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The following is a letter from one of the Hampshire in Cuba program's Faculty Directors, Professor Flavio Risech:
Thank you for your interest in Hampshire College's Cuba study abroad program. You might have some misgivings about having your daughter or son being immersed for three months in a place about which Americans have long heard so many negative things. I would like to try to respond to some common concerns and invite you to contact our Global Education Office or any Cuba Program faculty member for further information. I speak to these issues not only as a Hampshire faculty member who helped establish and run the program for many years, but also as the parent of a Hampshire student who participated in the program in Spring 2008.
Participation in the Cuba program is not a political statement. It is an academic exploration of a society utterly different than our own. All of our students return from Cuba with a new appreciation of the complexity of making a judgment about that nation: the warmth, hospitality, and joy of life of its people contrast with its overly controlling and bureaucratically infuriating government. Most crucially, they meet and work with Cuban intellectuals and artists who challenge them to rethink their assumptions and open their horizons to different ways of thinking, acting, and being creative in the world. Students are free to make up their own minds about Cuba based on their own lived experience rather than seeing the country only through the filter of ideological hostilities.
The Hampshire Cuba program began in 1997. Since its founding, we have never had a student have any problems with Cuban officialdom, nor have any of our students encountered any sort of hostility or mistreatment because of their being American. In fact, Cuban society is very welcoming to Americans in spite of our government's poor relations with its leaders. Cuba is also remarkably free of violent crime, though of course it is a very poor country and petty theft occurs as it does in most parts of the world. Cuban cities are on the whole much safer than American cities. Also, its public health and medical care standards (especially for foreigners) are higher than in most other Latin American countries.
Our program is fully licensed and authorized by the U.S. government and is operated in compliance with all U.S. and Cuban laws and regulations. We enjoy good relations with the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations, which grants our students and staff the visas needed to stay in Cuba, and the Ministry of Culture, the entity in charge of our academic partnership with the Union of Cuban Artists and Writers. The United States diplomatic mission is in located in the same Havana neighborhood as our students' housing and classrooms, and though we have never had reason to ask that office for assistance, it is at the disposal of any U.S. citizen who runs into problems such as a lost passport or a need for other consular services. And never have any of our students encountered any difficulty on re-entering the U.S. after their time in Cuba.
We are very excited to be able to offer students this unique opportunity to study in Cuba. Please feel free to contact me should you have further questions or concerns.
Associate Professor of Law and Ethnic Studies
Faculty Director, Hampshire Cuba Program 2009