Southeast Granted Two-Year Extension of Programs in Cuba

Students, faculty leave March 31 for eight-day program

After two successful programs, the Harrison College of Business at Southeast Missouri State University has been granted a two-year extension of its license to run educational programs in Cuba.  Its third visit to the “forbidden” country will begin March 31 for approximately eight days.

While the federal government has been reducing the number of licenses awarded, Southeast was among a select group of universities to achieve the honor of a two-year license extension. 

“We were granted a treasury department license renewal because of our track record of running successful programs to Cuba for two years, plus many years of programs to Europe, Northern Africa and Mexico,” said Dr. Peter Gordon, director of the Center for International Business Programs at Southeast Missouri State University. “We were particularly excited to be granted the renewal in light of the Bush administration’s clampdown on licenses to Cuba.”

According to Gordon, the program is not something that too many universities are able to offer their students.

“Americans are basically banned from going to Cuba without U.S. government permission,” he said.  “So students who gain first-hand knowledge of this country in anticipation of the future elimination of the trade embargo will be well positioned in the job market with companies who are anxious to expand to Cuba as soon as they are legally able.”

Students of all disciplines are encouraged to attend international programs for the cultural experience they gain. 

Students participating in the program complete a series of assignments covering the economy, politics, history and culture of Cuba.  They read extensively to gain a solid understanding of the country.

Erika Williams, a graduate student in the MBA Program at Southeast, plans on taking part in the program because, she says, it is a once in a lifetime opportunity. She previously has participated in Southeast study abroad programs in Switzerland, England, France and Italy.  She also visited Spain and Curacao in the West Indies during high school. 

“Only 900 students get the opportunity to visit Cuba a year,” Williams said.  “I feel extremely lucky to get this opportunity to broaden my global perspective, something that you must have in order to be successful in business.”Williams said she urges all students to consider study abroad opportunities.

“I would strongly recommend an international experience to others,” she said. “Traveling to an international country broadens your global perspective and, in turn, makes you more marketable to an employer. It also shows an appreciation for diversity.”

Three faculty and staff members from across campus will join Gordon and the students on the program in Cuba. They are Dr. Willie Redmond, professor of economics and finance; Quantella Anderson, instructor of human environmental studies, and Dr. Mel Gillespie, assistant to the president for equity issues.

Gordon said Cuba is a fascinating political and economic system to observe.  He said the Cuban people are genuinely friendly and eager to talk with visitors.

“There is no anti-American sentiment noticeable at all.  Most of the images Americans have of Cuba are misleading, and are generated in great part by the dissident community in Miami,” Gordon said. “Images of boat people trying to cross to Florida give a misleading impression. Sure, there are people in Cuba who would prefer the much higher living standards in the U.S., but that does not mean they are violently oppressed.  Freedoms are less in Cuba than in the United States, but we could say the same about Mexico.”

Despite the lower standard of living, he said, Cuba also has many strengths.

Gordon says the country has a very low crime rate, high life expectancy, 100 percent literacy rate and, because of the nature of the communist state, no one is unemployed or homeless. 

“The Cuba people are very friendly and happy.  I have experienced their hospitality, kindness and honesty,” he said.

Gordon hopes to continue the programs in Cuba for as long as possible.

“We will continue our programs in Cuba as long as Castro remains in power and the U.S. embargo remains in force. Once there is regime change in Cuba, and relations with the U.S. are normalized, there will be a flood of tourism to Cuba, which will destroy many of the things that make it so appealing at the moment,” he said. “The ‘Americanization’ of Cuba will turn it into another Jamaica or Bahamas.  Besides, the tourist infrastructure will have trouble handling the tourist influx, and prices are likely to become prohibitively expensive.”

For more information on Southeast’s international programs, contact Dr. Peter Gordon at (573) 651-2914 or pgordon@semo.edu.  You may also visit the international business Web site for opportunities and more information at http://www6.semo.edu/ibp.