International Educator - November/December 2014 - 48

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A VIEW FROM OUT HERE
By Dimitri Nessas, Taylor C. Wood, and Mary Lynn Woods

A Practice in Solidarity:
A U.S. Perspective on Cuban Higher Education
PEEKING PAST THE VENEER of vintage cars, cigars,

Once our
research proposals were
accepted, we eagerly anticipated the opportunity to develop
our own firsthand account of a country that is otherwise inaccessible to U.S. citizens. The rigid borders heightened our
academic curiosity to better understand a starkly different cultural approach to higher education. Our brief time in Cuba
offered us a glimpse into the paradox of comparing cultures.
Perhaps our exercise in collective reflection is a product of
all those billboards shouting, "Solidarity!" but our intent is to
capture three facets of an experience we continue to decipher.
The Cubans we met with referenced altruism as a key
motivator for the importation of internationalization and
community involvement in higher education. These themes
were a backdrop of our experiences, which shed light on
internationalization in a culture that has been on the other
side of ninety miles of red tape for more than 50 years.

Altruism
Altruism is not the easiest word to define. Still, it is easier
to define than it is to politically implement. A simple definition of altruism, supplied by Merriam-Webster, is the
48  

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR N O V + D E C .14

"unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others." The definition of altruism can be extended so it goes
beyond unselfishness-it is unselfishness with a tinge of
self-sacrifice and implies living a life that is truly based
on a desire to help others and not a desire for the societal
praise that comes with helping others.
When asked about motivation for the internationalization of higher education-both inbound and
outbound-the very first rationale given by Professor Raul
Alpizar Fernandez, University of Cienfuegos, was altruism.
This answer for him was so natural, said so nonchalantly,
that the suggested subtext was what better motivator? One
Cuban professor's first answer to an incredibly complex
question cannot represent the point of view of an entire nation. Not to mention, on a research exchange program like
this one, it can be expected that the answers we received
were formulated in advance to demonstrate a desirable
picture of the Cuban higher education. However, this automatic reaction, this instinct to suggest altruism as the
primary motivator toward internationalization, demands
further exploration to understand its context and meaning.
There are essentially two ways to view this answer-one
more cynical than the other-and they are: Cuban higher

THINKSTOCK

That there are clear parallels between
altruism and two of the main ideals of the
Cuban revolution of 1959-solidarity and
humanism-is seemingly obvious. The fact
that any of these ideals are alive and well in
Cuba today is another essay entirely.

and mid-century architecture, Búsquedas Investigativas, our
group of U.S. educators, explored Cuba's internationalization
techniques in higher education. Búsquedas Investigativas is
a research exchange led by Sheryl Lutjens of California State
University-San Marcos. Fostering lines of communication
between Cuban and U.S. academics, the program has a 20year history of providing a forum for educators to conduct
research and build collaborative academic ties. Búsquedas Investigativas research experiences continued even in the 1990s
during the Special Period in Time of Peace, when the Soviet
Union fell, Cuba's imports dried up, and Cuba was in an economic depression with severe energy and food shortages.



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