Jason and the other students journeyed to the Communist nation in early April both to study a different society and to compare it to their own. But, ever since they were greeted on their return with a four-hour interrogation by U.S. Customs officials, threats of fines as high as $65,000 per person for breaking U.S. travel laws and a media feeding frenzy led by the New York Post (see below), they say they have learned more than they ever expected about their own country.
“I thought maybe we’d get a little bit of media attention but I definitely didn’t think we’d get on the front page,” said Julian. “I picked up the paper and was like, ‘wow’. I’ve heard a lot about how the media falsely portrays stuff and is corrupt in many ways. But I never really understood it,” said Andre, who also traveled to
“We have freedom of speech, freedom to travel. Yet, we have these sanctions that stop us,” said Mark, another student who went on the trip. “If we’re fined all this money, it’s going to make the
Speaking with a reporter for the first time since the furor erupted, Jason, Julian, Andre and Mark gathered down the street from their
The four students emphasized that the trip had been organized independently of the school and that it was unfair to attack Beacon for it. According to the four students, preparation began many weeks in advance of the trip and included regular Wednesday meetings after school at a local church where they read and discussed a wide range of views on
“This wasn’t a Beacon trip and nothing should have come back to Beacon in anyway. This is on us and on Turner,” Andre said.
ARRIVAL IN CUBA
Upon arriving in Cuba, the students kept up a busy pace each day visiting schools, clinics, farms and cultural centers and meeting with political, religious and community leaders, while accompanied by a government-provided translator. Though wrapped in a cocoon of relative privilege during their nine-day stay, the students were confident they had seen
“Everyone there is such a good dancer. Everyone,” he recalled. “Even if they are not dancing, you can tell when they are walking down the street. They have complete control of their body.”
More than seeing some hot dance steps, the students were struck by their encounter with a society free of most commercialism, where scarce resources are shared equitably and concern for the common good is considered more important than individual greed.
“They are an environmentally aware people,” Jason said. “They don’t waste water or paper or anything … You can hitchhike … Everyone picks up each other. It’s unheard of to have one person in a car.”
“Here, we’re so powerful and have all this money yet we have all these gaps in social class [and] there’s all this crime and tension between different races,” Mark noted. “There, that’s not an issue. You’re not looked at on how much money you have or your skin color or where you live.”
“We’ve seen what
As things turned out, memories of their visit was the only thing the students were allowed to bring back into the United States, as customs officials in the Bahamas confiscated all their souvenirs from the trip and took them into a separate room where they were grilled for four hours before being allowed to catch their connecting flight to New York.
Restrictions on the rights of
“It’s our First Amendment right to travel,” Mark said. “Post 9-11, everyone has been paranoid and has all these fears of terrorism and I think
While they brace themselves for possible legal actions, the four students are also grappling with reverse culture shock as they readjust to everyday life.
“It’s kind of depressing,” Jason said. “I just want to tell everyone a better world is possible. But a lot of people don’t believe it and because they don’t believe it, then it’s not possible.”