Penn State New Kensington students to visit Cuba

Melba Amador, left, PSNK Spanish instructor, answers questions on the upcoming Cuba trip for sophomore Alison Plasencia, who is of Cuban descent. Alison’s grandfather, Jose Plasencia, 92, was a sugar cane plantation worker in Cuba until he immigrated to the United States in 1954. Photo by Joyce Hanz | For the Tribune Review

Penn State University students and faculty seeking an international adventure will pack their bags in late May for an 11-day journey to the communist-run Cuba.

Travel to Cuba is a reality these days, as regulations signed into law by President Obama last year have eased travel restrictions, and are beginning to thaw longtime icy relations with the island nation 90 miles off the Florida coast.

More than 3 million tourists visited Cuba in 2015, an 18 percent increase from the previous year, according to Travel+Leisure magazine’s website.

The Nittany Lion baseball team visited Cuba last year, playing against teams from Cuba’s National League.

“This is a good opportunity for students who are interested in acquiring out-of-classroom experiences through travel abroad,” said Rujirutana “Dr. A” Mandhachitara, associate professor of business administration and the event organizer. “The trip also fits well with the campus’ strategic goal to increase international experiences and exposure to cultural diversity among our students.”

Penn State New Kensington recently hosted two seminars for students interested in the trip.

Who can go

The Cuba trip is open to any Penn State student enrolled in one of the following summer online courses offered by PSNK’s Global Programs: Introduction to Human Development and Family Studies, IberoAmerican; Civilization: Cuba; Discovery of the Real Cuba: Understanding its Economy and Culture Contributing to its Competitiveness; and Information Technology in an International Context.

The three-credit courses will be offered online beginning May 9 and satisfy one of the program requirements for a Certificate in International Studies.

“Cuba is our focus country this year,” said Melba Amador, a PSNK Spanish instructor who plans to go on the trip. “We will have a really authentic experience and will be curious to see the state of things in Cuba, from commerce to cultural.”

Tentative Cuba travel dates are May 31 through June 10.

The cost of the trip is $2,340. That includes airfare, visa fees, transportation, meals and academic registration fees in Havana, Cuba’s capital.

Tuition for the courses is not included.

Students can pay for the trip in installments, with a $200 deposit required by Wednesday.

Sophomore Alison Plasencia of Plum signed on for the trip. She grew up with the aroma of Cuban cigars in her house.

“My grandfather left Cuba in 1954 for the U.S. and my dad always smoked cigars growing up,” said Plasencia, whose heritage includes Cuban, German and Irish. “Cuba is a part of my heritage and my birthday is June 4, so I will get to spend my birthday in Cuba.

“It’s funny to me, because my grandfather tried so hard to get out of Cuba and I have always wanted to go to Cuba.”

Since 2004, the Penn State Global Program initiative has sent nearly 170 PSNK students to Spain, France, Italy, China, Greece, Peru, Galapagos Islands, Ireland and, last year, Thailand.

Upon their return from Cuba, students will present their experiences through slide shows and narratives.

Joyce Hanz, TRIB LIVE

February 7, 2016

Joyce Hanz is a freelance writer for the Tribune-Review.

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