Over a hundred students from several Harvard schools traveled to Cuba for spring break as the Obama administration eases regulations on visiting the island.
During the week-long trip, students visited Havana and Varadero as part of a travel program licensed by the US government called Cuba Candela. Business School student Chad Olin founded the company last year.
Students said they were excited about traveling to Cuba at a unique time when dynamic changes are taking place between the country and the United States.
“I realized that Cuba will never be what it it’s like now because of the changing diplomatic relations and I thought this would be my only opportunity to see it for what it is now,” Claire V. Worley ’17 said.
A week ago, while the students were touring Cuba, the Obama administration announced a loosening of restrictions on traveling to the island. This marks the first time in decades that US citizens can travel there without permission from the government.
“The idea of experiencing a country that has been off limits for so long together has been exciting,” Maggie S. McNamara ’17 said.
Students found that their experiences on the island gave them a different perspective that enabled a better understanding of course material that focused on Cuba.
“I’m in a class right now where we’ve literally spent a month comparing a capitalist economy to a socialist one. To go to Cuba and see one in practice was a whole different experience than just talking about it,” McNamara said.
Similarly, Aleeza H. Hashmi ’16 described the experience as “eye-opening.”
“I think it’s very easy to put others in their box and say what we’re doing is right and what they’re doing is wrong versus being able to fully appreciate why these types of systems exist in the first place,” Hashmi said.
Trip participants said they expect more Americans to visit the island in coming years as the White House continues to loosen travel restrictions. According to the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the number of Harvard students traveling to Cuba to study has nearly doubled from the previous fall, indicating a rise in student interest.
Olin said he hopes to bring more young people to Cuba from across the United States in order to expose them to a country that has been closed to the United States for much of recent history.
“It’s the vibrancy of the Cuban culture that manifests itself in many ways,” Olin said. “It’s the music on the street, walking down the street you’ll hear reggaeton coming from five different places.”
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