Embark and Let’s Go: Upcoming Cuba Visit

Orcas High School has always been full of an unusual number of opportunities for a small public school due to our hardworking teachers and generous community members. This year, high school Spanish teacher Heidi Bruce wants to reintroduce one of Orcas’ unique travel programs. Much like the trip to Japan, Bruce wants to organize a student trip to Cuba.

The student trip to Cuba would take place around April, prioritizing students taking Spanish. Applications are not yet available. Bruce hopes to take between 10 and 15 students depending on funding and organization. Two Spanish students, Devon Mann and Axel Greening, will be helping Bruce organize the trip, potentially working on the trip as a senior project.


Heidi Bruce / Photographer: Chris Waage

“Restrictions have just been lifted on imports like Cuban cigars and rum, but the embargo is still alive,” said senior Devon Mann. “Though, travel has become easier in the first half of 2016, with new authorized travel categories. There’s still issues between Cuba and the United States in regards to embargo with recent conflicts between the United Nations and the Obama administration, but I’m looking forward to seeing future developments. It’s an interesting issue, wth a lot of different positions to consider.” Although the trip hasn’t reached its final stages of planning, Bruce and her student planners have a clear picture of what they want the trip to look like. The use of host families and a potential sister school are some of the hopes of Bruce and students. By traveling to Cuba, they want to learn more about Latin American culture and attempt an immersive language experience for the school’s Spanish students. Social issues are also key in the focus.

When asked why they’re so interested in the project, senior Axel Greening explained that “we learned about Cuba last year in Spanish, and it’s really interesting. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about the country and the culture.

They’ve faced a lot of challenges economically and environmentally, largely due to the embargo with the United States. I think the United States could learn a lot from the way they’ve adopted clean energy measures and community co-opting.”

This isn’t the first time a trip to Latin America, or even Cuba, has been organized by the school. Past trips to Mexico have been orchestrated by Spanish teacher Catherine Laflin, who recently returned from her sabbatical to Spain. Years before, computer tech expert Paul Evans organized a trip to Cuba. By combining computer and advanced Spanish classes, Orcas students traveled to Cuba on a humanitarian visa to donate and install old computers in a local hospital.

Bruce chose Cuba for its famous sustainable energy, agriculture techniques, and community support. Although the embargo has not been fully lifted — rum and cigars can be legally traded, but other aspects of the embargo remain — and travel for tourism is still prohibited, travel for educational purposes is permitted, among 12 officially authorized categories.

The only downside of the possibility of this trip is that its timing will probably be the same as the Japan trip, meaning students will have to pick which international trip they want to go on if accepted to both.