As a new blogger, I could not think of a better experience to share with you than my wonderful opportunity to travel to Latin America on behalf of LMU. We are part of the largest state coalition of higher education institutions in the United States called Study CA. The mission of Study CA is to bring the promise of higher education opportunities in California to the world – including community college, public four-year, and private institutions of higher education. Study CA has travelled the world, and I was honored to represent LMU on their recent Latin America adventure to Cuba and Costa Rica.
When I found out I was going to accompany this delegation to Cuba and Costa Rica, I was nervous and excited at the same time. With two little babies at home, I am very sensitive to even the slightest travel domestically, let alone internationally. My wonderful wife assured me that everything would be OK and that this opportunity to accompany the first delegation of higher education institutions to Cuba was well worth the few days I would be gone. Of course, no one knew exactly how the visa process or the travel would ultimately play out since the U.S. just recently opened their embassy in Cuba for the first time in decades. Actually we found out that the first official phone call from the U.S. Embassy was placed to Study CA – pretty historic!
To make a long story short, everything went very smoothly and we landed safely in Cuba on Monday, October 12, for our short, 24-hour stay, in this unknown land. We were greeted by heavy rain, humidity, lush vegetation, and antique cars – honestly, it was perfect! It was only a short drive to our accommodations at the famous Hotel Nacional – the most prestigious hotel in Havana. We quickly checked into our hotel (with cash since they do not take U.S. credit cards yet) and changed for our evening networking event with our U.S. Embassy contact, as well as the rest of our group. We were treated to a meal at what the locals call “paladares,” which are actual homes that serve as restaurants – talk about home cooking! The food was exceptional and we laid out our plans for the rest of our trip. After dinner we were serenaded by an all-female Cuban band that played traditional rumba/salsa tunes. After a full day of travel, we were all ready to get some rest for a busy trip ahead.
Early Tuesday morning, October 13, we had to check out and meet our driver for a 30-minute drive to the Lenin School. The Cuban Educational Minister as well as the Head of School greeted us warmly, along with a group of their students, dressed to impress in their polished uniforms. The Cuban dignitaries treated us to some amazing coffee and a presentation on the Cuban educational system, which was very enlightening. We left after exchanging gifts, to grab lunch before a meeting with On-Cuba, an up-and-coming media station. On-Cuba is very much interested in our shared educational mission, so we felt this meeting was very fruitful. We had to rush to make our final school visit before our flight out that evening to Costa Rica.
We landed in Costa Rica and arrived to our hotel at about 10 p.m. Since we had to be in the conference center by 7 a.m. the next morning, everybody hurried to their rooms to rest. Morning came quickly, and the day began as we prepared to welcome over 600 Costa Rican students to our mini-fair to discuss the opportunities to study in California. I found the students to be truly engaging and wonderful to speak to – I hope a few of them decide to come to LMU, as we would all benefit from their “Pura Vida” attitude! The day ended with a hosted meal with local counselors at the U.S. Embassy – a truly proud moment for me personally and professionally. We even received special gifts from the embassy that I am proud to display in my office commemorating this wonderful experience.
My whirlwind adventure ended as quickly as it began, and I was back in Los Angeles the next day. It is hard to put into words the pride I felt representing LMU on an International platform, and I certainly have a better appreciation for the hard work our international team does on a much larger scale. Most importantly, I was given the opportunity to discuss transfer to an entirely new population. I am sure St. Ignatius Loyola would be proud of our global efforts!