Poised for Cuba

Illinois community colleges have long been providing international opportunities for students. In mid-February, a group of community college presidents from the state will travel to Cuba to work on creating a new study abroad opportunity in a changing country.

“It’s a good opportunity for us to add to the range of international studies programs in Illinois,” said Ken Ender, president of Harper College, and current member of the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) board of directors.

This trip comes two years after Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the Illinois Community College Board, led a group of community college staff to Cuba to explore the country and program possibilities.

“It’s a safe country and provides enough differences that students can see that things are done differently in different parts of the world,” Anderson said.

Exploring the possibilities

Six community college presidents are participating in the latest trip, which will focus more on what kind of curriculum would be offered to students and some of the logistics of study abroad, such as safe housing options. They also will discuss faculty research and exchange possibilities.

The participants will learn about Cuba’s celebrated educational system. The country, which has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, has provided higher education to a large number of students for free or at a low cost.

“It’s valuable for our administrators and presidents to see different ways of doing things,” Anderson said.

In addition, the group will discuss sustainability projects during a visit to Las Terrazas, a self-sustained community, and learn more about Cuba’s culture and history.

A changing country

The learning can go both ways, according to Anderson, particularly since the White House announced in December that, after more than five decades, relations between the United States and Cuba would begin to normalize.

“As Cuba opens up its relationship with the U.S. and vice versa, there’s a great opportunity for us to share our insights on education — especially if they’re going to expand in areas of business and technology,” said Anderson. “Our community colleges can help them train those employees.”

The change in relationship also means intergovernmental relations will likely be part of the study abroad curriculum.

“Any program that didn’t look at that would be lacking,” Anderson said.

Because of Cuba’s emphasis on the arts, that also may be part of the curriculum, as well as perhaps political science and conservation or biology.

“The important piece is ensuring it fits into the community college curriculum we have now,” Anderson said.

Growing international studies

The study abroad program will be offered statewide, meaning students at any community college in Illinois will be able to participate. That’s nothing new for the state — the Illinois Consortium for International Studies and Programs already offers many opportunities for travel for community college students.

In fact, throughout the state, there’s a focus on making sure students are globally aware.

“We’ve been in the business of international studies forever,” said Ender of Harper College.

Harper has students from more than 50 countries and has a three-year partnership with countries in Africa. In May, faculty went to Uganda and Rwanda to meet with their faculty counterparts. There’s a possibility students may have opportunities to travel to these countries in the future.

Opportunities like this are “critical,” Ender said, given how globally connected we’ve become.

And global awareness helps to create better citizens, according to Anderson.

“One of the missions of the system is to produce good citizens. It’s hard to be a good citizen to your local community without understanding how rest of world operates,” she said.

By Tabitha Whissemore, CCDaily

February 4, 2015

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