Inver Hills travelers visit Caribbean island nation
Vicky Knickerbocker, humanities, human services and sociology faculty at Inver Hills Community College, led a nine-day tour of Cuba in March 2016. Accompanying Vicky on the trip were Ann Deiman, dean of liberal arts, and Judy Morgan, sociology faculty, as well as Inver Hills students, Hayley Kaup and Emily Notermann, both pursuing their Associate of Arts (A.A.) degrees. Inver Hills alumna, Julie Cales, a nursing student earning her B.S.N. at Augsburg College, also went on the trip along with Joel Hariton, Vicky’s brother-in-law from Boston, Amy Canavan, Century College math faculty, and travelers from colleges in Florida and Pennsylvania.
The Education First (EF) College Study Tour offered a very rare opportunity to visit Cuba via a people-to-people exchange. Tour members departed from Minneapolis on March 5, 2016, to spend nine days exploring some of the most beautiful and culturally significant locations in Cuba, including Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Santa Clara, Pinar del Rio and Las Terrazas, before returning home March 13, only a week before U.S. President Barack Obama visited the island for a historic two-day diplomatic mission that featured meetings with Cuban President Raul Castro and anti-government dissidents.
Vicky and Judy had traveled to Cuba previously, spending 14 days on the island in December 2014. “We wanted to see for ourselves what Cuba is really like,” Vicky said, “and learn what’s fact and what’s fiction. The people in Cuba are masters of self-sufficiency and they love to show off their culture.”
“We wanted to see the country before everything changes due to inevitable Americanization” Judy added. “The ingenuity of the Cuban people is incredible. They’ve had to make do with so little for so long. They welcomed us to their island and harbor no ill feelings.”
For more photos from the Cuba Tour 2016, visit Inver Hills on Flickr.
What impressed you most about Cuba? I loved the serenity and kindness of the people.
What surprised you most about Cuba? I learned that the climate of a socialist country is the exact opposite of what I was taught. It’s not a frightening system and the Cuban people are not our enemies.
What was your favorite place you visited in Cuba? The terraces of Las Terrazas are beautiful. A unique group of 100 families reforested the area, planting trees and hibiscus on the terraces to create a nature reserve.
What did you find most interesting or exciting about Cuba? I felt like I was stepping into a time capsule. You can see that the place was once glorious and I was honored to get the chance to experience Cuba as it must have been in 1959.
What did you learn from your visit to Cuba? I learned how to relax off the grid, no Internet, no e-mail. I felt so at home.
What impressed you most about Cuba? The people are so generous and welcoming. They hold no apparent animosity toward America and appear very happy without modern advances.
What surprised you most about Cuba? The feeling that the Cubans are locked in time. You can see the past prosperity below the surface. The architecture in Havana is amazing.
What was your favorite place you visited in Cuba? I loved Trinidad. It’s a really lovely coastal town with brightly painted buildings and cobblestone roads.
What did you find most interesting or exciting about Cuba? I was delighted by the way our American students responded to our stay. They were fun and mature travel companions.
What did you learn from your visit to Cuba? Cuba is nothing like what I expected. Our government and media shape our impressions in ways that are unfounded and skewed. I was glad to see Cuba for myself and I recommend the trip to anyone who would like to truly understand the country.
What impressed you most about Cuba? Cuba is so natural and green. The people are generous, sharing and resourceful.
What surprised you most about Cuba? The struggle with Internet connections.
What was your favorite place you visited in Cuba? Las Terrazas is so green and so beautiful. The place is a paradise.
What did you find most interesting or exciting about Cuba? We went to a baseball game and discovered we were going to be players, not spectators. We played a game for fun with former Cuban players, who were great sports and happy to spread goodwill through a game they love. Judy, Ann and I were cheerleaders, but many of our tour members played a five-inning game. We really got the chance to get to know each other.
What did you learn from your visit to Cuba? Cuba is a unique country that’s free of commercialism. Billboards promote political heroes and messages, not commodities. The Cubans are quite proud of their coffee, cigars and rum—and we were allowed to bring some home. The Cubans also take tremendous pride in their beautification projects. The people seem so united and work very well together as a community. I’m worried too many tourists will visit Cuba now and overwhelm the local people, damaging a true paradise.
On returning to the United States, Vicky, Ann, Judy and their party encountered a shuttle driver at the airport. He was Cuban and his family, once wealthy residents of the island, had been driven out during the Cuban Revolution. He was astounded that six American women were brave enough to visit Cuba. He could not believe they were not afraid of winding up in a Cuban prison. He saw Cuba, an island nation only 90 miles away from Florida, as a very dangerous place.
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