Students to travel to Cuba following improved relations

For the second year in a row, a small group of Santa Clara students will be given the opportunity to visit Cuba to learn about its culture, agriculture, business and lifestyle. The Leavey School of Business Food and Agribusiness Institute is organizing the program.

They plan to help students explore the relationship between food production, food consumption, poverty and sustainability through a vast array of activities.

Last year, students worked alongside farmers in Cuba and visited a clinic to learn about Cuban hospitals and free healthcare. They also went to nature reserves and biospheres.

Gregory Baker, a management professor and director of the FAI, and Erika French-Arnold, assistant director of the FAI, have worked together on similar trips to Ghana and Burma, as well as on last year’s Cuba immersion.

The combination of immersive educational and cultural opportunities make Cuba an ideal destination for the trip, according to Baker.

“We’re looking at the intersection of what is going to inspire us and what is going to inspire students, and Cuba seemed like a natural fit,” Baker said. “I’m sure if you talked to many of the students, they’d say it was life-changing.”

Relations between Cuba and the United States have historically been rocky. Since 1960, the U.S. has enforced an embargo on Cuba, which prevents Cuba from trading with U.S. businesses, as well as with foreign businesses that wish to market to both countries.

However, with the release of five Cuban spies in December and the instigation of diplomatic talks between President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, relations are improving.

According to political science professor Dennis Gordon, this could lead to economic interdependence with Cuba and the resumption of trade. Obama has already begun to loosen travel and economic policies after diplomatic talks with Castro in December.

Despite America’s improved relations with Cuba, Baker and French-Arnold said they don’t expect this year’s immersion trip to be very different. French-Arnold said that they are forced to plan further in advance due to an influx of American tourists, but that there will be fewer hoops to jump through to get each student approved for the trip. The biggest change they anticipate is in the attitude of the Cuban people.

“The Cuban people are optimistic that this is going to lead to an end to the embargo, because that is really the heart of the matter, since it’s been so punishing on Cubans,” Baker said. “It’s the number one thing they talk about with regards to the U.S.”

Max Williamson, an alumnus who participated in last year’s trip, said it was relevant to his life due to his family’s background in farming. He says he most enjoyed seeing the lush, green countryside and interacting with Cubans.

“I really found fascinating the creativity and ingenuity these people had,” Williamson said. “They’re so creative and so resourceful and able to use what little they have to do great things.”

The immersion is complemented with a course, Business 151, co-taught by Baker and Adjunct Faculty Member Mike Harwood, which gives background on the politics, education and healthcare of the region.

By Collin Baker, The Santa Clara

February 5, 2015

Contact Collin Baker at or call (408) 554-4852.

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