An information session was held on Sept. 27 at 5 p.m. in Storch 102 regarding an educational trip to Cuba over winter break. The trip, led by professors Mario Gonzalez and Natsuo Nishikawa, is part of the Mexico, the Americas and Spain (MAS) program and will take place from Dec. 27 to Jan. 11. Students have the opportunity to earn upper-division course credit in business, economics or political science.
Departing from Miami, the trip includes stops spanning the entire width of the island. Students will land in Santiago de Cuba, on the southeast tip, and will complete the trip in Havana, on the northwest side. Participants will attend lectures, conduct site studies, have exchanges with Cuban university students and will visit various cultural centers. They will also discuss the future of the organic food industry in Cuba, the healthcare system and different religions prevalent on the island.
Katsuo Nishikawa, assistant professor of political science, said there is an urgency to this trip that makes going now practical.
“Cuba is in flux. With the age of leadership in Cuba, change is soon. This is our chance to see Cuba under a command economy,” said Nishikawa. “We will be able to compare old Cuba with the new Cuba bound to emerge.”
Mario Gonzalez, visiting assistant professor of business administration, is partnering with Nishikawa on Vietnam’s “sister” program. Gonzalez and Nishikawa took a group of students to Vietnam the previous winter break. Gonzalez also spoke about Cuba as an emerging third world country.
“We will look at Cuba in terms of globalization and economic and political development,” said Gonzalez, “We’ll examine what it has to offer the rest of the world.”
Eighteen students attended the information session, including senior David McSpadden. McSpadden, who went to Vietnam last winter, said he went to the session because he has always wanted to see Cuba.
“I am curious about what Cuba is like,” said McSpadden, “and this seems like a great chance. You don’t get many opportunities to go to Cuba, so why not?”
Emily Williams, a junior, said she attended the session because of her love for travel and the sense of the unknown in Cuba.
“I very much want to go,” Williams said. “Cuba just has this air of mystery.”
Excluding travel to Miami, the trip costs $5,000. This includes all transportation on the island, two meals per day, lodging, entrance to scheduled activities, travel insurance, tips for drivers, a translator and academic credit at Trinity. Two scholarships, totaling up to $2,000 a piece, are available to two students who demonstrate adequate financial need and intellectual interest.
Applications for students seeking financial aid, must be completed by Oct. 7. Regular applications must be turned in no later than Oct. 18. In general, students should apply for a passport as soon as possible, need to visit Nancy Ericksen for a clearance signature and must provide a transcript to ensure academic stability.
At the session, Nishikawa addressed concerns regarding safety and said that out of any country in central and south America, he is most comfortable taking students to Cuba.
“The healthcare system in Cuba is first-rate,” Nishikawa said. “If anything happens to you, you will be taken care of. There will be at least two faculty members with you at all times.”
Feb. 7, 2012 marked the 50th anniversary of the United States embargo on Cuba, located 90 miles off the coast of Florida. In addition to economic sanctions, the embargo also regulates American travel to the island.
“Cubans welcome Americans,” Nishikawa said. “Any student passionate about travel, who is fascinated with other cultures and life outside the U.S. should look into this trip.”
Gonzalez added to that statement by emphasizing student reviews from past trips, particularly the previous journey to Vietnam. Students commented that they were profoundly changed and came back a different person than when they left.
“I’m not sure about you, but I like to think of life as a series of experiences,” Gonzalez said. “This could be that next experience for you.”
However, Nishikawa and Gonzalez said that not all students may be ready to travel to Cuba, because of its status as a third-world country. Both acknowledged occasional electrical blackouts and/or brownouts, a less-developed infrastructure than the U.S. and accommodations that could be different from a student’s version of ideal.
Moreover, the high level of student interest could make participation competitive. Nishikawa and Gonzalez have decided on a student limit, although another professor may join. Students must qualify academically and cannot be in danger of probation. Those looking to apply or for additional information can email either Nishikawa or Gonzalez.
Carlos Anchondo is a News reporter for the Trinitonian. He is a junior international studies and communication major from Lockhart, Texas.