While some students were preparing for copious amounts of sleep, family vacations, and/or extended work hours, the Upward Bound Class of 2018 was headed to what is inarguably known as the top destination for spring break: South Florida. Escaping what appears to be the unmoving 50-degree weather of South Bend, scholars were in for a memorable trip filled with cultural enrichment, academic exposure, and of course, gastronomy.
Adjusting to the welcomed 80-degree weather, students replaced jackets and long sleeves, with dark shades, water bottles, and sunscreen as they journeyed to Florida International University (FIU). Sitting on 342 acres, the Modesto A. Maidique Campus (main campus) offered more than palm trees and yoga on the lawn. With 280 baccalaureate majors, Pulitzer Prize award-winning faculty, hundreds of student organizations, and various eclectic qualities of the university, there was little to wonder as to why the state-of-the-art university is home to over 40,000 students. “I immediately appreciated the variety of people I seen and heard. The diversity was obvious and based on the student organizations, the university supports everyone. I like that,” said Isaac Simparinka. FIU is known to be one of the nation’s largest, most global, and most highly recognized public research institutions. It is also [currently] the number one producer in the nation in awarding bachelor’s and master’s degrees to Hispanic students.
After a day filled with all things Panther, students traveled to Little Havana to experience the culture, sights, sounds, and smells of classic Miami. Known as the Cuban Quarter, Calle Ocho is said to be a testament to the “American Dream” for Cubans who fled the ruling of Fidel Castro in the late 1950s. Filled with brightly painted roosters, vibrant murals, monuments dedicated to past and present heroes, elderly men playing dominos in the park, and son cubano playing from car windows and cafes, the cultural appreciation of Cuban culture was apparent. “The energy is amazing! The food is great, the people are friendly, and it’s beautiful. Just amazing,” said Tiana Mudzimurema. From simultaneously feasting on pastelillos de guayaba (and other Cuban delicacies) to learning of the Cuban Memorial and the significance of the ceiba tree highlighting (the often unspoken of) Afro-Cuban culture, students experienced a taste of Cuba via La Pequeña Habana.
After an amazing tour of FIU, the University of Miami had some pretty big shoes to fill. After learning that our group is hosted by a long-time rival (ND), the tour guides upped their sense of “Hurricane Pride.” Home to over 16,000 students, UM (affectionately known as the “U”) offered a plurality of ethnicities and cultures aligning with the multiculturalism offered by the city. While most students were familiar with the athletic prowess of the U, in addition to the palm tree filled campus, students fell in love with the Cognates Program, a program where students complete three “areas of knowledge.” By fusing the University's intellectual strengths with the distinctive interests of the student, the Cognates Program allows students to pursue their unique educational passions and strengths. “I liked how I wasn’t limited to one area of interest. I’m interested in multiple areas that are completely different from one another…this program makes me feel as if I can do all of them,” said Willow Crisovan. Scholars concluded the evening with dinner and a cultural presentation of the Grand Polynesian Palaces of Tiki which included Polynesian dances of Tahitian, Tongan, Samoan, Fijian, Maori (New Zealand) and Hawaiian styles accompanied by oral storytelling.
Finally, the last and most anticipated stop of the tour: San Juan, Puerto. After jam-packed days in South Florida, students somehow maintained a steady flow of energy. To welcome the group to the island, students dived into local culture by filling their taste buds with flavors known by the locals as Piñones, a rich culinary history handed down by Puerto Rico’s African heritage. After feasting on plantains, mofongo, and all things Caribbean, students enjoyed a coconut opening ritual welcoming the group to Puerto Rico. Following the warm welcome, students hiked the El Yunque Rainforest where they were informed of everything from the ecosystem to former military bases nestled away in the nearby Luquillo Mountains. Surrounded by the emerald green forestry, students enjoyed a swim in the plunging waterfalls and natural pools in the nation’s only tropical rainforest. After a packed day of beaches, waterfalls, and amazing cuisine, the group enjoyed a historical night tour of Old San Juan – accompanied by a mini salsa display on the blue cobblestone under the Puerto Rican moon.
Unfortunately, due to what the community called “civil unrest,” the group was unable to visit the University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras. “Even though we are unable to visit the campus, remember that the students are protesting against educational budget cuts. Education is important and very valuable. If you don’t fight for anything, education and your culture are two things that should always light your fire,” said Carlos Andino (the group’s tour guide). While students were of dismay (initially), the Universidad del Turabo gladly provided the group with a tour. Considered one of the fastest growing private institutions of higher education in the country, Turabo University offers more than 100 technical certificates, associates, masters, and doctoral degrees. While on campus, students were informed of student organizations, resources, and provided assurance of a quality education. “This was a pretty amazing experience. I thought we would just learn the history of the island, but I learned about the people, the Puerto Rican economy, politics, everything. It’s interesting how our histories come together. This trip was more than just paradise,” said Aniyah Johnson.