Students in the Cuba program embark on semester-long immersion experience
Sixteen students, all from different majors and years, made the decision to study in Santiago de Cuba for a full semester of immersion experience this Winter Term. On Jan. 9, students from the University of Alberta’s North campus and Augustana campus arrived at the Frank Pais International Airport in Holguin, Cuba.
During their semester in Cuba, students live with host families called “casa particulars”, attend classes at the Universidad de Oriente, and have the opportunity to work with Cuban students.
The Cuba program is a unique study abroad experience for Augustana students that is faculty-led and is one of only a few similar programs in Canada. Starting in 1999, the program has gained popularity. Augustana Associate Dean of Research Sandra Rein has been leading the initiative since 2009. Since Rein’s start, over a hundred students have been through the program.
Rein believes that education is a project that should be shared and encourages students to immerse themselves in Cuban culture to get the most out of the experience.
“We are in the midst of history and it’s written all over the places that you walk in Cuba,” said Rein. “The geography represents a richness of place.”
Rein said that the primary focus of the program is to create an environment where students can experience language, culture, history and “make connections with each other and with the island.”
Rein said that over a million Canadians visit Cuba every year. “The more that we know and understand, the stronger our relationships will be. Overall, this is an amazing group of Canadian students and I’m jealous that they get to have this adventure.”
James Bonnell, a third-year political science and Spanish major at North Campus said that he is excited to be involved in the Cuba program. “There aren’t a lot of programs like this one. Cuba is gorgeous and everything has been going smoothly so far.”
Another student on the trip, Brittany Boyko, attended Augustana in her first-year and is now a second-year Latin American studies student at North Campus. She said she’s excited to live in a new culture for a semester.
“From an education perspective, it’s a great experience because we’re so used to North American structure and it’s very different here,” said Boyko.
Deanna Mason, lecturer in the department of English at Augustana and one of the lead professors for this year’s Cuba program, said that she’s looking forward to teaching in a more immersive environment. “To go to a Spanish conquistador’s house when we’re reading about colonialism is a great opportunity.”
Mason said she’s excited to see the students grow and to hear about their experiences. “I can’t wait to see the Canadian students building relationships with their Cuban peers and getting a perspective on the country while they’re reflecting on their own time here.”