Camarillo, Calif., May 15, 2013 – Twenty students will venture to Cuba this month for a rare travel experience offered as a CSU Channel Islands (CI) course. The nine-day trip gives students studying Spanish and Chicana/o Studies the chance to visit a country that has been closed to American tourists since the U.S. enacted its embargo against Cuba more than 50 years ago.

“UNIV 392: Cuba Today” was designed as a culminating experience for senior students from the spring 2013 courses “Cuba in Literature and Film” and “Cuba: History, Culture and Politics.” To be accepted for the trip, the students had to submit a statement of purpose, transcripts and two faculty recommendations. They also had to obtain special permission from the U.S. government to travel to Cuba for educational purposes and secure academic visas and passports to enter the country. Under U.S. regulations, travel to the socialist state is permitted only for family, religious, academic, humanitarian, cultural or journalistic purposes.

Led by Professor of Spanish Stephen Clark and Associate Professor of Chicana/o Studies José Alamillo, the students will fly to Havana on May 21. The group’s busy itinerary includes visits to historical sites, museums, cultural landmarks, farms, farmers markets, churches, schools, clinics, artists’ studios, a cigar factory, and sporting, theatrical, dance and musical venues. They will also meet with Cuban experts offering first-hand knowledge of the economic, social, political, and cultural landscapes.

The one-credit course requires students to keep a daily journal and write a 1,000-word essay comparing their experiences on the trip with what they learned in class, texts and films.

“Cuba is right in our backyard, yet we know very little about it,” said Clark. “We’re trying to help students reconnect with a piece of American and Latin American history that’s been off limits to all but a few privileged authors and academics or people with family ties that have been able to visit there over the past 50 years. Being there really brings to life everything these students have been studying in a way you can’t reproduce in a classroom, book or film.”

“One question I want students to be asking is ‘What is Cuba’s future?’” said Alamillo. “We need to start opening the doors and having a dialogue. We want students to get a deeper understanding of U.S.-Cuba relations; to interact with ordinary Cuban citizens, teachers, students, artists, and get their perspectives. I also think it will be a healthy diet of being in Cuba without iPhones, mobile devices, and regular Internet access.”

Two-thirds of the students’ travel expenses are paid by the University’s Instructionally Related Activities fund, which supports educational experiences and activities that might not otherwise be available to students and reinforce the University’s mission.

“I am looking forward to meeting and learning from the Cuban people,” said Jacinta García-Sveiven, a Chicana/o Studies major. “In the U.S., we are conditioned to think that communism and socialism are bad and wrong. We have little idea of the country's rich and beautiful history, and the resilience of its people.”

“As a U.S. citizen I might never again have the opportunity to travel to Cuba,” said Edwin Mancilla, a Spanish major. “Reading Cuban literature and having the opportunity to see some of the places that are mentioned in the readings will be amazing. It will be interesting to compare the characters in the literature to the people in Cuba and try to find connections and differences amongst their personalities and persona. I hope to go through culture shock and learn about items that I have in the U.S. that I take for granted – items that are not accessible to Cubans.”

UNIV 392 International Experiences courses are unique and defining features of a CI education that help deliver on the University’s mission of being student-centered, interdisciplinary, multicultural, international, experiential and service-oriented. Previous UNIV 392 courses have taken students to places like Japan to help oyster farmers devastated by the 2011 tsunami, to Paris and Florence to study art and painting, and to Taiwan to study commerce and social change.

“Gaining understanding of the Cuban culture will allow me to incorporate the cultural experience to my current course of study in the fields of sociology and psychology, so I can better serve the community as a professional,” said student Irma Gonzalez. “It is important for me to have a strong knowledge and cultural awareness of Spanish-speaking cultures throughout the world because it is my heritage. There is nothing like experiencing the culture rather than reading about it, so it has a different meaning and value.”

For more information on the Cuba Today course, contact Dr. Stephen Clark at 805-437-3317 or or Dr. José Alamillo at 805-437-2685 or

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About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands
(CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI’s strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master’s degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more by visiting CI's Social Media.

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