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can you help me study abroad in Cuba?

Soy un hombre simple, de donde crece la palma,” writes Cuban poet, social critic, and revolutionary José Martí – “I am a simple man, from the land where the palm trees grow.”

I’ve heard about Cuba’s fascinating legacy for years – ever since seeing Patrick Swayze fighting Russian invaders in Red Dawn, actually.  But although my travels in recent years have allowed me to take college courses and aid in humanitarian work in places like Honduras and Costa Rica, I’ve always understood my status as an American to completely bar me from entering this beautiful “forbidden fruit” of an island nation.

In other words, a cup of café cubana and a pulled pork sandwich at a themed restaurant have always been the closest I’ve ever been able to come to the real thing.

So imagine my excitement when I stopped into my university’s study abroad office this winter and saw a flyer advertising an upcoming summer trip to La Havana – the first and only such venture offered by my university in nearly 10 years.

And maybe this shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Longstanding tensions between the United States and Cuba have seen (legal) travel between the two countries ground to a near-complete halt over the past sixty years.  Making a rare opportunity even rarer, on February 14 of this year Cuba indefinitely suspended their consular services in the U.S. and closed their visa application process off to American applicants (except for humanitarian workers).  Our students, however, will still be allowed to travel.

Aside from decades-old political currents conspiring to prevent my short passage across the Florida Strait, I have another immediate concern: the financial aspect of the trip still looms darkly overhead.

Although my university was kind enough to provide me with a small scholarship to help defray the cost of this program, it’s been difficult to find additional sources of aid.  It’s interesting, trying to apply for federal funds to study abroad in an embargoed country.  In my search, I’ve repeatedly come across an annoying, ubiquitous phrase I had somehow never noticed before: “applicant is eligible for this scholarship if studying abroad in any country except Cuba.”  Wonderful.  Many scholarship-finding websites have also been laughably unhelpful, almost to the point of mocking my predicament:

To this end, I’ve started a personal crowdfunding page in the hopes this is how I’ll be able to raise the rest of the money.  Though I’m not used to asking for help in this way, I am particularly desperate to gain the funds to help me study abroad this summer for two main reasons: 1) I recognize just how rare of an opportunity this is, and I know if I can’t take advantage of this now I may not be able to ever see Cuba; and 2) as a Social Work and Spanish student who wants to one day work in international development, I can hardly think of a better opportunity to learn more about these skills in a practical, engaging context.

The coursework I’ll be taking in La Havana will feature elements of anthropology, history, linguistics, and political theory, all taught entirely in Spanish. While there, we will be learning about contemporary and historic Cuban-American relations, meeting and dialoguing with local university students, and otherwise exploring and experiencing Cuban culture firsthand.

Finally, as I’ve done on previous trips abroad, I plan on writing about and sharing some of these experiences on my blog.  However, due to restricted Internet access on the island, it will be a bit harder for me to do so this time.  So I’m figuring out how to configure my website to automatically publish new posts I’ve sent by email.

Now here’s what I need: with the thousand plus dollars I’ve saved up from my job this past year, the five hundred dollar scholarship I just received, and a few other financial resources I’ve already been able to tap into, I estimate that I’ll will need at least one thousand dollars more in order to make the payments to attend this trip.

This is where I’m really hoping my friends, family, and other online support networks will be able to step in and help me out a bit.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure that any success will come of this campaign, but…I feel I must at least give it a try, and see what happens.

Now, I know what you’re thinking…but I probably won’t be able to bring you home any bona fide Cuban cigars.  However, please check the rewards section of this page to see what I may be able to offer you instead.  I’ve tried to come up with some fun, real ways that I might begin to show my gratitude and repay bit of your incredible kindness.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers in the upcoming months.  As I labor and otherwise slowly prepare to visit this complicated, multifaceted land where the palm trees grow, I think (and fret) often of what is to come.  Till then, I’ll try to keep my mind on higher things.  I’ve still got a lot of bugspray, sunscreen, postcards, pulled pork sandwiches, and textbooks to purchase.

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