This summer, the UF International Center is hosting its first university-sponsored study-abroad program to Cuba.
Even though Cuba is on the federal list of state-sponsors of terrorism, the program directors said they are not concerned for student safety. Students abroad have been in areas of political turmoil before without challenges to their safety, like in the case of January’s Paris attacks.
Manuela Hernandez, an international studies and economics junior who is studying in Paris, wrote in an email that security was tighter at first, but within a month, the mood had calmed down.
“I never considered going home because I knew that overall the situation would be managed,” she said.
Safety is not an issue for the Cuba program, said Donald Behringer, associate professor in the School of Forest Resources and Conservation and director for the program. He has traveled to both mainland Cuba and Guantanamo Bay twice, and said it is one of the safest places he has been to in the Caribbean.
“Governments are in conflict,” he said. “But the people are as nice as can be.”
The U.S. and Cuba will continue talks on Friday to end the embargo, leaving some wondering what this means to the UF community.
Since a 2006 law was passed in the Florida Legislature, state funds have been barred from use in the nation.
The choice to host the research program in Cuba was not arbitrary, Behringer said.
“For Cuba, there’s no other place that they share more agricultural similarities with than Florida,” Behringer said.
UF and the University of Havana have had a research agreement for year, Behringer said. That agreement was instrumental in starting the study-abroad program.
Currently in Florida, state university funding cannot be used to travel to Cuba or other nations considered state-sponsors of terrorism by the State Department, said Lillian Guerra, a UF history professor, at a lecture Feb. 13 hosted by three Cuban organizations on campus.
Ending the embargo would be transformative, she said. She said she is hopeful that President Barack Obama will take Cuba off the list of state-sponsors of terrorism while the Florida Legislature is out of session, effectively voiding the 2006 state law.
But for students going this summer, they cannot use Bright Futures or other public assistance to cover the nearly $3,000 cost of the trip. Behringer said his program is backed by a private grant.
The study-abroad program will focus on marine life and consist of field studies, lab research and daily excursions in and around Havana. The deadline to apply is March 13.
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 2/23/2015 under the headline “UF not hesitant to host Cuba study abroad program"]