Stunning sunsets and scenery, plus visits to a cigar factory, primary school and farm were just some of the highlights experienced by students on a trip to Cuba. A total of 24 students and four staff stayed in the city of Holguin, touring the area and seeing where Christopher Columbus took his first steps on the island. They were also lucky to leave, catching the last plane out before flights were grounded due to hurricane Sandy.
The students noticed a definite cultural difference, with Cuba having a welcoming atmosphere and ageing buildings and vehicles. American cars from the 1950s lined streets bereft of global giants such as Coca Cola or McDonalds. The primary school they visited was basic and, in the factory, they saw the traditional way of producing probably the best-known Cuban export, cigars.
Someone is employed to read aloud from a book or newspaper to keep workers occupied. It is said that they enjoyed Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo so much that they adopted its title for the world-famous Montecristo cigars. The students also saw the Romeo and Juliet brand being produced, a favourite of Winston Churchill.
Students from Years 10 to 12 went on the trip accompanied by Head of Modern Foreign Languages, Mrs Navarro-Marin and Spanish teacher Miss Prats as well as Mr Wilson and Mr Hawksley. It was an opportunity for students to practice their Spanish as they had three one-hour lessons while in Cuba and they had to speak the language as much as possible. They also learned salsa dancing and made the most of the hotel disco and pool. They donated pens and books to a school and gave away clothes to locals on the beach, many of whom were so grateful that they gave seashells in return.
Olivia Mawby said: ‘It was really educational. When you spoke in Spanish it came out really fluently, you didn’t have to think about it. Cuba was different to what I expected, it was really green with lots of fields. When we went to give our clothes out everyone wanted to see what we had got for them. They were so grateful. We realised how different the culture is and how they all live in really small houses.’
Abbi Floodgate said: ‘We went to a primary school and saw how little they had. There were only three classes and if a teacher was off ill the class was cancelled. They had nothing, they just had a board.’
Liam Schultz said: ‘Everywhere we went the people were really welcoming. We went on a few day trips where they provided lunch and they always came and make sure you enjoyed your meal. They were all about making sure their guests were happy and satisfied. The teacher was obviously so proud of the children at the really small primary school which had mixed students aged from 3 to 7, all doing different subjects, it was really good.’
Jamie Miller said: ‘My favourite part was watching the sun go down at night. I liked the old cars, it was really interesting to see all the different makes. Everyone did salsa classes, it was a bit embarrassing at first!’
Kapil Tyagi said: ‘There was none of the modern extravagances that you would expect from our culture. Despite the complete lack of any material possessions they were just all so happy with people playing in the street. It seemed like a festival. People were happy, they were content with what little they had.
‘We walked along the beach and there were a lot of huts and shacks and we gave away some old clothes. By the time we were halfway down the beach all these people were coming up, the message got down so quickly. You don’t have any brands that you recognise, there is no globalisation; it is almost like a different world, there is nothing you recognise. You don’t have Coke, you have 'Tu Cola' the Cuban brand instead. Everything is slightly different. It was a great experience. It was about embracing the use of the language because you are using it in everyday speech, especially in the city where there are many people who don’t speak English at all.’
Mrs Navarro-Marin said: ‘It was a wonderful trip where students really got a taste of the authentic Cuba. The students behaved exceptionally well and their conduct was commented upon by guests at the hotel. They were really good ambassadors for Brooke Weston, throwing themselves into every opportunity and using their Spanish skills.’