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Study Abroad Program to Introduce Students to Cuban Food Culture

By Brendan O'Hallarn

The gradual lifting of the decades-long Cuban trade embargo is slowly opening the Caribbean island to Americans, and Old Dominion University is taking advantage of the changing relationship.

Graduate students in the university's Lifespan & Digital Communication program, along with undergraduates in the Departments of Communication & Theatre Arts and Political Science and Geography, will travel to Cuba on spring break (March 3 to 11) to learn about the fusion of communication, agriculture and food in the nation.

The first-of-its-kind odyssey will be led by Tom Socha, professor of communication, and Don Ziegler, professor of geography.

"Our students will farm a bit, cook a bit, hear talks from Cuban faculty and government and, of course, eat a lot in order to learn about the significance and meanings of food in the lives of Cubans young and old," Socha said.

Highlights of the trip include visits to Old Havana, El Morro Castle, the Museum of the Revolution, Las Terrazas eco-community, the U.S. Embassy and an organic farm.

"Students will explore Cuban food in a context that is not dependent on mass media advertising and has not been subjected to industrialized/chemically driven farming practices," Socha said. "Cubans may be living in ways consistent with Blue Zone practices, which are likely to contribute to longer lives."

A recent Old Dominion graduate spent a month in Cuba last summer on a study abroad program to learn Spanish. John Reid, who earned his bachelor's degree in international business in May, lived with a host family, studying Spanish at the University of Havana and soaking up local culture.

"It's such a unique country, from the food to the cars to the culture," said Reid, who had never traveled outside the United States before. "The people are incredibly friendly, too. My host 'Mom' even cleaned my room when I was studying during the day."

Reid said the biggest adjustment facing participants in the Cuba program will be a complete separation of connections from home.

"Your cell phone won't work, and there isn't much Internet to speak of. For me, that was great. It helped focus on what I was experiencing every day."

Goals of the course include increasing students' awareness and deepening their understanding of societal relationships with food, as well as the impact of food on health, lifespan, culture and the environment.

All students must be in good academic standing and have the permission of the faculty leader to participate.

For information about the Lifespan Communication, Geography and Food in Cuba study abroad program or to register, see the brochure on the Office of Study Abroad website.

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