Affairs major Carolina Currás.

Mason students attended formal lectures at the University of Havana's Center for Research on International Economy (CIEI). Lectures in English and Spanish from the country's top economists, political scientists, and others covered topics ranging from the effects of the fall of the Soviet Union on the Cuban economy, to Cuba’s foreign relations with not only the U.S. but the EU, China, and the rest of Latin America.  

Afternoons were dedicated to a variety of engaging activities. Students interested in how Cuba is actively cultivating a culture of entrepreneurship were able to meet with representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, local NGOs, and small business owners. A tour of a farm just outside of the city gave students the opportunity to learn how cooperative farming went organic following the country’s fuel shortage crisis in the 1990s.

Differences and similarities in the daily lives of US and Cuban college students were discussed one-on-one when Mason students met with University of Havana students. On a visit to an urban community center, the group donated backpacks filled with school supplies, and, in turn, was treated to musical performances and an energetic capoeira demonstration.

Everyone's favorite day off was a visit to Varadero Beach.  But the beach trip was not without its lessons in Cuba's economic transformation. On the two-hour trip from Havana, students engaged in tourism research received one-on-one instruction from prominent Cuban economist Juan Triana Cordovi of the Centro de Estudios de la Economía Cubana.