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WKU group studies Cuban culture, completes service project

The island of Cuba sits just 90 miles from the United States, yet it feels like another world. During Winter Term 2013, 14 WKU students and three non-credit participants joined Professor Walker Rutledge and Study Away Director Jerry Barnaby to investigate the mysterious country and its culture.

Participants in a WKU Winter Term course in Cuba visited Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home until 1961 outside of Havana.

Participants in a WKU Winter Term course in Cuba visited Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s home until 1961, outside of Havana.

The group studied a variety of topics including agriculture, art and literature, as well as restrictions on personal freedoms of its citizens. They discovered a country on the brink of major changes, and that their time in the country may be their last chance to experience Cuba in its current form.

According to Dr. Craig Cobane, chief international officer and Honors College executive director, if the pace of changes continues, “Cuba as it is known today will be very different in less than two decades.”

Students also completed a service project, delivering desperately needed personal hygiene products and school supplies to Cuban communities. The items students distributed were things that Americans take for granted, but in Cuba they are in short supply if available at all.

“The group returned puzzled and confused, intellectually challenged to articulate the complexity of our nearest Caribbean neighbor,” Rutledge said.

WKU senior Hilary Harlan, an English major from Alvaton, took small bars of soap, which she gave away to anyone who approached her.  “I feel like I’m closer to understanding how poverty creates a struggle every single day for those who are affected by it,” Harlan said.

Mia Jackson, a senior from Louisville who is double majoring in Anthropology & English, said that while talking to Cuban people, she repeatedly heard the same message: “The countries are different, but the people are the same. Our governments fight, but we are brothers.”

According to Rutledge, future study abroad programs to Cuba are definitely in the interest of fulfilling WKU’s international vision. “I would be happy to travel again with them anywhere,” he added.

WKU Study Away administers Faculty-Led Study Abroad programs in partnership with faculty and staff program leaders, their academic units, Study Abroad & Global Learning and the Office of International Programs.

For additional details about WKU Faculty–Led Study Abroad, visit www.wku.edu/flsa.

Contact: Jerry Barnaby, (270) 745-2231or jerry.barnaby@wku.edu

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