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La Salle Students Return From Historic Trip To Cuba

by Tom Rickert

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- After a travel ban that's lasted decades was recently lifted, a group of La Salle University students just got back from a historic, week-long trek to Cuba. Among them, CBSPhilly web editor Gavin Lichtenstein.

A classic Cuban car in Havana, Cuba. (photo credit: Gavin Lichtenstein)

It's definitely not your average field trip.

"I'm not sure traveling to another country prepares you for traveling to Cuba," Gavin told KYW Newsradio.

From the moment they stepped off the plane in Havana, Gavin Lichtenstein and his classmates from La Salle realized they were seeing a country in the middle of change.

"While we were just waiting for our bags, we're seeing bikes, we're seeing TV's, we're seeing people bringing things for Cubans, for family members that they have. That was one of the first moments I was like wow, this is, this is exciting."

Right away, they realized they were taking a very different sort of trip.

"The pink Chevrolets from 1956 and the Cuban flag blowing in the wind, that's what they want you to see and that's a beautiful part of Cuba, and that's a special part of Cuba that I'll remember for the rest of my life."

Nightlife in Havana, Cuba (photo credit: Maria Wheatley)

But walk another couple blocks over, and Gavin says there's a striking contrast, what he calls the "two different sides of Cuba."

"Where their people are suffering, children walking in the streets barefoot, broken glass, and talking to those people, really seeing what they're living on the daily, that was hard."

Cuba Poverty
A home in Cienfuegos, Cuba. (photo credit: Gavin Lichtenstein)

The highlight of his trip? Getting a chance to talk one on one with the Cuban people.

"It was one of the Cubans I talked to who said Cubans right now are talking about three things: our culture, baseball, and US politics."

One of the friends he made was a 23-year-old dental student at the University of Havana, who says as soon after he finishes school, he's leaving, and joining family in the States.

(from L-to-R) Ryan Wall, Geliza Torres, Nadia LaFrance, Maria Wheatley, Gabriel with girlfriend, and Gavin. (photo credit: Geliza Torres)

"One of the things he said that really stood out was, 'The flaws of the American Dream are still better than the Cuban Nightmare.' Hearing statements like that really make it personal."

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