Cuba Libre: International experiential learning

Cuba street

With the Cuban borders officially opened in 2015, our students are now able to experience a previously unseen side of Cuba through a Business School Study Abroad program, Cuba Libre. Through the program, students experience the rich cultural history of urban and rural Cuba, while gaining an understanding of the complex political and economic system as it tries to embrace normalized relations with the world’s largest economy.

Hear one business student’s firsthand account of the trip: Alexi Huppenthal, senior business student majoring in information systems. To give you a taste of her experience, she created a short video and wrote down her thoughts from the trip.

I got to experience so much in those short 11 days. As a part of an experiential learning course, I heard lectures from Cuban economists, historians, activists, and entrepreneurs. I was amazed at how different the perspectives on Cuban policies from locals compared to the perspectives Americans have. After everything I heard and experienced about Cuban government and businesses, I realized how ignorant I was as to how Cuba actually functions. The trip opened my eyes to a new way of looking at business in a culture different from the United States.

We saw many historical landmarks like the Revolutionary Plaza, Jose Marti Memorial, Plaza de Armas, and Catedral de San Cristobal de la Habana. Along with sightseeing, we were also lucky enough to hear lectures from experts on the Cuban economy, business, and history. Not only did I become aware of my own biases, but I actively changed my perception about the country to include what I’ve seen and heard about Cuban history and culture.

We were welcomed inside the houses of some influential Cuban people, such as a hiphop YouTube star who writes songs about social issues in Cuba, a family of famous artists, and a young entrepreneur who ran a successful print shop from home.

To immerse ourselves into the culture, we engaged in some classic Cuban activities: eating freshly-made churros in old Havana, walking down the seawall at midnight, catching crabs on the beach, dancing salsa, and learning how to play dominos from locals. Another highlight was visiting the Nostalgic Cars restoration garage. One of my favorite things about Cuba is that I felt very safe. Cubans are very friendly and love engaging foreigners in conversations. This kept happening to us–at bars, local stores, in the taxi with drivers.

The course was well-balanced between touring, experiencing local culture, and learning about Cuban business practices and government.  Going on this study abroad, especially since Cuba is such a secluded country, made me realize how sheltered I am in the U.S. and how beneficial it is to go out and explore other countries.

Overall, I had an unforgettable trip and Cuba will always have a special place in heart.

If you would like to learn more about study abroad opportunities through the Business School, please visit our Study Abroad page.

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