From November 20-28, Andy Gong, a senior at Charlotte Country Day School, Sharon Qian, a sophomore at Charlotte Country Day School, and 20 of their peers traveled to Cuba on a journey of service and cultural exchange.
The student-initiated trip took place during the students’ Thanksgiving break, and gave students the chance to experience authentic Cuban life while giving back to the community.
Andy served on the team of students who planned the trip, deciding where to visit and which activities to attend. He was inspired to make the trip happen, and worked to draft student applications and vetted applicants.
So, “why Cuba,” you may ask?
“(Cuba) is so close, but so far,” Gong said.
“Traveling to Cuba feels like traveling back in time – old fashion cars; no 4G network or PlayStation; primarily an agriculture society; go to bed with the lamp and get up with the lark— With the opening of Cuba as a reformation and the normalization of the U.S. – Cuban relationship, we may never be able to see what Cuba is like today if (big western businesses) like Starbucks and Papa John’s get into the Cuban market. We wanted to spot the authentic Cuba before it becomes an ordinary Caribbean resort country.”
During the trip, the students visited an organic garden and a textbook printing shop, where they were able to act in service, interact and help out members of the local community.
When they weren’t giving back to the community, they were able to visit a local high school, discuss economics with a Cuban professor, take dance lessons and play a baseball game with the locals. They were even able to spend a little bit of time on the beach and enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner with Cuban ingredients in Trinidad.
“We engaged in many cultural activities—visiting medical clinics, art galleries, and even a club! By doing so, we got to talk to the locals about their lifestyles and learned the authentic Cuban culture and customs and its own people and their passion and dreams,” Gong said.
“When we had the conversation with Cuban high school students – regardless of nationalities and differences, our passions on music (and) sports, (and our) eagerness to learn about a different culture instantly brought us close together to have peer-to-peer engagement.”
Dan Brown, homestay regional manager, served as the New Oasis student coordinator for the Charlotte area last year, and worked closely with Andy and Sharon.
“Andy is an exceptionally driven student who forges his own path. He takes every opportunity that comes his way and creates his own if they don’t,” Brown said.
“He has the kind of positive, humorous attitude that builds a near instant rapport. I look forward to reading about Andy in a few years, as he begins to find his place in the world.”
Brown said Sharon is also an academically-focused student.
“Sharon is an eager student who takes her work seriously. Her academic power is wonderfully at odds with her humble, mild manner. She is truly making the most of this study experience and has a promising academic career ahead of her at Charlotte Country Day.”
A complete recap of the story, including photos and updates, can be found at https://ccdscuba2015.shutterfly.com/