The Compass junior class is just back from an incredible trip to Cuba from April 26-May 5. This trip was the 12th year of the Global Connections program that gives all 11th graders the opportunity for international travel in a Spanish speaking country in the developing world. Students learn to be lifelong travelers by taking part in all aspects of trip planning, doing the initial research to choose a destination and then working together to detail the itinerary, funding, and logistics.
The Keene Sentinel carried an article on the trip. You can read it HERE.
Past Compass trips went to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Peru. With the recent opening of Cuba to US travelers, the students were enthusiastic about this unique opportunity. Fourteen students were joined by 4 teachers for this 10-day immersion in Cuban life.
A powerful part of Cuban travel is staying in casas particulares—houses wherefamilies rent out a room or two for tourists. Usually limited to 4 guests per house, the Compass students appreciated what essentially turned out to be family stays, pushed to interact exclusively in Spanish with their host “parents.” Olivia Veale commented, “One of my favorite memories was having breakfast with my host family and with very little Spanish experience and plenty of hand gestures, I managed to have a full conversation on both American and Cuban politics.”
In Havana, we stayed in the Vedado neighborhood, far from the tourist center of Old Havana. Away from the crowds, we enjoyed prices for regular Cubans—4 cent rolls, 12 cent soft ice cream cones and fresh fruit juices, and 20 cent pastries. The local markets have a Soviet feel, with less than 50 different food items for sale from which all other food options are created. The kids came to recognize how healthy it was to be eating only things made from fresh ingredients produced in Cuba, with almost nothing processed (except for soda and ice cream).
Another aspect of travel in Cuba that was surprisingly liberating is the almost complete absence of internet access. As Charlie Matchett observed, “Throughout the trip I enjoyed being disconnected from the internet and always having something new and exciting to do.” Being away from cell phones and computers, the Compass students explored the streets and neighborhoods, admired the incredible 1950’s cars that plied the streets, and enjoyed the slower pace of “Cuban time” hanging out with their host families or enjoying time with each other.
After Havana, the group traveled by bus to the historic city of Trinidad, which was founded soon after Columbus’ arrival in the late 1400’s. We walked in the jungle to a waterfall where students jumped from 30 foot cliffs, watched the enthusiastic May Day parade celebrating workers and the Cuban revolution, and hiked over jagged limestone terrain to a pristine blue cove to snorkel among reassuringly healthy coral untainted by pollution.
The group then went to Playa Larga to enjoy beachside living. We snorkeled in a freshwater cenote and in an even more stunning coral reef that was a completely alien environment from that of Vermont. We also visited a government sponsored performing arts academy and watched a hip waggling dance performance followed by a chance for our students to sit in with the music group in a percussion filled jam session that beautifully bridged the language gap.
The students were terrific travelers—working well together, willing to challenge themselves, easily accepting of new circumstances and the ups and downs of travel. While learning about life in other countries and cultures is an important aspect of these trips, it is even more powerful to see the opportunities travel provides for students to step out of their shell, stretch in new ways, expand their horizons, and to find they are more capable and competent than they ever may have imagined. A student generated list of their discoveries included learning: to slow down and be more patient, to let go, to challenge my comfort zone, to be resourceful, that people are welcoming, and that there are a lot of similarities for people all over the world. There may be no better environment than international travel for students to discover their ability to engage gracefully with the world.
The Compass travelers will be sharing stories of their trip in coming weeks in a variety of locales. Fundraising for the trip is on-going as well. For more information about the Global Connections program, contact Compass School at 802-463-2525 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.