When President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on travel to Cuba by academic, religious and cultural groups in 2011, officials at Washington State University were ready for the chance to plan a trip.
“We were one of the first schools to apply for a license to go into Cuba,” said spokesman Darin Watkins.
With the authorization process now complete, Watkins said a group of about 15 students, faculty and staff will head to Cuba from June 12 to 23 to learn about the Caribbean country’s culture. He said the visit, which is being organized through the Canadian company Authentic Cuba Travel, will include opportunities to learn about Cuba’s politics, religion, history, society, economics, agriculture and environmental concerns.
“There will be some visitation to central Cuba (and) an opportunity to see some old architecture,” Watkins said. “They’ll get a chance to meet and chat with people from the University of Havana and other government leaders.”
The company is working with a tribal group as well as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to develop portions of the group’s itinerary, he added.
Jessica Cassleman, assistant dean of WSU’s Honors College, said she hopes her students are forced to think in new ways when they enter to Cuba, a place United States citizens often know little about.
“We hear (about Cuba) through the news, but it’s very limited,” Cassleman said. “But there are many historical, sociological and political aspects of Cuba that are very important.”
For Manuel Garcia-Perez, an assistant professor in biological systems engineering at WSU, the trip has special significance. With family members still living in Cuba, Garcia-Perez said visiting the country can be painful. But he was supportive of the plan for an educational excursion to learn about what he called “the Cuban reality.”
“Our students should be able to work across different cultures, so this kind of visit should be encouraged,” he said in an email.
He also said a firsthand experience in Cuba is an “excellent way to teach … the value of the freedom we have in the U.S.”