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Archive for the ‘Education Travel’ Category

The following appeared in the May/June issue of International Educator magazine.

Josh KesslerJosh Kessler, a student at Middlebury College, describes his sustainable education abroad experience, as told to IE.

I had some previous experience with sustainability projects but this was the first time that I would be leading an effort to promote sustainability. But once I talked to the director of the school and a chemistry professor, the project evolved into the idea that we would build an organic garden that could supplement the science curriculum by teaching the students about chemistry, the environment, and sustainability. The environmental and sustainability aspects of the project would be particularly important due to the fact that in Chile, especially in public schools, there is little emphasis placed on environmental education.

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Dean John CoatsworthDeclaring that “Cuba has never been more interesting,” Dean John Coatsworth of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University opened a seminar on academic and scholarly relations with Cuba yesterday at NAFSA’s annual conference in Vancouver. Dr. Coatsworth spoke extensively on the current political, economic, and social climate in Cuba, laying the groundwork for renewed exchanges with the island.

Renewed academic exchanges between the United States and Cuba are now possible, with the advent of relaxed regulations announced by the Obama administration in January. Speakers from the United States, Canada, and Cuba provided a political and historical context for the exchange of students and scholars between the two countries. Dr. Mayra Heydrich from the University of Havana spoke about Cuba’s rich history of academic exchange and study abroad with nations around the world, including the United States.

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CubaBeginning today on Connecting Our World, we are shining the spotlight on new opportunities for academic engagement in Cuba. As many of you know, President Obama announced changes to some types of non-tourist travel to Cuba earlier this year, including travel for academic purposes and people-to-people engagement. The new regulations make it possible for all students enrolled in degree programs at accredited U.S. higher education institutions to study abroad in Cuba. The Connecting Our World community and NAFSA: Association of International Educators advocated for many years for these changes, and we are pleased to hear that many institutions are already working on starting or re-starting academic programs in Cuba.

Learn more about academic and scholarly relations with Cuba at a luncheon and seminar on Tuesday, May 31 at the NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo in Vancouver. Read more at www.nafsa.org/ac11cuba.

Since most of us have never had the opportunity to travel to Cuba, the stories we’ve collected over the past few months from individuals who have studied or lived there provide a rare and fascinating glimpse into Cuban life and culture. Through experiences that range from running a race to navigating a crowded bus, these students have shared their reflections on time spent studying in Cuba and engaging with the Cuban people.

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Jody OlsenBy Jody K. Olsen
When do Peace Corps Volunteers know that they really belong? When does that moment come that we look back and say: “Wow, I was just one of the kids.” Over the years, I have asked Volunteers this question, and I’ve heard in their answers that surprise and wonderment of suddenly seeing themselves absorbed into others’ lives.


Anna had been in the Dominican Republic for about a year when she went back to the States for a couple of weeks. When she said good-bye before leaving, she knew that she loved her host mom and her mom’s friends and they her, but often the women’s conversations grew quiet or ceased when Anna walked toward the gossip bench where they sat. Even her host mom became more reserved.

When Anna returned to her village, as she got off the bus her host mom ran outside and gave her a monstrous embrace. In Spanish she said: “I missed you so much while you were gone.” She then immediately continued, “… guess what Rachel is doing, and her husband doesn’t even know…. And Sonya, she stopped seeing her boyfriend….” And the stories, the intimacies continued for another half hour. Anna knew she was really now home, and for the first time.


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Matt SugrueBy Matt Sugrue
With great confidence, I strode purposefully to the counter of the patisserie and said, “Ithnaan al-qahwa min fa…” The young man working behind the counter raised his hands in front of him in a gesture that was both pleading and placating and, with very little trace of accent, said, “Please. Please stop. I speak English.”

Welcome to the first morning of my first day in Lebanon in the summer of 2009. Suddenly I was facing the prospect of having to travel around Lebanon equipped with Arabic skills that were not nearly as good as I had thought.

By the end of my month-long backpacking trip, which also included time in Syria, my spoken Arabic vastly improved from my fateful coffee-ordering experience – in fact, it  improved more in the short time I was in the two countries then it had over the entire 2 ½-year period that I had taken academic language classes.

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Jennifer Creamer

Last month, we issued a call for your stories about international education and said we would share the best on the NAFSA blog. We’ve featured stories from Christine and Bonnie this week, and today marks our final story. You can read all of the stories on the Share Your Story page on www.ConnectingOurWorld.org.

I hope these stories will inspire you to share your own!

Jennifer Creamer is the Dean International Studies at Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania. This is Jennifer’s story:


When I was 17, I spent the summer living with a Japanese host family through Youth for Understanding (YFU). I remember being picked up by my host mother and brother on that hot, sticky night, riding a very crowded train from Tokyo to Samukawa, a small town in Kanagawa Prefecture, where I would spend the next two months. When we arrived home, I was told by my host brother, the one in the family who spoke the most English, that I would be sharing a room with Obāchan, his grandmother.

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Share your storyI caught up with Mitch Smith (a native of Overland Park, Kansas and currently a journalism student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) at NAFSA’s 2010 Annual Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. As this year’s winner of New York Times columnist Nick Kristof’s Win-A-Trip contest, Mitch traveled with Kristof to Gabon, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa in May 2010.

The trip was Mitch’s first time out of the country and it forever changed his perspectives on the world. He told me that he thinks it’s very important for students to get out of their comfort zone and experience the world first-hand. He also said, “Students need to have the opportunity to go abroad and to see different cultures so that when they’re working in the United States, they can do so with a genuinely global perspective.”

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Washington is awash in rumors that the administration is about to make another move on Cuba in response to Cuba’s announcement that it will release all remaining political prisoners who were detained in 2003. If these rumors prove to be true, it would be welcome news indeed. It is particularly important that the administration exercise its authority to restore options for Americans to travel to Cuba that were available before 2003, when former President George W. Bush began to curtail travel severely. These travel restrictions have had no positive effect in Cuba, but they have certainly had negative effects for the United States by limiting the ability of Americans to engage with the Cuban people at this time of historic transition. People-to-people contacts have historically been one of our most important tools in opening up closed societies; it is highly counterproductive to drop this tool from the toolkit with respect to Cuba.

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The Obama administration entered office 18 months ago promising change in U.S.-Cuba relations. Let me say up front: I admit that significant change is underway; I admit that the Cuban government hasn’t made it easy; I admit that the president has a lot on his plate; and I admit that the current political environment is not helping. I’m not naïve about government or how politics affect government; I know that change is hard to accomplish, that the government is hard to move—even for a president.

Nevertheless, performance has failed by a long shot to live up to expectations in changing U.S. policy toward Cuba. In particular, we are now approaching, for the second time under this administration, the beginning of another academic year during which opportunities to study abroad in Cuba will be closed to most Americans—not because of any action of the Cuban government, but rather of their own government. And in fact, changing this situation would not be hard at all. All it takes is repealing regulations put in place by the Bush administration in 2004, which significantly curtailed most academic travel to the island. Indeed, the administration has already repealed part of these regulations — those limiting family travel and remittances—and has suffered no negative political consequences for doing so. It’s hard to believe that there would be strong opposition to letting students go to Cuba, as they can to any other country in the world.

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