College students thaw U.S.-Cuban relations
February 24, 1999
HAVANA (CNN) -- In stark contrast to the icy official relations between Havana and Washington, Cubans rolled out smiles and salsa to welcome the largest group of U.S. college students to visit Cuba in more than 40 years.
Enjoying the first stop of a world tour, more than 600 students in the University of Pittsburgh's "Semester at Sea" program immediately set out to absorb Cuban culture, sniffing Cuban cigars and taking in the Havana waterfront.
Some danced with a group of Cuban women performing salsa on the dock before they were taken to Havana University to meet with Cuban students.
The weekend's three-day visit marked the first time the "floating university" managed to include Havana on its itinerary.
A 37-year-old U.S. embargo against Cuba restricts U.S. citizens from traveling to the communist island. But authorities granted special permission for the students' visit, after Washington's recent pledge to increase "people-to-people" contacts with Cuba.
"I think it's fantastic for students from the world over to get together and exchange their ideas with ours. Even if they are different, it doesn't matter," said one Cuban student.
"These are people we could never be able to talk to or interact with because of the sanctions we have against them," a U.S. visitor said.
Many students were intrigued about being in a communist country.
"We hear about this in textbooks and from our professors, but to actually be in a country where (communism) exists and talk to the people, it's interesting to hear how they feel about it," said another U.S. student.
Before arriving in Havana, the students were briefed on Cuba's history, culture and politics.
From Cuba, the students will sail to Brazil, South Africa, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Japan, China and Hong Kong.
The 100-day course, which includes shipboard classes, costs more than $13,000 per student.
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University of Pittsburgh
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