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CLC trip expands borders

A Central Lakes College spring break trip is providing a closer look at an island nation not many U.S. citizens have visited over the past 50 years. From March 4-12, three CLC instructors will lead a group of students and community members on an ...

A Central Lakes College spring break trip is providing a closer look at an island nation not many U.S. citizens have visited over the past 50 years.

From March 4-12, three CLC instructors will lead a group of students and community members on an educational journey to Cuba.

The trip will give travelers a first-hand look at Cuban history, arts, economics, landscape, people and language. The group will be led by three CLC instructors, with each bringing a different perspective to the journey: Scott Foster, from the sociology department; Tracey Kloeckl-Jiménez, from the Spanish department; and Michael Hopps, from the geography department.

The trip's total cost is $3,895 plus a $150 fee for those not taking the credit-associated CLC course. CLC students are required to pay tuition for the course plus trip costs.

The $3,895 includes round-trip air, all transportation, except for traveling to and from the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, sightseeing tour and site visits, all hotels with private bathrooms, breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, and a full-time multi-lingual tour director. Price goes up $100 to $3,995 after Wednesday. The last day to sign up for the tour is Nov. 21. To sign up for the trip, contact one of the three instructors leading the travel group. Contact Foster at sfoster@clcmn.edu or 218-855-8193; Kloeckl-Jiménez at tkloeckl@clcmn.edu or 218-855-8183; or Hopps at mhopps@clcmn.edu or 218-855-8173.

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Travelers worried about not being able to speak Spanish should have no fear, Kloeckl-Jiménez said, as four pre-trip meetings will provide group members with "survival Spanish." They'll learn important phrases and numbers, she said - not enough to have a deep discussion in the language, but enough to get by.

"It is very suitable for them as well," Kloeckl-Jiménez said. "Because they'll be learning a little bit of Spanish, both before the trip and as well as on the trip."

In July, the U.S. and Cuba re-established diplomatic relations, with each country reopening embassies in each other's capitals since severing ties in 1961. The trip is an opportunity to get a first look at a country that's resisted U.S. cultural influence for more than 50 years.

"It's kind of a trip of a lifetime, because really, you're just getting in there at the beginning of this thawing of diplomatic relations," Kloeckl-Jiménez said.

Many Americans have only been told one side of the U.S.-Cuba relationship, Kloeckl-Jiménez said. This trip gives them a chance to look at that relationship from other perspectives.

"What we go through as a people, as human beings," Kloeckl-Jiménez said. "It can't always be summed up in one nice, tidy package."

Foster said he hopes students and community members going on the trip come away with an appreciation of the Cuban people.

"Wading through the negative depiction of Cubans, and they're real human beings, just like us," Foster said.

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Cubans tend to live simpler lives than Americans, Kloeckl-Jiménez said, which has its benefits. "Sometimes people realize that maybe a simpler life isn't necessarily such a bad thing," Kloeckl-Jiménez said. "We lead pretty complicated lives, and that's not necessarily a good thing."

The thawing of U.S.-Cuba relations will bring a flood of tourism and travelers to the country, along with money, Kloeckl-Jiménez said. It'll cause some growing pains, but in the long run, the influx of money "can only help them," she said.

Educational trips to Cuba are "incredibly important" to the continued warming of U.S.-Cuba relations, Foster said. These trips help travelers connect with Cubans on a personal level, which creates a connection.

"You will get to see them as just simply human beings in their own environment," Foster said. "There's a connection there, and I think it makes them more human."

Each instructor coming on the trip brings a different academic perspective, which means the travel group will get different perspectives on what they're experiencing, Kloeckl-Jiménez said. It'll provide a stronger learning experience to those who decide to go.

Foster said he's interested in Cuba's history with imperial powers like Spain, England and the U.S., and how those powers have intervened in Cuban affairs.

Since the end of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the country has been able to create equality, which Foster said is very interesting. The Cuban health care system is excellent, he said, and the country offers free access to education up through college for all its citizens.

"It's a country that's been isolated and they have not only survived, they've prospered in many ways," Foster said.

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The country's political climate still isn't open to criticism of the government and political dissidents are punished, Foster said. But in spite of a repressive regime, "there's been a lot that's gone right as well," he said.

Understandably, Kloeckl-Jiménez said she's most looking forward to the hearing the differences in the Spanish spoken in Cuba. The country hasn't had much access to English speakers, she said, so she'd "like to see how the Spanish has evolved in the last 50 years."

"Interacting with the people, and just seeing how life works in another Spanish-speaking country," Kloeckl-Jiménez said. "There are so many Spanish-speaking countries, and every one is a little bit different."

Fellow CLC instructor Gary Payne has been to Cuba multiple times, and Foster said Payne told him the Cuban people are "so incredibly social, friendly, proud and upbeat, that it's really the people that I'm looking forward to seeing and talking to."

SPENSER BICKETT may be reached at 218-855-5859 or spenser.bickett@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/spenserbickett .

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