In the fall of 2022, University of Massachusetts Lowell (UML) students and Dr. Julian Zabalbeascoa, visiting communications professor and study abroad coordinator for the Honors College, were preparing for a winter break study abroad program in Cuba. However, at the end of October, just a few weeks from their departure date, UML and API made the decision to pivot the program from Cuba to Chile. The decision was made as Cuba was still reeling from the destruction caused by Hurricane Ian, which hit the island in September 2022, and the aftermath had made resources and safety a legitimate concern.
API, known for prioritizing student safety, determined the best course was to allow Cuba to recover without further stressing its infrastructure. With the departure date quickly approaching, API and UML worked together to quickly pivot the 10-day program from Havana, Cuba to a culturally immersive experience in Valparaíso, Chile.
Outcomes & Benefits
- Working with API, Zabalbeascoa successfully led the popular Culture and Society program in Valparaíso, Chile in January 2023 with 21 students — a 31% increase over its previous run in Havana, Cuba three years before.
- Zabalbeascoa and his students enjoyed the benefits of the API team’s agility, both stateside and on-site in Chile, as they worked in concert to make sure everything went smoothly in spite of the last minute changes.
- API’s partnership-first approach to customized programming allowed the program to not only move forward, despite numerous obstacles, but be the perfect program neither the faculty nor the student expected.
- UMass Lowell Honors College students were able to stay on track with their academic pursuits and gain valuable international experience as a result of the API/UML partnership.
Shifting Gears, FAST
In dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Ian hitting Havana, Cuba, UML and API were faced with a challenge just weeks before their departure date: pivot or cancel their customized Honors College study abroad program. They made a decision to pivot and in a matter of days the program was able to continue without disruption.
Zabalbeascoa had worked with API and led this program previously, in Cuba. He had never been to Chile, so he put his trust in API and their network of resources. To quickly acquaint themselves with Chile before the trip, students were assigned the task of giving virtual presentations about Chile, covering a wide range of topics such as the 1973 Chilean coup d’état and the street art scene in Valparaíso. Of the students’ adaptability, Zabalbeascoa said, “The students’ flexibility was an incredible thing to behold. I’ve noticed, especially since the pandemic, students who sign up for study abroad programs are determined to experience all that they can.”
While UML prepared to attend the program in a new location, API worked rapidly with their resources in Valparaíso to ensure meaningful experiences enhanced Zabalbeascoa’s curriculum.
A Pleasant Surprise
Once on the ground, Zabalbeascoa found himself impressed with the new location, sharing, “by the time our plane touched down in Santiago, you would have never guessed Chile wasn’t their first option.”
Students and faculty alike were not only pleasantly surprised by how much they loved Chile, they were also delighted by the enthusiasm of API’s Chilean staff. They loved the dynamic API’s resident director, Alejandra Rojas, added to the group and the work she did so quickly to provide a quality experience.
“This ideal situation improved dramatically when we met our API representative Alejandra Rojas,” said Zabalbeascoa. “The students adored her, and I loved working with her. Her enthusiasm for introducing us to her country never flagged, not once. The students were already excited for each moment to come in Chile, but her energy brought the group dynamic to another level. In many ways, she made the experience for us. I very much look forward to working with her again.”
Not only did they not have to cancel the program, the new location was so successful that Zabalbeascoa plans to alternate locations between Cuba and Chile in future, noting “…there needs to be another one after this…because there’s a lot more I’d like to include.”
Honored to be the First
Students felt so proud to be part of this UML cohort, they adopted the motto “honored to be the first” to experience this new location for UML students in Zabalbeascoa’s class.