UVA Darden Student Discovers Roots During Global Course in Cuba 57 Years After Family Fled

By Jay Hodgkins

University of Virginia Darden School of Business student Kyle Collins (Class of 2018) had a big decision to make when considering signing up for “Economy in Transition,” a Darden Worldwide Course held in Cuba. If he chose to do so, he would become the first member of his family to return since his grandparents fled the island nation in January 1961 following the rise of the Castro regime.

Ultimately, Collins did sign up for the course, a decision he wrote about on the Darden Center for Global InitiativesGlobal Voices blog, as well as three themes he took home following the course.

In early January 1961, the United States severed diplomatic relations with the Castro government in Cuba. A few weeks later, on January 16, 1961, my maternal grandparents fled their hometown in Cuba with their three-year-old daughter (my mother) and their one-year-old son. They thought that they would be back home soon to reunite with their family and friends. They wouldn’t be gone long, just until things blew over, six months, nine months at most.

Fifty-seven years later, neither my grandparents nor my mother have returned to the island. Throughout my childhood, I heard the constant mantra that our family would not return to Cuba until the Communist government was no longer in power, lest we support the very same political machine that had taken everything from our family so many years ago; however, when I first heard about the Darden Worldwide Course in Cuba, I asked my grandparents how they would feel about me joining the trip. Their response surprised me: with a wistful look in their eyes, they encouraged me to take the course, to learn more about the homeland that they left behind, and most importantly, to share their story with my classmates.

In early January, I found myself boarding a flight to Havana, filled with an unsettling mix of excitement and trepidation. Ten days later, I returned to my own hometown in Vero Beach, FL, to reunite with my family, to share my experiences, and to convey some of the complex ways in which my grandparents’ Cuba has evolved.

Read the full blog and Collins’ three themes from his time in Cuba on Global Voices.

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About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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