Fairfield U. Office of Admission Recruits in Cuba
A week before President Obama’s historic trip to Cuba last month as the first sitting U.S. President to visit the Communist ruled country in almost 90 years, Fairfield University’s Associate Director, International Recruitment, Tim O’Connor, and a group of admission officers from U.S. public and private universities also made history in Havana, as the first American universities to hold college fairs in Cuba.
It was the first time that high school students at International School of Havana, French School in Havana (Ecole Françoise de la Havane) and Centro Educativo Español de la Habana, had ever participated in college fairs.
O’Connor, who oversees the international recruitment and admission process, met with 135 students over two days. The prospective applicants were very enthusiastic about hosting a group of U.S. institutions on their campuses as well as the prospect of studying abroad. Most of the students have dual nationalities and hold both a Cuban and either a Spanish, French or Dutch passport.
The U.S. is the first choice of countries to attend college for many Cuban students because they consider the quality of an American education the best worldwide and want to take advantage of technological advances and global networking that a U.S. campus would offer them. The students asked questions about financial aid and spoke to each representative about their interests and concerns.
There are no college counselors and some students asked, “What is a recommendation?” O’Connor addressed some of the challenges of the application process for international students in Cuba. Hurdles like the country’s fledgling wireless infrastructure make it difficult to file online applications. “Wifi is new to Cuba. I was only 90 miles from Miami but in Havana I was off the grid. There was a crowded corner downtown that was a hotspot and my hotel had wifi in one corner of one floor, but my phone wouldn’t let me connect.”
O’Connor described the energy in Havana at such a historic moment as Cubans anticipated the visit of the first sitting U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge in 1928.”To be there a week before President Obama was there – everyone in the city was excited. Everyone was talking about it.”
In recent years as U.S. - Cuba relations have begun to normalize and travel restrictions are being lifted, American colleges and universities and Cuban schools are exploring opportunities to collaborate through exchange programs and research projects. According to The 2015 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 94 Cuban students are studying in the U.S., a 36 percent increase from the prior year. The number of American students studying in Cuba also continues to rise. From 2010 to 2013, the number of U.S. students in Cuba grew from 375 to 1,633.
Since last July, Fairifield University has been focused on expanding international recruitment plans and developing relationships with high schools worldwide. In addition to Cuba, O’Connor has recently traveled to Panama, Ecuador and Columbia, as well as the Middle East with stops in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman. ”International applications for Fairfield’s undergraduate programs have jumped 12 percent,”O’Connor said. “We’re seeing students apply from every country that we’ve visited.”
Pictured: Tim O’Connor, associate director of International Recruitment (center), in Cuba with prospective applicants.