Last March Barack Obama was the first U.S. president to visit Cuba in nearly 90 years. Not long ago, his history-making, three-day visit—the culmination of the diplomatic opening announced by him and Cuban President Raúl Castro in 2014—would have been unthinkable. Is President Obama in the vanguard? Yes, but Baruch College was ahead of him. For several years, faculty and students have participated in a farsighted series of learning programs on this “forbidden island.”
Two years ago, Miguel Machado (’17) was a part-time student who worked 45 hours a week as a jewelry store manager. Feeling a kinship inspired by his Puerto Rican heritage, he applied to a journalism study abroad program in Cuba. When he returned, Machado quit his job, enrolled full time, and declared a double major in journalism and Spanish. He aspires to become a foreign correspondent in Latin America.
“My trip to Cuba changed everything—when I saw what people were able to live without, and the ingenuity they needed to survive each day, I felt incredibly fortunate,” says the budding journalist. “Their spirit gave me the confidence to bet on myself.”
Machado’s life-changing experience is far from unique on campus. Since 2012 more than 50 Baruch students have made transformational journeys to the Caribbean island as part of winter session courses that have focused on culture and society, journalism, and natural sciences. With the support of the George and Mildred Weissman School of Arts and Sciences and the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, a nonprofit organization fostering cultural exchange, the study abroad program has been able to thrive at a time when U.S. citizens have been largely restricted from Cuban travel.