In March of 2013, I was part of a group of 29 MBA students from UC Irvine who visited Cuba, in cooperation with the University of Havana, to gain a firsthand understanding of the changing social & economic landscape in the country. The trip was the capstone to a course designed around the topic of international real-estate, which under the leadership of Merage faculty members Kerry Vandell, John Graham, and William Hernandez, evolved to encompass such more than this area alone.

Prior to the trip, we did our best to immerse ourselves in Cuban history and culture, the evolution of Cuban domestic and foreign government policy, foreign relations (especially with regards to the United States), and the ultimate effects of all this on its infrastructure and landscape. We had access to a wealth of resources along the way, including guest lectures from area experts, including former Clinton administration Latin America adviser, Dr. Richard Feinberg, Cuban cultural and economic scholar, Dr. Raul A. Fernandez, and Global Strategist at LaSalle Investment Management, Dr. Jacques Gordon. However, nothing could prepare us for what we were to encounter upon visiting Cuba, as we took in the social and economic landscape with our own eyes, and had the opportunity to interact with Cuba’s people.

Throughout the process, we remained mindful of the fact that we were serving as ambassadors for both our school and the UC system, and for the US. We had to approach some topics with the appropriate political delicateness while engaging our hosts in thoughtful and meaningful discussions. However, at its core, our visit was a true human exchange, and an opportunity for us to experience some of what Cuba has to offer, including sites such as El Hotel Nacional de Cuba, La Universidad de La Habana, La Habana Vieja, the studio of internationally recognized Cuban artist Choco, a Los Industriales de Habana baseball game, a performance by Los Van Van de Cuba, and numerous dining spots.

I was happy to have been able to capture at least some of the sights in photos, seen here below. However, pictures are obviously no substitute for experiencing Cuba in the flesh. Relations between the United States and Cuba have begun opening up in recent years, as both governments have started to ease up on Cold War era policies. A continuation of this trend should be in the best interest of both sides, and likely make glimpses into Cuba such as these much more commonplace.