BY ELLEN KOESTER
Education professor Matthew Hayden will be leading the first J-Term class to Cuba in 2017.
Since U.S. diplomatic relations with Cuba were severed over 50 years ago, the United States has put in place several restrictions on travel to Cuba. Even after President Obama’s recent visit, there is still an embargo on trade between the countries, and Americans cannot enter Cuba as tourists.
They can, however, enter the country for educational purposes, as Hayden will with 15 to 20 students this upcoming January. The interdisciplinary class is open to all students eligible for a J-Term.
According to Hayden, there has been a lot of interest in the class so far.
“I have 78 names on the interest sign up sheet,” Hayden said.
Hayden stressed the importance of going to Cuba as early as possible. Many in the country are still using 1960s technology and cars. Now that the United States is moving forward and talks are opening up about loosening the trade restrictions, companies are beginning to look to add updated American merchandise to Cuban streets.
“It won’t look the same as it looks now for very long. Things have already rapidly changing,” Hayden said. “Students can go and see the past and the future at the same time right now. If we wait much longer to go, we’ll lose that look at the past.”
The itinerary for the trip includes visiting many different industries on the island, such as a tobacco factory and a sugar plantation. Students will also stay overnight at the infamous Bay of Pigs.
“A lot of the time for the J-Term (classes) themselves, the baseline is helping getting students in a different place than the Iowa bubble, and this trip will certainly do that. One of the reasons I chose Cuba is that they are going to see a different life,” Hayden said.
One of the goals of this trip is to see “other options that are just as viable as the ones they know.”
Neil Hamilton, an agricultural law professor, has been taking law students to Cuba for several years. He started going in 2011, shortly after President Obama loosened restrictions on educational trips to Cuba.
“The surveys and responses we get from students often say ‘life changing.’ It’s a unique opportunity to see Cuba,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton also addressed some common misconceptions Americans have about their island neighbor.
“Cuba is one of the safest places in the world to travel. The university has a ranking of the risk of the J-Term countries. Cuba is one of the only countries that has a safety rating of one—the safest,” Hamilton said
Another misconception Hamilton mentioned was that Americans think Cuba “is like a big prison camp.” Hamilton emphasized the pride Cubans have for their home country.
“Cubans’ pride is that they were able to survive opposition by the most powerful country in the world. What the Cubans want out of this is a bit of respect. They should be able to control their own government and their own decisions,” Hamilton said.
Both professors expressed that they were willing to continue their respective travel programs.
Hayden, however, said that he fears the trip may grow too expensive as restrictions lessen and demand increases. The two-week long course this January will cost about $4,800.