Immersive Field Course: Cuba - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Immersive Field Course: Cuba

Course Number 6026

Professor Arthur Segel
Senior Lecturer Charles Wu
Five on-campus sessions: Tuesdays late afternoons at 5:45pm and ending 7:15pm: September 10, October 1 & 29, November 12, and December 3.
Travel dates: Havana arrival on Monday January 6, 2020; departure on Friday January 17, 2020
Program fee & travel costs: See details on Course Credit and Fees
Credits: 3.0
Enrollment: 30

Career Focus:

This course will be of interest to students seeking to investigate the political and economic history of Cuba, the impact of the 1958 Revolution, and the country’s current businesses, political, institutional, and societal climate. Given the stark differences between Cuba and the US, students will research several aspects of Cuba to see how the country’s economic and political model has evolved, what policies might Cuba and the US embrace going forward, and whether the two countries’ differences can be reconciled to result in greater economic activity and trade between them.

Students interested in government, international trade, investing in developing countries, and the evolution of political/economic systems are encouraged to apply. Throughout the course, students will be asked to differentiate between Cuba’s socialist political/economic structure and the entrepreneurial needs of the Cuban population.

Educational Objectives

Cuba is one of the world’s few countries that is officially closed off to the US for finance, banking, investment, trade, and development. While relations thawed and opportunities began to emerge under President Obama, the current state of commerce is very limited. Given its location, climate, educated workforce, high standard of health care, and natural resources, the prospects for future opportunities are great should the embargo be lifted.

Might the examples of other Communist nations such as China in the 1970’s, Russia in the 1980’s, and Viet Nam in the 1990’s be indicative precedents? To what extend is Cuba prepared to accept property rights, private ownership, foreign capital, and entrepreneurship? How forgiving will the politics in the US be to consider formal reconciliation? What might the timing be: 3, 5, 10 years, or more?

For business considerations, is there a first mover advantage to US companies? Or, are the institutional and government barriers (from both sides) too great and risky to justify being a pioneer in this emerging opportunity?

Course Content and Organization

Overview and Introduction: The course will meet for five class sessions in the fall to discuss the political, economic, and cultural structures in Cuba. Through case discussion, lectures, student presentations, and readings students will see the evolution of the country from its 1953-1958 revolution, its aftermath, and the resultant impact on today’s life in Cuba. Noted Cuban experts and practitioners will hold sessions on the current state of the country and share their recent and personal business and political experiences in the country. There will be student group “sector” projects for students to research and present their findings on an aspect of Cuba to be determined by the group.

Schedule: In January, the course will visit Havana with planned side trips to surrounding towns. An overnight in a smaller Cuban city is also being contemplated. Student teams will work on their previously assigned “entity” projects with a government, large business, entrepreneurial, cultural, or an educational group. Lectures and meetings with government officials, and faculty from the University of Havana are scheduled. There will also be educational, historical, cultural, and business site visits.

Projects: Separate from the fall term sector projects and presentations, students will be assigned to work on entity projects such as a startup retail garment distributor, real estate storefront project, a young tourist entrepreneur, an apartment property management firm, a restorer of old cars who runs a taxi business, or a faculty person operating an Air B&B (please note, these are subject to change).

Deliverable: During the fall term, students will be expected to present one “sector” group project (15 minutes) to the class. During the trip to Cuba, for their “entity” projects, students will be expected to share their findings, recommendations, and observations with the class during periodic updates seeking input and synthesizing experiences. They will prepare a final written group report upon returning from Havana to campus.



The Immersive Field Course Model

Immersive Field Courses are designed to offer second-year students an off-campus, experiential learning opportunity during the January term. A cornerstone of these courses is the expertise of faculty, who develop course content focused on teaching objectives that are met primarily through student-centered active learning opportunities including project work, site visits, and participating in discussions with key contacts. As such, these courses provide students with an opportunity to apply first-hand the knowledge and skills gained from their on-campus MBA coursework in an off-campus setting.

Due to the nature of Immersive Field Courses, students may be required to sign legal agreements requested by project partner organizations. Additional requirements and documentation may also be requested of students by organizations.

Course Credit and Fees

Students who successfully complete this course (including participation in ALL on-campus sessions during the Fall and Spring terms will earn 3.0 course credits.

HBS will provide in-country logistics for IFCs (including accommodations, select meals, and local travel) but students will need to contribute a fee of $3,500 towards defraying a part of these costs, In addition, students are responsible for their round-trip air travel and any costs associated with required visa documentation and immunizations. Students must ensure adequate processing time for all visas. General information will be posted on the GEO website regarding the visa process. Students who have applied for financial aid may apply for additional financial support to participate in this course. Please see the Financial Aid website (login required) for more information on financial support for Immersive Field Courses.

For detailed information about what the course program fee includes and excludes, as well as information about student accommodations, please visit the GEO website.