Students visit revived Cuba

Several fishing boats pepper Havana’s harbor. The wooden boats inspired those found in Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. Photo submitted by Walker Rutledge.


For three years, English professor Walker Rutledge has led a study abroad program to Cuba. 

This year, he was joined by English department head Robert Hale, 11 students and loosened travel restrictions.

The Cuban embargo barred many Americans from the country, since 1961.

However, college students remained an exception to the strict travel laws.

Since 2012, WKU has worked with a Cuban travel agency, located in Toronto, Canada, to make the program a reality.

The group stayed, primarily, at the Ambos Mundos hotel in Havana, the country’s capital. The itinerary included visits to Ernest Hemingway’s homestead, the National Museum of Fine Arts, a Cuban baseball game and a tobacco farm. 

For some, Cuba was not their first international experience. 

Harlan senior Sarah Haywood studied at Harlaxton College in England. 

“I loved studying abroad before and wanted to do it again,” she said. “I think it opens your mind to other opportunities.”

Lawrenceburg senior Jessica Brumley, a Chinese Flagship program student, spent the last three summers in China.

“I kind of underestimated the differences just because I’d been abroad before,” she said. 

President Obama’s recent proposal to lift the Cuban embargo has the potential to create many changes for Cuba—especially in terms of its economy. However, according to Rutledge, the changes will not occur overnight. 

Brumley agreed.

“There is a lot of poverty in Cuba, and I also feel like they really have to come up with a plan,” she said. “There needs to be a lot of leadership involved in how this is going to impact the Cuban economy, because they just don’t have the buildings or infrastructure for a huge influx of American tourists.”

The Cubans welcomed the group.

“The people said things like ‘We’re friends, we’re all friends, but it’s our governments that are not friends,’” Haywood said.

The day after the group returned to the U.S., newspaper headlines announced the impending travel negotiations. 

“This is a very exciting time for WKU to have a presence in Cuba,” Rutledge said.