Students learn cutting-edge economics research in Cuba

Appalachian State University's undergraduate and graduate degree programs support the development of effective leaders who are at the top of their fields. From accounting, creative writing, public relations and sustainable development, to environmental biology, music performance, nursing, teaching and appropriate technology and more, Appalachian prepares its graduates to be critical, creative and global professionals.

A collaboration between the Center for Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana and Appalachian's Walker College of Business allows for the exchange of ideas between Appalachian students and faculty, and thought leaders in Cuba who are key to effecting change and building relationships between Cuba and the U.S. This partnership exposes Appalachian students to cutting-edge research by top Cuban economists who seek to adjust their country's socialist model to promote economic growth.

As the Cuban government reduces the ranks of state employees and tries to increase entrepreneurial opportunities for its citizens, the WCOB is working to support this reform and to be at the forefront of potential business opportunities that may be created as the U.S.-Cuba relationship changes.

In October, Dr. Martin Meznar, the college's associate dean for international programs and assessment, led a study abroad program to observe and understand the economic changes occurring in that country. While there, Appalachian students learned from Omar Everleny Pérez Villanova, professor and researcher in the Department of Economics at the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy in Havana. They also toured the Presidential Palace, the Museum of the Revolution, the Fort Mantanzas National Monument and visited Korimakao, a popular artists' community in Playa Larga.

"The Walker College of Business seeks to equip its students with the skills they will use to shape the competitive global environment of business in the 21st century," said Meznar. "Collaboration and the exchange of ideas between students from both countries facilitate creative problem solving and critical thinking."

Read student blogs

Some Appalachian students keep journals while they travel overseas. You can read about their adventures here.

Cuba
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Photos: Marie Freeman '85
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Video: Garrett Ford '03, Troy Tuttle '07, Marie Freeman '85, Glenn Dion '11

Dr. Marty Meznar: My name is Marty Meszner and I'm the Associate Dean for International Programs at the Walker College of Business at Appalachian State University. This year we did our second program to Cuba with a collection of our students. Part of the reason we take our students to Cuba on these programs is we are trying to train them to be critical thinkers and policy shapers as we move in to the next century. Over the next couple of years we really expect to see some significant changes in Cuba and we trust that our students will be prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. I'm here with several of the students that participated in the program this year. What struck you, ah in a unique way about he trip to Cuba?

Tiffany Davis: The contrast of the information we get here between our government and then you go to Cuba and you have their side of the story. You know there's a lot of things that butt heads and that don't go together at all, but there are some things that mesh and there are things that we learned about our own country that we're not told I guess, or that we would never think about and then I think things you know, that I just didn't think about until now, so.

Garrett Bowman: Seeing a completely new perspective was really awesome, and ah, I just like seeing both sides of the story kind of like Tiffany said, and I think that really helps out trying to understand our culture as well as other cultures too, so that is really good.

Sam Thomas: I mean I think one of the biggest things that has kind of changed my view or especially made me think more about this—going through the Bay of Pigs museum and talking with all the Cuban people and to see the view they have on America and how it's obviously different of how I view America. It's like, I guess it's kind of made me want to go back and rethink kind of the history I've learned because who knows if what I've learned is the propaganda that they've been learning or something like that.

Dr. Marty Meznar: Of course the time we spent at the Center for Economic Research at the University of Havana was outstanding with these world class economists giving us up-to-date reports but the second day when the power was out and going to be out all day where we got to go actually on the steps outside at the University of Havana, sit under the trees, listen to them give these presentations without power points without notes but just almost in a conversation with us about the things Cuba faces, I was just blown away.

Garrett Bowman: And they were so energetic on the topics that just made us want to listen to them more. When we ran out of time for the first guy I was like - gosh (laughter) I just want to hear the complete - his whole thing because he only started and only completed like a fourth or half of his presentation. So I would have loved to hear the rest of his.

Dr. Marty Meznar: He was outstanding.

Garrett Bowman: Something also struck me was one of the professors was talking about how he made like $24 a month or something like that, if he was a professor in the United States he would have made a lot more money. What strives you to actually get your PhD down there, if you're going to make the same money. Or what's your incentive for a doctor as Elsie brought up rather than like clean rooms and making a lot more money every week compared to making $24 a month you're making $24 a day, or even more than that sometimes.

Tiffany Davis: And I feel since I have a concentration in entrepreneurship, you know before it's like how am I going to accomplish my dreams and what I had planned out and what I want to do in life that's going to make me happy. Here our opportunities are endless and I feel like there is no place that we can't go to get help to start our dreams and aspirations. There they have a struggle with it and they have no support whereas we have support from everybody so I think that has changed my way of thinking as far as, you know before I wasn't so confident of the fact that I'm going to be able to do this when I get out of school, now I think it would be selfish of me to not take advantage of feeling that way.

Dr. Marty Meznar: We did such a variety of things while we were there, certainly some things must stand out in your mind. Is there some particular event?

Sam Thomas: I really liked when we were in Matanzas—it wasn't necessarily—I like the ah, print making studio we went to, but my favorite part of that trip obviously was when I jumped in the rivers swam through the little kids which it probably wasn't the smartest thing I did on the trip but ah, I just thought that was really cool to see to kind of like hang out with the kids there.

Dr. Marty Meznar: I thought for sure it would be the salsa lessons.

(Laughter)

Sam Thomas: I did love the salsa lessons even though I don't think the instructor liked me too much, she snapped at me all the time but I think she was just intimidated by me. She was afraid I was going to take her job eventually is what it came down to.

Tiffany Davis: Yeah that was fun though cause, I mean, being able to take salsa lessons in Cuba—that was really neat.

Mixture talking: On a roof overlooking Havana—that was gorgeous—the backdrop—that was really beautiful.

Dr. Marty Meznar: What strikes me from at least part of our conversation, one of the things we're trying to do is instill critical thinking and new ideas on these trips and I hear you guys talk about the US role and our ability to throw our weight around it's our heftis significant, our economy is so strong and large, but then I heard you earlier talking about the opportunities we have and the freedoms that we have, so maybe at the end of this experience we really have a more balanced view of ourselves and our country as we see some of our strengths and areas for improvement as well and that's really at the heart of what global learning is about is being able to see ourselves in a realistic and appropriate context.

Sam Thomas: Just traveling abroad has obviously widened my world view so I can see more of what people outside the United States think and I think it's going to help me further my own mind giving well rounded decisions opposed to one-sided.

Tiffany Davis: Yeah I think it helps us see the world as one united people and just how we can just help each other and the economy.

Garrett Bowman: Yeah Appalachian tries to teach us to have a global perspective and now that I've gone to Cuba I'm actually able to get that global perspective it was a completely incredible experience.

Tiffany Davis: That's something—you know—you may forget the definition in a textbook after you take that second test, but you'll never in your lifetime forget that experience you had studying abroad.

Garrett Bowman: The memories will last forever.

Sam Thomas: Yeah definitely, I can definitely agree to that.

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Photo: Marie Freeman '85.

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Page last updated: December 19, 2012