U.S. students visit Cuba as nations begin thaw

Staff Writer

 A group of students from the University of Rhode Island traveled to Cuba from Jan. 7-16, shortly after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. relations with the island nation would be normalized. A group of students from the University of Rhode Island traveled to Cuba from Jan. 7-16, shortly after President Barack Obama announced that U.S. relations with the island nation would be normalized. Going to college is all about getting out into the world and exploring one’s horizons. For Jason Rosenblum, 22, of Howell, the chance to travel to another country became a memorable part of his recent winter break.

From Jan. 7-16, Rosenblum and 19 other University of Rhode Island students traveled to Cuba as part of the university’s global initiative and study abroad programs. Their trip was titled “Dynamics of Social Change in the Caribbean.”

The students’ trip took place just a few weeks after President Barack Obama announced a thawing-out of United States’ relations with Cuba following more than 50 years of having no official ties with the island nation ruled by Fidel Castro.

 PHOTOS BY JASON ROSENBLUM PHOTOS BY JASON ROSENBLUM Rosenblum is a senior majoring in economics with a minor in communications.

“The 20 of us who went to Cuba were the first group of students from the university to go there. I gained an interest in going from a Contemporary Political Economy course I took. The opportunity sounded great,” he said.

In addition to visiting museums and partaking in tourist activities, the students had a chance to examine and gain insight into Cuban culture and to observe the daily activities of the nation’s citizens, according to Rosenblum.

“We did just about everything, and we tried to see as much as possible. We did see it is a very communist country, and the government controls everything. The government provides housing, health care and the education system,” he said.

Professor Maureen Moakley, who teaches political science, accompanied the group to Cuba and said it was an outstanding opportunity for the students.

“It was perfect timing, and everyone was engaged and enthusiastic,” she said, adding that she hopes a trip will occur each January.

Moakley said she plans to return to Cuba in April to speak with Cuban academics about creating a semester-abroad program for University of Rhode Island students.

The ways in which Americans value and pay for the luxuries they have in their lives is very different in comparison to how Cubans work for particular goods and items that would be considered more valuable, according to Rosenblum. “Several community members in Cuba run small businesses, like little bed-and-breakfast spots, so they can make extra money for the items they truly desire. Where my classmates and I traveled to were more for tourists. With the government jobs most Cubans have, they only have enough money to buy bare necessities,” the young man said.

Rosenblum acknowledged that change could be coming to Cuba and that there is an air of optimism.

“U.S. congressional leaders are already making trips to the island to drum up business, which should translate into money and jobs for Cubans,” he said.

Although there has been political tension between Cuba and the United States for decades, Rosenblum said Cubans take a great liking toward Americans.

“Cubans admire Americans and said they can’t wait to trade with the United States and be able to travel back and forth. When I told people I was from America, their whole demeanor changed. They got really happy, especially the younger generation,” Rosenblum said.

The Cuban culture the students experienced was different and more alive than that of the United States, according to Rosenblum.

“It would be 12:30 a.m., and there was a full nightlife in the town square with people playing music and salsa dancing, and that was great to experience. There was a bit of a language barrier at times, but it wasn’t so difficult,” he said.

Rosenblum, who expects to graduate in May, said he would consider returning to Cuba to assess what changes occur.

“I don’t think Cuba is ready for all the tourism yet, but they will get there one day. I don’t want to go back strictly for tourism, but to possibly make connections and start business with some Cubans who live there,” he said.

Rosenblum works in the automobile industry through a family business and is considering exploring the possibility of working with shipping car parts and other automotive items to Cuba in the future.

“That would definitely open the door for more and better opportunities for car repair shops in Cuba, and it would be great to work with them,” he said.