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Students return from a world away — the Cuba chronicles

Apr 6, 2016

Aspen High School students pose for a photo in Cuba last week.
Credit Gretchen Calhoun/Special to Aspen Public Radio

This is news from Aspen Public Radio. I’m Carolyn Sackariason. Aspen High School student Hannah Small traveled to Havana, Cuba, with nine classmates and a teacher. They returned last week. I sat down with Hannah, fellow student Emily Driscoll and Gretchen Calhoun, a geography teacher.

Carolyn Sackariason: Hannah remembers a moment early in the trip that will be forever etched in her mind.

Hannah Small: We were at dinner, maybe the second or third night, and it was a beautiful sunset. It was pink and yellow and purple and you could look down this long alleyway at the colorful houses and the people and see the capitol building. Behind us was the restaurant we were eating at and there was a band playing. It was an amazing moment.

Carolyn Sackariason: What do you think was the biggest eye opener?

Gretchen Calhoun: There were kind of two currencies going on in Cuba: one for Cubans and one for tourists. It was very different for the Cuban people than it was for tourists. So basically, I think we learned that for tourists everything costs three times as much as it does for the Cuban people. But for the Cuban people, somehow they are eeking out an existence on $20 a month. That was eye opening for all of us.

From left to right: Aspen High School student Hannah Small, geography teacher Gretchen Calhoun and student Emily Driscoll.
Credit Carolyn Sackariason

Carolyn Sackariason: Girls, what’s your biggest takeaway?

Hannah Small: I agree with Gretchen. I think the fact that how little people earn and how they can still survive on that and kind of still make business through tourists, even though Americans can’t really travel there yet. I think how they survive is amazing.

Emily Driscoll: It was definitely fascinating to see how a communist country functions, just how different people live in third world countries than we live here. It’s kind of like we take it for granted. Like for the food-rationing card they only get food for 12 days and we can eat that in a day. And walking out and seeing all the 1950s Cadillac cars, it was like a snapshot in time.

Carolyn Sackariason: Now that you’ve come back do you feel like you’ve changed at all?

Hannah Small: The experience changed how we all thought about different parts of the world, especially Cuba. Just the knowledge that we are taking back and what we can expect there. There are definitely lots of tourists, I wasn’t expecting that and the impact of communism. You don’t expect to feel it but I was really feeling the impact from what everyone else was feeling.