Midtown: Community

Wake Tech plans excursion to Cuba

Two years ago, Jeff Myers put world travel in reach – from Wake Technical Community College.

Next up: Cuba!

And, with restrictions relaxed under the Obama administration, any of us can pack our bags to go on the international learning excursion planned for Aug. 2-9.

“This is a huge deal,” said Myers, who teaches international business and marketing at Wake Tech. “This is as big as it get as far as a travel opportunity goes.”

Until recently, visiting Cuba would have been impossible for most. In the decades of strained relations between the United States and Fidel Castro’s Cuba, Americans were restricted from almost all travel to the island nation. The Obama administration’s desire to connect with the Cuban people, however, led the U.S. government to allow travel as long as extensive licensing and itinerary requirements are met.

After Explorica, a Boston-based tour operator, obtained permission and licensing, the company contacted Myer. Knowing he’s a world traveler who has been to 33 countries, including North Korea, they figured he’d be up for the adventure.

“On a scale of 1 to 10: a 10,” Myers said. “It’s a unique experience as an American to go to a country where 99.9 percent have never been.

“This is the time to go, before Cuba changes into what we would already recognize, like a Jamaica or Puerto Rico,” Myers said. “It’s still communist now, but Cuba is changing, so the opportunity to see communist Cuba may not exist long.”

About 20 people attended an information meeting about the trip Wednesday at Wake Tech’s Northern Wake campus.

The group will visit an urban organic garden, an art institute and a cavern. Travelers also will explore Old Havana, visit with local musicians and dine on Cuban cuisine. According to people-to-people rules outlined by the U.S. Treasury Department, those traveling to Cuba must spend their time with educational activities that provide meaningful interaction with Cuban people.

This isn’t Wake Tech’s first international jaunt, but Myers thinks Wake Tech is the first community college – ever – to travel to Cuba.

“I can say Wake Tech is one of the first community colleges in the country to get to go to Cuba,” Myers said, noting many larger colleges and universities, and religious organizations, have been to the communist country, but not community colleges. “I’m 99.999 percent sure we’re the first.”

Through Explorica, the school’s travel abroad program already has taken trips with at least 20 travelers to China in 2011 and to Western Europe in 2012. Myers expects as many as 35 to sign up for Wake Tech’s May trek to Eastern Europe. In addition, more students are choosing the school’s 30-day study abroad program that takes them to one of six countries.

“It keeps growing,” Myers said. “Lives have been changed.”

Wake Tech student Courtney Cunningham, who took the Western Europe trip and plans to go on the Eastern Europe one, said, “if everything goes well, I’m going to Cuba.”

For Cunningham, a 22-year-old general education student who hopes to major in hospitality management, traveling abroad with Wake Tech is the most cost-effective way to go. For about $3,000, she said, “I visited four different countries.” That’s how much it would cost just for airfare to London, she said, not to mention costs for lodging, food and activities, all of which are covered in the price of Wake Tech trips.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” Cunningham said. “I’m a lot more open-minded to trying new things now, in general, and to learning about different cultures.

“It helps you realize, here in America, we’re not the only people,” she added. “There’s a whole world to be explored with different cultures and different learning opportunities.”

That’s why Myers started the world travel program at Wake Tech. He had been an exchange student to Austria and never stopped traveling.

“The best education, in my opinion, is seeing the world live,” he said. “You’re just completely different by the time you get back.”

For this trip, in addition to the cost of the trip and a passport, Myers said, all you’ll need is “a sense of adventure.”