Culver-Stockton group eagerly awaiting educational trip to Cuba

This group of 19 students, faculty and staff from Culver-Stockton College will spend eight days in Cuba as part of the Travel Study program. (Submitted Photo)
Posted: Nov. 29, 2013 2:58 pm Updated: Dec. 13, 2013 3:15 pm
Herald-Whig Staff Writer

CANTON, Mo. — Nineteen students, faculty and staff members from Culver-Stockton College will be getting the experience of a lifetime when they take part in an eight-day educational excursion to Cuba this month.

The group will depart Thursday from St. Louis International Airport and arrive Friday in Havana to begin an intensive study of the country’s fine arts and governmental institutions. The group will depart Cuba Dec. 13.

It’s all part of Culver-Stockton’s travel study program offered in combination with the college’s 12/3 semester format.

Under this format — used by only two colleges in the country — students attend regular classes the first 12 weeks of the semester and then take part in a variety of enriching travel experiences or internships during the remaining three weeks. Students earn graduation credits for both phases of study.

In this particular case, 15 students, three faculty members and one college staffer will be getting the rare opportunity to travel inside a communist country that’s ordinarily off limits to Americans because of a trade embargo in place for more than half a century.

The embargo was partially lifted several years ago to allow educational trips or visits with family members who live in Cuba.

Once the way was cleared politically to allow educational travel by Americans, several faculty members at C-SC began looking for ways to incorporate a Cuba trip into the college’s travel study program. This upcoming trip is the first such excursion involving C-SC students to result from those efforts.

Jen Roberts, a graphic designer and photographer who works in Culver-Stockton’s communications office, is the only staff member taking part in the trip. She will serve as the “eyes and ears” of the college and will file reports and photos daily on a blog appearing on The Quincy Herald-Whig’s website at Her first blog entry appears today.

Roberts, who has never been out of the country before, said she’s looking forward to her first international trip.

“It’s a mixture of both excitement and anxiety, but mostly excitement,” she said.

Roberts, who lives in Quincy, said she’s hoping her blog will serve as a source of information and enlightenment for people interested in learning something about Cuba and following the exploits of the Culver-Stockton adventurers.

“I just hope to shed some light on the Cuban way of life,” she said. “I want people in our area to get a good look at what it’s all about.”

Two Culver-Stockton faculty members will be taking a multi-disciplinary approach to teaching students while on the trip. C-SC music professor Tom Polett will be focusing on teaching students about Cuban music and other fine arts aspects of the Cuban culture. David Carrothers, a senior lecturer in criminal justice who also teaches sociology, will focus on government and sociological aspects of Cuba.

Also accompanying the group, but not in a teaching capacity, will be Kent Miller, a C-SC professor of theater.

All of the educators say they are looking forward to the Cuban experience.

“I can’t wait,” Polett said. Going to Cuba “is something that’s been on my personal bucket list for some time.”

Polett said he is most looking forward to the opportunity to expose students to the music of Cuba.

“It’s a really complex musical system in Cuba that comes from a mixture of indigenous Caribbean music and African influences. This is something that we’re going to be delving into a lot,” he said.

“As a musician, I’ve always been fascinated by the music. I’ve made it kind of a personal study for years. So when travel study opened up to Cuba several years ago, I decided we had to bring a class down there.”

The itinerary for the trip also calls for visits with Cuban artists and tours of various Cuban museums and cultural centers. Polett said he’s also hoping to make arrangements for students to experience Cuba’s internationally recognized ballet school.

Students have been preparing for the trip by studying Cuban history and culture during the past 12 weeks. Students carried out research projects focusing on assorted elements of Cuban society.

“They’re going to continue their research and do some on-site presentations at the various locations where we’re going to be,” Polett said.

One Culver-Stockton student eager to head off to Cuba is Craig Bastert, a senior from Loraine, Ill. He expects the trip to be an eye-opening experience for everyone involved.

“Coming from a farm family, I don’t travel very often. So this is a very good opportunity to travel outside the country. It’s the first time I’ve ever done it,” Bastert said. “When I first told my parents and grandparents about going to Cuba, they were startled. They were like, ‘Are you serious?’ ”

Bastert said he’s looking forward to “seeing what another country is like and to see how different the lifestyle is” in Cuba.

Bastert, who is majoring in criminal justice, said he sees a lot of educational value in going on a trip to Cuba. “I think it will be helpful to see what the Cuba law enforcement is like,” he said. “Hopefully I won’t experience it first-hand.”

Bastert plans to become a police officer after he graduates next May. He will begin an internship with the Quincy Police Department after he returns to the U.S. in late December.

Roberts noted that some of the group’s travel opportunities in Cuba will be constrained by the trade embargo that remains in effect.

“We had to go through a Canadian travel agency to get this trip booked,” she said. “Because of the trade embargo, we couldn’t work through an American agency. It had to be an agency outside of America.”