The Food and Agribusiness Institute (FAI) is finalizing preparations for its upcoming immersion program in September. For twelve students and three FAI faculty members, the trip will be a geographic and cultural voyage through Western Cuba, exposing Cuban agriculture, history, politics, economics and environment in the wake of the recent groundbreaking negotiations made by Washington and Havana.
This Immersion marks the second consecutive year FAI is going to Cuba. Erika French-Arnold, FAI's Assistant Director and coordinator of Immersions, ensures that novelty and exciting uncertainties await the new group of students. "Returning to Cuba gives us an opportunity to make improvements. The list of changes include visits to industrial farming sights, and spending nights in Pinar Del Rio and Trinidad."
The trip offers a unique perspective on agriculture and economic practices in the developing world, and allows the students to experience daily life with the native people in an up close and personal way. "My trip to Cuba really allowed me to examine a different political and cultural environment. I am proud to come back to Santa Clara, not only to share my experience but also to challenge some of the misconceptions people have about the country," said Phil Mirenda '16 who made his first journey out of the country with FAI last year. Along with visiting organic farms and local markets, the students will also visit local medical clinics and hike through a biosphere in one of the most untouched countries in the world.
Immersion experiences, like those offered by FAI, are truly unique to an academic environment; and with previous trips to Nicaragua, Ghana, and Burma being such a success, it is inspiring to see so many Santa Clara undergraduates take an interest. The Food and Agribusiness Institute places a high priority on allowing students an authentic experience that sparks conversation and innovation, both on the trip and on campus. The connection to the university allows for a variety of opportunities that would not be available to other groups, especially in a country like Cuba, with many restrictions and regulations.
After returning from Cuba, Ms. French-Arnold will immediately shift her attention to Nepal, the destination of FAI's 2016 Immersion. "Dr. Baker [the Director of FAI] and I will go there in October to explore and select two or three regions we want to take our students. We are looking forward to this trip for many reasons, especially because we will be accompanied by Joanne in 2016."
Joanne Hale, an Adjunct Faculty Member at FAI who instructs the course "Feeding the World, formerly the Director of USAID in Nepal.
The Immersion to Nepal will be a first for Santa Clara; no other institute on campus offering immersions has ever journeyed through the mountainous country.
Nepal should have plenty to offer for an FAI immersion. According to the World Bank, almost 90% of Nepal's people depend on agriculture for livelihood, but only 20% of the land is cultivable. By adding to the mix Nepal's proximity to the Himalayas, and its religious and and economic framework, Nepal reflects the transformative setting of FAI immersions.