Dancing the night away to the sweet sounds of salsa while waves crash in the background is not your average classroom experience. Eating the food from the culture you are studying, straight from the source, using the language you have been tested on for the last 3 years in a place where it is spoken are things people dream of. And yet, as unlikely as these situations may seem, a group of Berkeley High School (BHS) students will get these opportunities and more when they go to Cuba over Spring Break as part of an international field trip.
The lucky high schoolers who get to go are part of a group of 40 Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS) students, along with 7 teachers and staff who will act as chaperones. The teacher in charge of the program, who has been working tirelessly to pull all this together, is Stephanie Schaudel. The history teacher volunteered for the position at a CAS teacher meeting on account of her personal belief that “the ability to step out of your comfort zone, out of what you are used to, can be a life-changing experience.”
Schaudel’s hope for her students is to expose them to a different environment, in order for them to get to know a little bit more about themselves and the world at large. “We always talk about the ‘Berkeley bubble’, and bringing ourselves out of it, but the thing is, there is also a United States bubble. By taking the kids to Cuba, we are shattering that perspective. I’ve learned so much from international travel and can honestly say it’s the best type of experimental learning,” she says.
Of all the places in the world to go, the CAS teachers in charge of the program chose Cuba for its entirely different environment. Due to their differing socioeconomic values, the US has had a complicated relationship with Cuba. In the 1960s, the US cut off communist Cuba from the rest of the world by limiting their trade options. Even though it has been difficult for the small island nation to survive the hardships that have been thrown at them at every turn, they have emerged as a functioning communist country.
As a result of recent laws passed by the Trump administration, CAS will have to do their activities through private citizens rather than government officials, something that would not be a problem in other countries. The good news is that individuals within the Berkeley community have banded together to give CAS the connections on the island.
In talking to Miles Curry, a senior going on the trip, the excitement the students feel at the prospect of an international field trip is very clear to see. “I think this trip is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to take advantage of it. Going to another country with my CAS-mates is a great way to bond and to get to know each other in a way that we don’t see day to day in class,” said Curry.
As part of the process of being included on this trip, students have to participate in the fundraising for the trip. Their goal is to raise around eighty thousand dollars to be able to get all 40 students to Cuba. According to Miles, it “intimidated some students into not even bothering to apply.” Yet, one of the goals of this program is to make sure that everybody can go. This is something that Curry wishes had been made more explicit for students — money would not be an obstacle for students who wanted to go. Even though the financial obstacle will be a challenge for Schaudel and her students to overcome, thanks to a generous CAS family their huge goal doesn’t seem so impossible. Sadly, the circumstances as to how the family came into the money is less than ideal.
On March 31, 2010, the family’s oldest son, Kyle Harty Strang, was killed in a car accident. Around the time of the crash, Kyle had been involved in fundraising for his own CAS class’s foreign field trip. He was supposed to go to Israel and Palestine with his classmates, so as a tribute, his CAS family went in his honor. When the family heard that the small school was thinking about doing another field trip, this time to Cuba, they reached out to the CAS teachers saying that they still had some money left over from their son’s memorial fund. They said they would love to help send their other son, now a CAS senior, along with his current classmates, in Kyle’s memory. The education and cultural exchange that comes with an international trip will only strengthen BHS as a whole.