Department of Global Development Studies

DEPARTMENT OF

Global Development Studies

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Decade-long Cuban partnership continues

Queen’s and the University of Havana celebrate the future of their partnership.

DEVS 305 Group May 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2018 Cuba trip cohort pose together with a statue in Havana. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

Queen’s and the University of Havana have partnered  for the past 10 years to teach the Cuban Society and Culture course and host visiting scholars and artists. The study abroad course has seen over 300 Queen’s students study in Havana thus far, and will continue thanks to a new agreement signed in Havana during a celebration of the course and partnership in May.

[Students, staff, and faculty from both universities enjoy local food and musical (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students, staff, and faculty from both universities enjoy local food and music. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

For Susan Lord (Film and Media) and Karen Dubinsky (History/Global Development Studies), their ongoing professional relationship with their colleagues from the University of Havana has created opportunities that stretch farther than their annual course.

The course begins at Queen’s in the winter term. Students learn about the history of Cuba from 1959 to present day, studying social and cultural challenges, successes, and innovations. Students then travel to Havana for two weeks to experience what they learned over the semester. They visit historic monuments, take in the modern landscape of music, agriculture, and city living, participate in classes at the University of Havana, and enjoy the warm hospitality of their Cuban colleagues and fellow students.

“We have sessions throughout the trip for students to digest their experiences,” says Dr. Lord. “We talk about what they find on the street that contradicts or extends what they’ve learned in books. Some of the key takeaways for students from this past trip was the amount of music everywhere in Havana and the diversity of perspectives on Cuban reality presented by professors in the course. This is much more enriching than only learning in a textbook.”

[Students travel through an art exhibit featuring mosaic tile. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students travel through an art exhibit featuring mosaic tile. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

A decade of collaboration has led to lasting relationships between the coordinators from both countries. University of Havana professor Sonia Enjamio was a core contact for Drs. Lord and Dubinsky before she died in 2010. To commemorate her dedication to the course and students, the coordinators of the course, including Drs. Lord and Dubinsky and University of Havana Vice-Dean (International) Lourdes Perez, decided to create the Sonia Enjamio Fund to help Queen’s students continue their studies and University of Havana students study at Queen’s.

“Relationships are a key ingredient to success for these kinds of programs, and the Cuban Society and Culture course is a great example of best practices,” says Jenny Corlett, Director of International Initiatives with the Faculty of Arts and Science. “The coursework is the trunk of the tree, but there are so many relationships that spread like roots to make it stable and keep it growing.”

This connection between Queen’s and the University of Havana has led to dozens of research projects by both universities’ researchers. Ten scholars and artists from Cuba have participated in exchanges to Queen’s. Freddy Monasterio Barso (Cultural Studies) is a Cuban PhD candidate and one of the course instructors for Cuban Society and Culture.

Recent research collaborations between Cuba and Queen’s include:

  • An upcoming book of essays and interviews of Sara Gómez, an Afro-Cuban filmmaker of the sixties by Dr. Lord;
  • A book on Canada-Cuban person-to-person relations by Dr. Dubinsky;
  • A master’s thesis on staying current in an offline country by Xenia Reloba de la Cruz, a Cuban journalist who completed her master’s at Queen’s in Cultural Studies; and
  • A 2014 anthology of renowned Cuban musician Carlos Varela’s work in English and Spanish curated by Dr. Dubinsky, Ms. Reloba de la Cruz, and former Cuban visiting scholar to Queen’s Maria Caridad Cumana. Mr. Varela received an honorary degree from Queen’s in the same year.

“The relationship between Queen’s and the University of Havana precedes the course by several decades,” says Dr. Dubinsky. “It began in the early seventies as part of a large project organized by Canadian University Service Overseas, a Canadian non-governmental organization. Fifty Canadian engineering professors taught over 300 Cuban students. That first project was judged a rousing success, and efforts such as our course continue that connection.”

[Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International), and Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) participate in the awarding of certificates to students in the course. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International), and Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) participate in the awarding of certificates to students in the course. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

Dr. Lord’s vision for the next five years of the course is a healthy mixture of growth and sustainability.

“We work hard to keep the costs low. This is one of the least expensive exchange courses to Cuba, so we have to be innovative about how we grow sustainably,” says Dr. Lord. “We would like to increase the Sonia Enjamio Fund to have more reciprocal exchange, and explore more initiatives to support the course. I’d also like to do more work with graduate students to help facilitate their participation.”

The end of the tenth trip was marked with a celebration involving students, staff, and faculty from both universities. Guests enjoyed local cuisine, music (including a concert by Cuban hip hop artist Telmary Diaz, visiting artist at Queen’s in 2017), and the signing of an agreement by Barbara Crow, Dean (Faculty of Arts and Science) and Kathy O’Brien, Associate Vice-Principal (International) to continue the partnership for another 5 years.

[Students thank their guides and professors during the contract signing and 10 year celebration at the end of the visit. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)]
Students thank their guides and professors during the contract signing and 10 year celebration at the end of the visit. (Photo: Chris Tianyu Yao)

“Cuban Culture and Society is one of my favourite memories of my first year here at Queen’s,” says Chris Tianyu Yao (ArtSci’21), a Film and Media student. “From my perspective, the uniqueness of the course is the diverse and interdisciplinary content. It gave me an opportunity to engage in many new fields of study, such as politics, global development, and health studies. I could also easily find my own interests in this course. These experiences helped me to continue my study and research in film, art, and cultural studies.”

To find out more about the course, visit the Department of Global Development Studies website