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Doctoral Student Turns Dream of Experiencing Cuba into Reality through UAlbany Study Abroad

UAlbany has had a study abroad program to Cuba since 2012.

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 18, 2015) -- As relations between the U.S. and Cuba thaw, American curiosity about the Caribbean nation grows. In the past year, there were more U.S. visitors to Cuba than from any other nation; University at Albany doctoral student and lecturer Nicholas Figueroa was one of them.

UAlbany launched a study abroad program to Cuba in the summer of 2012, according to Austin Powers, program coordinator in UAlbany’s Office of Education Abroad, part of the Center for International Education and Global Strategy.

“We are proud to be one of the very few U.S. institutions that has a study abroad option in Cuba which we are able to offer through a special educational license from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC),” said Powers.

Figueroa traveled to Cuba with UAlbany’s program, one of the more than 600 study abroad opportunities in 50+ countries from Antarctica to Tanzania that are currently available through the University. He travelled with other UAlbany students as well as students from Binghamton University, SUNY New Paltz and the University of Maryland.

“Ever since I was young I have dreamed about traveling to Cuba,” said Figueroa, who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan listening to the Cuban and Afro-Cuban music his father used to play. “I wanted to breathe in the Cuban air, see the beauty of its people and hear the essence of their dialogue. I wanted to experience Cuba and learn from her.”

A contingent lecturer of Spanish and a doctoral student in Hispanic and Italian studies in the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures, he stayed with a Cuban family, and took academic classes combined with experiential learning and cultural experiences last spring.

As a linguist, he wanted to talk to as many people as he could and study the characteristics and aspects of their dialect that sets them apart from not only other Caribbean dialects but Spanish-speaking countries as well.

UAlbany’s program is located at the Martin Luther King Center of Havana, the epicenter for social change and activism in Cuba since its inception in 1987. The director of the center is Rev. Raul Suarez, who was essential in helping Cuba transition from an atheistic state to a secular one, an important movement that helped to improve religious and human rights on the island.

With the opening of the American embassy in Havana in August and President Barack Obama’s January 2015 expansion of categories of authorized travel to the island nation, more students are expected to travel to Cuba.

Figueroa is seeking to become a tenured professor at a university in the New York City area, and to establish a Spanish Linguistics department. He plans to establish a foundation to assist students from low-income families to pay for school tuition, books and fees.

• To read an overview of Figueroa’s experience, see The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

• To learn more about the Cuba program, listen in on Austin Powers’ interview in Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” SUNY Also Partnering With Cuba.

• To explore the University’s many overseas options, visit the new website for UAlbany Education Abroad.

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About the University at Albany
A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.