It is with great pride and excitement that we announce the return of Putney Student Travel’s high school summer programs in Cuba! For four years beginning in 2001, Putney ran incredible summer programs for high school students focusing on the arts, Spanish language, and authentic interaction with Cubans from our base in Havana. In late 2004, however, the U.S. government tightened restrictions on people-to-people educational exchanges, one of the only legal paths for U.S. citizens to travel to Cuba. Today, after years of diligent work (and a healthy dose of patience!), Putney has obtained a license for people-to-people educational exchange once again. This summer, together with a crew of passionate travelers, we’re headed back to Havana!
In a series of two week programs based in Havana, our students explore this fascinating, rapidly changing country through the lens of a field-based workshop and real interactions with the Cuban people. Workshops are field-based and focused on Cuban Music & Dance, Spanish Language, and Documentary Media. Putney Student Travel Co-Director Jeff Shumlin says, “We’re very excited to reinstate our Cuba program and offer this incredible opportunity to a new generation of students.” Putney’s philosophy of active engagement and interaction with local people aligns nicely with the U.S. government’s requirement for people-to-people educational exchange, one of the few ways that U.S. citizens can travel legally to Cuba. Going far beyond the limits of a typical teen tour, this unique program for high school students affords an exclusive and rare opportunity to experience this rich and textured country.
We recently reconnected with several alumni of Putney’s Cuba program from the early 2000s, and they shared some thoughts and memories with us from their experiences. “There are so many vivid memories I have from my time in Cuba,” says 2003 alumna Elizabeth (Keltz) Robinson. “I remember salsa lessons on a roof top in Havana, home-stays in the countryside, learning about the culture firsthand from Cuban students, strolling along the Malecón, street artists and music, mud baths at the mineral springs, visiting Hemingway’s old house, hiking through tobacco fields, and learning about Santería in Trinidad. It was a truly remarkable group of instructors and students, and probably the most enchanting, profound travel adventure I have ever experienced.” Elizabeth now works at an environmental consulting firm in Lexington, Kentucky, and serves on a committee for a non-profit focused on sustainable urban food systems.
Andrew Reich, also an alum of Putney’s Cuba program, said, “I do a good deal of traveling, but my time in Cuba with Putney is far and away my most memorable trip. It was such a privilege to be able to learn and explore in a country that, unfortunately, most Americans don’t have the opportunity to visit. The leaders were engaging and capable, and they made sure that every participant had a memorable experience. I really wanted to learn about Cuban jazz. By the end of the trip, I performed on stage at two historic Havana jazz clubs and even got a private lesson from a local jazz saxophonist. (I still can’t believe this happened– if I didn’t have photos, nobody would believe me.) My Spanish improved drastically. We studied the language with a hands-on, experiential approach, and it was that full immersion that brought me to a new level of fluency. I never expected I would be putting my Spanish to use in my career, but it actually has been a great asset. The people on this trip were incredible, and I was so glad to see that the other students had the same passion for learning and experiencing Havana as I did. We lived and experienced Cuban culture, but not before delving into the complicated historical and political context. We didn’t ignore the elephant in the room– we addressed the issues head on and had rewarding and informative discussions so that we could better appreciate and understand what we were seeing and experiencing.” Andrew recently graduated from Columbia University Law School and is practicing law in New York.
We’re thrilled to be able to introduce a new generation of Putney students to Cuba this summer. If you want to learn more about our summer program in Cuba, or how to join us this summer in Cuba, please call or email today!