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Cuba As A Classroom

Cuba As A ClassroomFrom a two week trip to Cuba to a series of guest lectures, a new multidisciplinary course at Tufts is giving students an insider’s view of the country and its people. Havana.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [03.25.04] While many students relaxed over winter break, a group of Tufts undergraduates packed their bags, grabbed their passports and headed off to class. Enrolled in a new multidisciplinary course on Cuba, the students kicked off their studies with a trip to the Latin American nation, which set the stage for their unique insider's view of Cuba and its people.

"[This course] doesn't only change your ideas about Cuba," sophomore psychology major Maria Mayoral told the Chronicle of Higher Education. "It changes your ideas about the world."

That's exactly what professor Claudia Kaiser-Lenoir was hoping to do.

"We live in a country that has had a very adversarial relationship with Cuba for the past 45 years and that has resulted in a serious lack of accurate information," the associate professor of Latin American literature and culture told the Chronicle. "I want students to start thinking critically about that history."

So Kaiser-Lenoir made arrangements for her students to see it first hand.

"'Special Topics in Cuban Culture,' which is being taught this semester for the first time, began with a two-week trip to Cuba during which students visited museums, hospitals and schools, and even cleaned up debris around a bus stop in a suburb of Havana," reported the Chronicle. "During the trip, students met with a cardiologist who explained how health care works in Cuba. They also met with an official who gave a lecture on the country's public-school system."

Other stops included organic orchards, rural farms, a women's center, an Afro-Cuban dance workshop and volunteer-work brigades.

Instead of staying at a hotel, the Tufts undergraduates called an old mansion - now home of the National Association of Small Agricultural Producers - their home. They shared accommodations and breakfast with farmers in Havana on business.

"The point, says Kaiser-Lenoir, is to help students get a glimpse of the country from the inside, to see how people really live," reported the newspaper.

Back in the states now, the students have continued their work through a series of guest lectures, reading assignments and in-class discussions similarly aimed at providing a realistic view of Cuba.

"As a Latin American with a preoccupation with understanding the reality of where I grew up, I was always very interested in the experiments that had taken place in my region of the world," the Tufts professor told the Chronicle. "Cuba is one of the most interesting of those experiments."

And all too often, the country has been defined entirely by politics and black-and-white perceptions.

"It's not the paradise some paint it to be," Kaiser-Lenoir told the Chronicle, "or the hell others paint it to be."

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