Cuba Study Abroad

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History, Culture and Politics of Cuba

A Semester 16-credit or Summer 6-credit study abroad program in Cuba [Apply Here!]

Offered by the Autonomous University for Social Movements (AUSM) and the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas Enrique Jose Varona

AUSM Executive Director Thomas Hansen (PhD) has 25 years of experience leading educational programs in Cuba. The Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas Enrique Jose Varona is the leading teacher training institution in Cuba.

Below you will find information on:
• The framework of the program
• Coursework
• Housing
• The Chicago re-entry program
• Requirements
• Costs and dates


The program utilizes a social justice framework:

You will encounter a reality in Cuba unlike anything you have experienced.The total absence of commercial advertisements, the existence of mass organizations structured by the State, a continually evolving socialist revolution that includes free health care and education (imagine no student loans!), lack of ready access to many consumer goods, strong communities and tight family structures - all these things and many more will quickly turn your world upside down. The social, political and historical realities in Cuba generate many questions and challenge pre-conceived notions. You will quickly move outside your comfort zone, providing the perfect conditions for a unique and rewarding educational experience.

A social justice framework provides you with a set of paradigmatic questions that are familiar enough to generate energetic questioning, while the Cuban context moves you outside of the debate parameters and political/social discourses that generally mark your experiences in the US. Among the key social justice questions you will confront are:

Anti-capitalism: Cubans are building a socialist country and the ongoing experiment is fascinating. Unwilling to accept the old Soviet or the new Chinese models, the Cubans are doing it their way – Marxism with a salsa beat. You’ll investigate the good, the bad and the ugly – successful programs and failed experiments. This course is particularly appropriate for students oriented to anti-capitalist views who want to experience real life efforts to construct alternatives.

Decision-making processes and citizenship rights: In the mainstream US media, Cuba is a dictatorship, plain and simple. But the reality on the ground is much more complicated. Popular elections that draw high turnouts and mass organizations that include virtually the entire population co-exist with a one-party State and partially controlled media. Is this a different form of democracy? How much control do citizens have over decisions that affect their daily lives?

Social justice vs wealth production: The Cuban dream of an egalitarian society that includes subsidized food, free health care and education, free day care, and guaranteed jobs is confronting the reality of a neoliberal world that inevitably results in wealth differentiation. Is socialism possible with market mechanisms? Are current reforms re-introducing capitalism? Is wealth creation more important than equity? Is it possible to build a social consensus around labor norms that are not based solely on wage levels?

Race, class, gender and sexual orientation: Theoretically a classless society, recent reforms and billions of dollars in family remittances are introducing new social inequities. Are these differences understandable in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation? Does the State have the final, or even the most important, say on questions of prejudice? What is the impact of historical legacy on current social relations? Are race and gender inequalities automatically overcome in a classless society? What is Cuba’s history regarding issues of sexual orientation and AIDS treatment?

These questions and contradictions are not simple abstractions.  They manifest themselves in discussions at the market, at family dinners, in the mainstream media, and in government discourses.  They unfold in a particular historical context impacted by an often contentious relationship with the US government and grounded in nationalism built on the foundations of sovereignty, equity, solidarity and Cuba’s particular brand of Marxism.  

Core program:

The core program consists of four classes integrated in a modular system that utilizes an interdisciplinary pedagogy, combining theoretical classes with workshops, internships, and experiential learning.  Instruction focuses on a distinct theme each week.  Reading materials are drawn from sociology, political science, anthropology, economics, history, literature, and other relevant disciplines.  Students meet for 15 hours of formal academic classes each week organized around discussion of assigned readings and lectures by some of Cuba’s leading academics.  Lectures are in Spanish with English translation for those who need it. 

This study abroad program is all about praxis - the theory and practice of contemporary Cuban society, the ideas that energize it, and the daily lived experiences that embody it. You’ll get out of the classroom and into the community with workshops and meetings that put you in direct contact with Cuban academics, political leaders and social actors.  Experiential workshops may include visits to public schools, medical centers, cooperatives, NGOs, and popular organizations.  

