Students get inside view of Cuban economic evolution

Hassenfeld Fellow Overseas Immersion Program provides an up-close look

Brandeis’ International Business School recently sent 30 MA and MBA candidates on a one-week academic trip to Cuba for a first-person look at that country’s economy in transition.

The group visited tobacco farms and farmers’ markets, exchanged ideas with members of the economics department at the University of Havana, and became the first U.S. business school delegation to connect with a new Cuban MBA program run by the Spain-based Catholic University Saint Anthony of Murcia.

“To truly immerse yourself in a culture, you have to experience it up-close and personal,” said business school Dean Bruce Magid. “This was an exciting opportunity for students to see a closed, state-controlled country start to open up to the global economy.”

The visit was made possible by the Brandeis business school’s new Hassenfeld Fellow Overseas Immersion Program. The new program is funded by retired Hasbro Chairman and CEO Alan Hassenfeld, who made the trip alongside Magid and three professors. The program’s inaugural trip, to Turkey last summer, proved so popular that over 100 students applied for spots on February’s excursion.

The Hassenfeld Fellows spent five weeks this winter in a special Cuba module taught by trip organizer Alfonso Canella, a Cuban-born professor who hadn’t set foot in his homeland in nearly 50 years. The communist nation recently enacted several changes to liberalize its economy, allowing citizens to start small businesses and to buy and sell cars and real estate to each other.

Students saw these sorts of dynamic developments first-hand during the week they spent in Cuba, during which the government announced it would begin to sell inefficient state-run restaurants to the emerging private sector.

“It’s clear that this is a country on the cusp of economic change,” said Gonzalo Montes Viguera MA ’12. “Walking through the streets and talking to the locals, you can really see it and feel it.”

Particularly enlightening was the visit with the new Cuban MBA program, which started this past fall and is intended to provide Cubans with the management skills to launch and operate new entrepreneurial opportunities in the coming years.

“It was fascinating to get their perspectives on the recent economic developments in Cuba,” said Nihan Celiktas MBA ’12. “We got a little bit of everything from the trip, which helped provide us with the whole picture.”

The Hassenfeld Fellows also found time to donate medical supplies, visit a jazz club, stop by Havana’s Hemingway Museum, and take salsa-dancing lessons in the country where the art form was created.

“The trip went far above and beyond any of our expectations,” said Hassenfeld. “Students got the chance to exchange ideas with their peers in Cuba and partake in an extraordinary, truly experiential education.”

Categories: Business, International Affairs

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