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Juniata Student-Athlete Spends Semester in Cuba

(Posted February 4, 2002)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Scott Kofmehl, a junior from Pittsburgh studying international political economy and the son of Eric and Kathryn Kofmehl, studied one of the few remaining communist economies and political systems up close when the Juniata College student spent fall semester studying at the University of Havana in Cuba.

"I was looking for a different study abroad experience than going to Spain or Mexico," says Kofmehl, who was able to attend the University of Havana as part of a program sponsored by the Center for Cross-Cultural Studies in Amherst, Mass. "The best part of this program is the experiential learning. I was able to participate in events that American students just don't see very often."

Kofmehl took four classes during his stay at the university while staying at a hotel for students located in Vedado, a neighborhood located in the commercial heart of Havana. "The Cubans were all very friendly and after the events of Sept. 11, they were very sympathetic, because New York is second to Miami in population of Cubans immigrants."

During Kofmehl's stay in Cuba, the United States ambassador invited all U.S. students studying in Cuba to her residence for a "town hall" meeting to update the students on America's post-Sept. 11 policies.

He also was able to hear Fidel Castro, president of Cuba speak at three separate events, including an address before more than 1 million people in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. "He didn't talk very long, about 45 minutes, which is good because we were about to pass out from the crush of people and burning sun," Kofmehl recalls. A few days after the speech, Kofmehl also wrote an op-ed column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review about Cuba's reaction to the terrorist attacks. He also heard Castro speak from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. at an anti-free trade conference.

"Castro is very eloquent and very charismatic in person," Kofmehl says. "In the speech, he touched on subjects ranging from the Spanish-American War to Elian Gonzales."

To study in Cuba, Kofmehl received a scholarship from the National Security Education Program. Before traveling to Cuba, Kofmehl spent the summer of 2001 in Orizaba, Mexico, an internship sponsored by Juniata's Nyce Scholarship for international study abroad.

Last May, he was chosen as one of 10 Pickering Fellows in the U.S. Department of State Foreign Affairs Fellowship Program in 2001. The program awards promising students tuition, room, board and mandatory fees during their junior and senior years of study and during the first year of graduate study in exchange for a minimum of four and a half years of service as a Foreign Service officer. In addition, he must commit to pursue a graduate degree in international studies at a graduate school of public policy and international affairs as part of the scholarship.

Kofmehl also has been captain of Juniata's men's volleyball team for the 2000-2001 and 2001-2002 seasons. He is a leader of Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a member of the Model U.N. Club. He was elected president of the Model U.N club for the 2000-2001 academic year.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.