Study abroad options to increase with Cuba contract

By Elizabeth zinchuk

SIU has ventured into the Caribbean.

University officials finalized an agreement with the University of Havana in Cuba Sept. 26 that gives both universities’ students the opportunity to gain credit while studying abroad and faculty the chance to collaborate with researchers beyond our campus.

“Agreements mean so much more than just to study abroad,” said Al Romero, SIUE’s College of  Liberal Arts and Sciences dean.


Romero was one official who attended the agreement meeting in Cuba. He said he initiated this agreement with UH because he and other SIU faculty were interested in the country. The agreement provides opportunities for SIU and UH students to study at the other campus and receive credits, he said.

Faculty from both universities will also work together to complete research efforts. Cuban art exhibits will also be brought to the U.S., and a new course about Cuban culture and history will be implemented into the university’s curriculum in the spring.

“The whole idea was to understand the type of collaborative exchanges we could achieve,” said Paul Sarvela, vice president for academic affairs in the SIU system office who also went to Cuba to sign the agreement.

SIU holds 71 agreements with international universities and colleges around the world, according to information from the Center of International Education. To compare, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has more than 350 agreements and Illinois State University has 16, according to both the universities’ Offices of International Studies and Programs data.

Romero said he thinks an alliance would be mutually beneficial for both universities’ study abroad programs.

“Study abroad opportunities provide our students with the kind of exposure that makes them more confident in their country,” said Peter Gitau, associate vice chancellor and dean of students.

Gitau said agreements vary by university regarding how much students pay for tuition at SIU or an abroad university, and they do not cost the university money. He also said almost all agreements allow students to transfer credits.


Sarvela said the contract may generate revenue for SIU over time.

“Agreements with such universities provide a super opportunity for international experience with a country very different from ours,” Sarvela said.

He said the agreements create university faculty partnerships. He said professors often work together to create new research opportunities that often qualify for grant dollars.

“I think there are some incentives to studying abroad,” Gitau said. “So those type of things attract students.”

Gitau also said financial aid and scholarships are easily available for students who want to take advantage of these study abroad agreements.

“Students sometimes do not even consider studying abroad because they consider it out of their means,” he said.

Sarvela said he thinks it will raise enrollment because students will see that they can have more than the typical college education through SIU.

“Students not only will receive a traditional education, but learn about their field in Cuba,” he said.

Jon Davey, an SIU architecture professor, said he has taken architecture students abroad for the past eight years and will take students to Cuba this spring.

“One of the ways this agreement helps students is that they can see historic and colonial architecture in Havana,” Davey said. “Illinois, as well as SIU, has had a long history with Cuba. Paul Simon started the relationship through his outreaching to the University of Havana.”

Sarvela said the agreement will also affect the colleges of music and art.

“There is rich Cuban culture that our students who are interested in studying music or art would specifically benefit and learn from,” he said.

Sarvela said the Cubans have a lot to share with SIU.

“I think we accomplished our goal to get to know a different university through their programs, students and research efforts,” Sarvela said.