OSWEGO -- SUNY Oswego President Deborah F. Stanley
and Dr. Walter Opello, the college's director of international
education, recently had an opportunity to see the progress of Oswego's
study abroad program in Cuba.
The administrators visited the program, one of only
three undergraduate semester-long programs through accredited American
universities, from April 5 to 8 under a U.S. Treasury Department
license. The program grew out of a suggestion from Oswego's Professor
Eugenio Basualdo, who now serves as the program director in Cuba.
Most of their time was spent with the students, who
were doing well in their new surroundings, Stanley said. "They are
incredibly bright and well-prepared," she said of the students studying
through Oswego. "They love being with Cuban students and professors in
the classrooms of regular university classes."
Opello agreed with Stanley's high assessment of the
students. "They are a fine, fine batch, some of the best students we
have ever had," he said. "They are forced to speak Spanish there a lot
more than any other Latin American country where they could have
studied, so they have become very fluent."
Students participating in the program are from
colleges and universities that include Oswego, Cornell, Binghamton,
Tufts, Indiana, Reed, Portland State and Vanderbilt.
The participating students joined Stanley and Opello
for a dedication of Oswego's office space at the University of Havana.
Getting that space and furnishing it with amenities like an air
conditioner, a small refrigerator and a computer represent quite an
accomplishment and resulted from Basualdo's ability to get things done,
"No other program in Cuba has this kind of
arrangement," he said. Students in the Oswego program having access to
this space, especially the computer. It is hard for many students in
Cuba to have regular computer access because the high demand exceeds
the small number of terminals, some of which are often broken, Opello
That Cuba is a closed society without free
expression was clear, Stanley said. "There are limitations on what an
individual can say and possess," she noted. "People do not have choices
or options they have in a free society. As a result, the students are
understanding what it means not to be in a free culture."
At the same time, students have taken advantage of
many opportunities to explore historical and
cultural sites, and some even volunteered to go dig potatoes by hand,
The lack of the amenities found in the states, such
as high-speed Internet, abundant cell phone service and cheap
long-distance rates means the students are more cut off from their
families than those in most other study abroad countries. But even that
has had its positive side, Stanley said.
"They are a very tight group," she said of the
students in the Oswego program. "They have developed a lot of esprit de
corps from their experience and have really bonded."