Studying History While Studying Abroad, or: How to Visit Cuba Without Breaking the Law

Several of the students we’ve featured on One Thing after Another studied abroad while they were enrolled at Saint Anselm College. And many faculty in the history department have spent considerable time abroad either as undergraduates, in graduate school, or since arriving at Saint Anselm College. Although going abroad is not a requirement for learning about the past, it can influence our historical thinking in important ways. For one thing, spending time abroad can help us to understand the social and cultural conditions that shaped—and were shaped by—a country’s history. Moreover, students who venture outside of the United States have access to resources that we simply don’t have at home: numerous faculty experts who specialize in local history or archives with rare and hard-to-find sources. And there is something about being in a place that changes one’s perspective. It is one thing to read about Versailles, the Berlin Wall, or Tiananmen Square. It is something else entirely to roam the halls where French monarchs lived, see the concrete remnants of the old barrier between East and West Berlin, or gaze upon a public space where a million students protested against oppression and hundreds or thousands died in a military crackdown.

Understanding the value of studying abroad, the history department has organized several study abroad programs in recent years. In 2011 and again in 2013, Professor Masur brought a group of students to Vietnam during winter break. As the students themselves explained, even a rather brief visit to Vietnam profoundly affected their understanding of contemporary Vietnam, the Vietnam War, and Vietnam’s history outside of its conflict with the United States. Professor Perrone had a similar experience when he brought students to China. His program included visits to the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and the Bund in Shanghai.

Vietnam Study Abroad

Saint Anselm students at the Cu Chi tunnels outside of Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The tunnels were used as a base for the National Liberation Front (NLF) during the Vietnam War.

During the spring semester 2015, the history department is planning another exciting short-term study abroad program. As part of Professor Pajakowski and Professor Masur’s team-taught course on the Cold War, students will have the opportunity to participate in a week-long study trip to Cuba during spring break (March 1-March 8). The program in Cuba will supplement in-class material by exploring Cuba’s important role in the U.S.-Soviet rivalry. Students will learn about Castro’s rise to power, Cuba’s alliance with the Soviets, and the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The program will include an overnight trip to the Bay of Pigs, site of the CIA-orchestrated attempt to unseat Castro in 1961. Students will also gain a greater understanding of current Cuban politics and social and economic conditions in the country.

Cuba Trip 2

 Street Scene, Havana, Cuba

Professors Pajakowski and Masur will have more information about the trip in the next couple of weeks. Students who are interested in the program should plan to enroll in Hi 399: The Cold War in the spring semester. (Note: students will have the option of taking Hi 399 without participating in the Cuba trip.) We are estimating that the program will cost $2,660, not including airfare to Miami, the cost of some meals in Cuba, and spending money. (We will have a more detailed cost breakdown by the end of August).

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