You will enjoy the rich Cuban culture, including Cuba’s world-renowned cinema, dance, music, theater, and sports events.  Once a week, you will participate in a three-hour internship with the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas where public school English teachers learn their profession.  Here you can interact in a lively bilingual exchange with second and third year English language students that often result in lasting friendships. Workshops, parties and cultural exchanges involving students and youth are central to the program, offering you the opportunity to make friends with people your age.  Intensive Spanish classes are offered at three different levels to meet every student’s needs.

In addition to spending 12 weeks in and around Havana, you will spend a week in central Cuba.  See the historic port of Cienfuegos, the colonial city of Trinidad, and the “Berkeley of Cuba,” Santa Clara, where you’ll see the world famous Che Guevara museum.  You will spend a weekend at Varadero Beach, where you can witness the impact of extensive foreign investment in the tourism sector and grab a swim at the finest beach in the world.

Courses offered:
• Cuban History (Hist 371/571), 4 credits, 60 class hours
• Cuba Today (Soc 372/572), 4 credits, 60 class hours
• Cuban Politics (Pol Sci 373/573), 4 credits, 60 class hours
• Spanish (280/380/480 – (level depends on student language capacity), 4 credits, 60 class hours.  The 480 course is reserved for native speakers and covers Cuban literature and film.

There are also opportunities for independent study.  Past examples include professional salsa classes, drum lessons, urban agriculture and race dynamics.

Housing in Havana:

Your homestay experience is central to immersing yourself in Cuban culture, politics, and history. You will live with families in Marianao, an historic Black working class barrio located on the southwest side of Havana, about 20 minutes from the city center.  Homestays provide you with a unique opportunity to learn firsthand from Cuban families while also improving your Spanish.  Most students think the homestays are the highlight of the trip!

Chicago re-entry Program:

It's not just in Cuba that people are building alternatives. The optional Chicago re-entry program allows you to re-acclimate to being in the US by living with immigrant families who are part of the Centro Autónomo. During the two-week program you participate directly in anti-foreclosure struggles, immigrant rights organizing, popular education programs, gender workshops, and arts and culture, all in the context of a working class Latino community center.  The re-entry program provides the time and space to ground your Cuban learning in the US reality. Read more about the Chicago re-entry program here.


Applicants must be registered in an undergrad or graduate program at an accredited US institution that recognizes the credits earned in Cuba toward a degree. AUSM is a non-degree granting educational institution that facilitates study in Cuba by students of accredited, degree-granting U.S institutions of higher learning that qualify under general license 515.565 (a)(1)-(3).  The courses in Cuba are structured educational programs. Diplomas and transcripts are awarded by the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas Enrique Jose Varona.  Your school study abroad office must complete an approval of participation form that recognizes the program credits for your undergrad or graduate degree-granting program.

Program costs and dates:

Fall and Spring semesters:

$12,300 ($10,900 without Chicago re-entry program)

Spring 2017: January 29 - April 28


Cuba program
$8,400 covers tuition for 16 semester credits and fees
$2,500 covers room and board
$1,400 covers Re-entry program, including housing, food, transportation, and workshops in Chicago.

NOTE: Applicants can apply for scholarships by completing our scholarship application and demonstrating need via the Financial Aid Information form filled out by their school's financial aid administrator.

Fall and Spring payment deadlines                     
                                                                                          Fall                   Spring
Early payment (Full program fee less $500)                May 31            August 31
Payment deadline (Full program fee)                           July 15             December 15
After deadline (Full program fee plus $500)                July 16             December 16

Early payment option is only available to students who are paying for the program fee out of pocket.  Students who are not able to pay the full program fee before the deadline must fill out the Letter of Financial Responsibility and contact us to arrange a payment schedule.  All payments must be received before departure from the US.  Sorry, no exceptions for any reason.

Summer semester:

Summer 2017: June 3 - July 8th

Your $3,900 program fee covers:
• 6 semester credits
• Food, lodging and ground transportation in Cuba
• Most books and reading materials

Summer payment deadlines
Payment deadline (Full program fee)                                   by April 30
After payment deadline (Full program fee + $500)             after April 30

All payments must be received before departure from the US.  Sorry, no exceptions for any reason.