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Schrader: Seeing the softer side of Cuba

Published: Monday, April 28, 2014 11:14 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 29, 2014 9:07 a.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
Becca Weil displays a small sand crab earlier this year on Uvero Beach in the Piñaro del Rio Province in Cuba.

Despite communist dictatorship, anti-American propaganda, repression of dissidents and human rights violations, Becca Weil managed to find a “softer” side of Cuba on her recent study mission there.

The 2012 Genoa-Kingston High School graduate, now a sophomore at Illinois College in Jacksonville, was part of an 18-member educational research group visiting parts of the island nation earlier this year.

Three of her college’s faculty from the biology, Spanish and psychology departments led the students on a tour focusing on biodiversity, health care and the educational system in Cuba. Becca specifically focused on two areas of study – orchids in the rain forest and health care for people with cleft palates.

Her interest is based on her plans to pursue speech pathology in graduate school. Upon returning she was required to write a research report on her findings.

Reflecting on her travel experience, she noted the friendliness of the people they met, including the shopkeepers, educators and medical personnel. She also got to taste local cuisine, mostly featuring pork, chicken, shrimp and the basic staples of beans and rice. She said in addition to the state-run stores and restaurants, they were able to try smaller eateries run by private families in their homes.

She returned with a few wood carvings and artwork as souvenirs, plus 3,212 photos taken with her digital camera. I could only choose one photo of her to use for this column, but she has many beautiful landscapes and rare orchids in her photo collection from the trip.

Becca is like many young people today, who don’t want to wait until middle age or later to see the world. In 2006, she and her family visited Portugal, Spain, Morocco, France and England, then in 2008 she returned on a study trip to Spain and France, adding Monaco and Germany. Just last year, she traveled to England and Scotland. Her next international adventure will be this fall, when she spends a semester at the university in Bangor, Wales, as a part of Illinois College’s overseas study program.

My interview with Becca reminded me of my own experience 50 years ago when I was privileged to spend a summer touring Europe with a student group, something that really broadens one’s horizon and gives you a better perspective of what life is like in other cultures and countries. I made the mistake, however, of wearing myself out covering nine countries, ending up in a hospital in Detmold, West Germany, with mononucleosis.

Luckily for me, I was able to recuperate at a U.S. Army base near Stuttgart with the family of Richard Guse, brother of my Genoa-Kingston classmate David Guse, who helped me recover so I could enjoy a few more weeks overseas before flying back home.

So I heartily recommend that young people who can afford it take the opportunity during college to travel as much as possible. Once you get into the working world it becomes much more difficult to find the time, even if you have the money.

• Barry Schrader can be reached via email at barry815@sbcglobal.net or at P.O. Box 851, DeKalb, IL. 60115. His column appears every other Tuesday.

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