Students take once in a lifetime trip to Cuba

Over fall break, seven students and one professor from Western Carolina took a once in a lifetime trip to Cuba, a place that not many Americans have been.

Due to poor relations between Cuba and the United States, being able to go to Cuba was a lot harder than it would be going to Spain, explained Lori Oxford, the trip coordinator.

“Compared to taking students to Spain, which I do every summer, planning this trip was probably five times more involved. Paperwork, obtaining information from the university to ensure that we had proof that our trip was legal, and just bureaucracy in general were all very discouraging,” said Oxford.

Since Cuba’s revolution in 1959, relations between the United States and Cuba have deteriorated rapidly. The United States implemented an embargo to make it illegal for United State corporations to do business with Cuba. At the same time, travel between the two countries is restricted, but students and those going to Cuba for educational purposes are allowed special access.

Once in Cuba, Oxford was separated from the students and interrogated in the airport. Authorities in the airport took Oxford aside, and questioned her about their planned trip Cuban authorities took meticulous notes of where the group was going, when they were going there, and what they planned to do during their eight day visit. All the while, the students were nervously waiting for Oxford to be released. Despite hitting a bump in the road, the trip ended up being fun and educational.

The group attended lectures and watched Cuban films almost every day, but Oxford believes students benefitted more from venturing into the city.

“The parts that left the greatest impact on the students, in my opinion, were when we left our homes and ventured into the city to interact with Cubans there,” Oxford said.

Jarred Teague, one of the students that went to Cuba mentioned that interacting with the Cubans was a lot different than he thought.

“They were really eager to talk to us about the Cuba they lived in. Unlike in the United States, Cubans are able to separate the government’s activities from the citizens. They may not like our government but were excited to talk to us,” Teague said.

One of the most interesting things about traveling to Cuba, is that it is a time capsule. Since Cuba hasn’t had much trade relations with many countries since the Revolution, stepping onto Cuba’s soil is like stepping back into the 1960s.

“My favorite thing about the trip was the timing. Nobody is sure when Cuba is going to change, but having the opportunity to see it preserved from the 1960s was really neat,” said Teague.

Surprisingly, on their return trip to Miami, the students didn’t run into any problems with United States authorities.

“The folks at the airport in Miami couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful,” explained Oxford.

When asked if she would do it again, Oxford was enthusiastic, and said, “I would absolutely do it again, although I suspect that this was the last chance for most American students to see Revolutionary Cuba with at least some of the vestiges of the original revolutionary ideology.”