Blue Ridge Community College heads to Cuba for a second year


BRCC News | Published September 30, 2019

Group of people in front of beautiful mural

The Blue Ridge Community College Cuba Trip isn’t until spring 2020, however, registration starts soon!

The trip is overseen by Jack Igelman, Blue Ridge economics instructor and ACA course coordinator, whose experience with the Cuban community offers his students an in-depth and unique perspective.

This upcoming spring marks the second year Blue Ridge has visited Cuba, and Igelman said they will choose a different destination in 2021 due to the trip’s success with students.

The trip will take place during Spring Break each year. The dates of the trip are April 11-18, 2020.

Since the itinerary is malleable, students have opportunities throughout the trip to explore the country on their own time, whether that means going shopping or visiting museums and sightseeing.

Each day brings a new form of education through first-hand experience. On the previous trip, students met with local Cuban professionals – such as economists and entrepreneurs – to learn about different aspects of the country. Students will explore the nation’s capital, Havana, and visit Vinalas, a tobacco growing region two hours west of Havana.

The trip is part of a humanities course, Humanities 180, which meets weekly on Wednesday prior to the trip. The class discusses the history of their destination as well as its current events. For Cuba, the class focuses on the country’s slow transition toward a more open economy.

A good example of its slow trek toward modernization is the country’s hotel policy. Hotels, being controlled by Cuba’s military, are open for anyone to stay in unless that person is from the U.S. This policy is a holdover from the 1960s, and remains to this day. Because of this, those on the trip will stay in local homes established for guests in a service similar to Airbnb.

“We normally pair up and stay in these private homes for the trip because of this antiquated law that just hasn’t been changed for decades. We’re still fighting the Cold War down there, but frankly, staying in local homes gives us a wonderful opportunity to get to know our hosts,” Igelman said.

The trip tuition and fees are $2,228 for in-state students, and $500 in spending money. Students who don’t have a passport must also consider the cost of one as well as any necessary immunizations.

The students can leverage their financial aid to help with the costs of the trip, as the trip itself is included in the course’s overall cost.

Contrary to popular belief, anyone can bring home souvenirs they purchase from Cuba; the only caveat is that they cannot resell those items once back home.

Last year’s trip attracted 10 students, and Igelman hopes to attract just as many if not a few more for 2020. The trip was led by Igelman and English instructor and Transylvania County Campus faculty chair Ben Hardy, from the Transylvania County Campus.

While Cuba is only 90 miles from the tip of Florida, Igelman said it’s just far enough away to give students an adventurous feeling, as not every aspect of the trip is a luxurious escape.

“It gets you out of your comfort zone at times,” he said. “It challenges everyone who goes, as your mind is absolutely blown to be in a place so different than the United States.”

“One of the goals of my class is to open the door to global travel to our students, and show them that they can travel anywhere,” he said.

Igelman stressed how the trip is a unique experience for community college students, who often aren’t given an opportunity to travel abroad.

“I think it’s exciting that a community college of our size is able to travel to Cuba and give our students this awesome experience,” he added. “I think this trip has opened up more opportunities for Blue Ridge to improve student experiences as a whole.”

Information sessions are scheduled multiple times in September. Interested students should choose one date to get basic facts about the trip. These dates include: Monday, Sept. 23 from 3-3:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 24 from 9:30-10 a.m. and Wednesday, Sept. 25 from 10-10:30 a.m. in the President’s Dining Room Killian 151 at the Henderson County Campus. There is also a session at the Transylvania County Campus’ Student Center on Thursday, Sept. 26 from 12-12:30 p.m.

Registration for the 2020 Cuba Trip begins in October. For more information, email Igelman at