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Diedre Badejo: ‘Todos somos Americanos’

In late March, President Barack Obama acknowledged a shared hemispheric legacy when he declared that “We are all Americans.” That simple statement affirmed what scholars and travelers have known for decades. From Canada to Mexico to Trinidad to Brazil, ordinary people readily embrace a common and diverse American heritage in unison with the United States. That swirl of human beings among the territories of the Americas is as old as the human habitation of the region itself.

In June 2016, an initial group of University of Baltimore students will journey abroad to study Cuba, its historic sites, cultural and literary treasures, and interact with students, faculty, and ordinary Cubans.

UB President Kurt Schmoke set the stage for this Cuba Study Abroad initiative in June 2015, when he led a UB delegation to Cuba to explore possible exchanges between UB and Cuban institutions of higher education. Since then, we have been strengthening our ties with the country and the University of Matanzas.

This is an unparalleled historic moment for the U.S. and Cuba, and students from both nations will benefit from the warming of relations. What they learn and experience will open their eyes to their own futures and guide their thinking about the world they will inherit. As the American Council on Education succinctly puts it, there is “an increasing imperative to ensure that all students are prepared to live and work in a globalized world.”

Having been to the island a number of times, I know that American students will savor the spend time in Cuban museums, in old neighborhoods and garrisons, and in extraordinary places like Ernest Hemingway’s home in the Havana suburbs, restored and open to guided tours. They also will learn about the unique fusion of Spanish, African, Native American and Asian cultures that created the global phenomenon of Cuban music and dance. They will interact with other foreign students in a global exchange of ideas. For our students, the applied education and training that is UB’s signature mission makes this study abroad opportunity especially beneficial.

Still a fascination

Admittedly, this mingling of cultures still fascinates me many years after I first experienced it. I grew up in a richly diverse neighborhood in New York City that provided a backdrop for my curiosity. From my early experiences studying abroad in Ghana, West Africa, and my travels through many other countries around the world – especially Cuba – I have always sought answers to a core question: What do we learn from each other? And how do we incorporate that knowledge and awareness into our own cultural identities and our daily lives?

There is a magic in travel, in plopping down in unknown places, in learning to integrate our ideas about life with those of other people. Our understanding of the world and ourselves blossoms. Similarities crystalize, differences become curiosities that melt away through common interests and lifelong friendships. We are simply richer for the experience.

For me, watching new horizons emerge in the eyes of students remains a boundless reward in itself. Undoubtedly it is as traceable to my first journey abroad as to my birthplace. Almost everything I learned then and in subsequent trips, while researching and teaching students in the United States and abroad, is defined by the legacy of that experience.

This June, UB students will create their own legacies, open their own eyes and envision new global and American horizons in their own backyards. I am pleased to pass the baton on to them.

Diedre Badejo is a professor in the Klein Family School of Communications Design in the University of Baltimore’s Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences. Her email is dbadejo@ubalt.edu.