New Frontiers: Patagonia & Cuba

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About

ARCC’s New Frontiers: Patagonia & Cuba Spring Gap Program explores some of the world’s most intriguing and undiscovered regions. Journey from the picturesque frontier and jagged spires of Chile’s Patagonia to the historic enchantment of Cuba, a land timeworn and truly magical.

Taking advantage of our deep partnerships, we dive into conservation efforts that include a study of the fisheries off the coast of Chile, the effects of climate change on the melting glaciers in Patagonia, and a glimpse of the debate surrounding proposed hydroelectric dams of the region’s waterways. We travel from the rugged peaks of South America to the tranquil Caribbean shores of Cuba. There we encounter a nation and proud population emerging from a 60 year time capsule, ready to enter the 21st century. We view history in the making firsthand as we crisscross Cuba for a month refurbishing local schools and orphanages. We teach English classes to a population eager to learn.

Highlights
  • Experience Havana’s Energy, a City Bursting With Music, Dance and Great Food
  • Trek in the Shadows of the Towering Peaks and Glacier of Torres del Paine
  • Homestay with a Gaucho Family and Experience the Lifestyle of these Cattle Farmers
  • Sample the White Sand Beaches and the Turquoise Waters of Cuba’s Caribbean Shores
  • Teach ESL Classes to Aspiring Patagonia Tour Guides and Eager School Children

Questions & Answers

Reviews

98%
based on 4 reviews
  • Housing 9.5
  • Support 9.8
  • Fun 9.5
  • Value 10
  • Safety 9.8
Showing 1 - 4 of 4
Default avatar
Kendra
10/10

ARCC around 2

During the Fall 2018 semester in Asia, I found out that ARCCwas opening a new program in the spring, in Patagonia and Cuba. My original plan had been to go back to China in the Spring, with a different organization. However, that other organization’s program mostly did things that I was already doing in Asia. Patagonia and Cuba – that would be new to me, but at the same time be with ARCC, which I had great confidence in, so I switched plans. I’m so glad that I did!

I came into Spring Patagonia/Cuba semester trying not to judge it against my last semester, because I think that every trip is unique and special. This semester was very different from my last semester in many ways. I set a goal for this semester to have in more confidence in myself. I experienced a lot of ups and downs this semester which in the end were all worth it to me because in life you are expected to have a lot of highs and lows. We started off in Santiago, Chile where we spent a couple of days exploring the city. I had an opportunity to take part in a week-long language school in Vina del Mar. The class was challenging because I had never taken Spanish, but it was helpful since were were going to be in Chile for 2 months. I also got the chance to learn how to surf while helping local kids how to surf.

In Patagonia, we took on several hikes with a range of difficulty; I enjoyed them because they challenged me physically and the views were magnificent. We also did a lot of camping and learning to set up tents. Even though we had some difficult moments, that didn’t stop me from continuing to have another great life experience! On an especially bright side, when I arrived in Cuba I experienced a cultural that was very interesting to me. Not a lot of people get the chance to go to Cuba, and I am beyond happy that I got that opportunity. I was able to have a salsa dancing class which was super fun - something I’d been wanted to learn ever since I took dance in high school. Some other highlights of my trip included working on a pineapple farm and snorkeling in the Bay of Pigs. There are a lot of misconceptions about Cuba from a USA point of view, but when I delivered food on horse and buggy to the people, I learned that the people in Cuba are really nice and welcoming. Although my gap year has come to an end, I will never forget all long-lasting relationships and memories I’ve made and I know it isn’t the end of traveling for me!

How can this program be improved?
Partner with a different organization.
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Liat
10/10

Liat Oz PACU, ARCC

Starting the trip off up in Santiago Chile was a great way to start the bonds that I was about to make with 12 people, who started off as strangers to me, for the next three months. Overall the trip was incredible. ARCC did a great job creating a trip which had a cultural exchange, a fun touristy aspect, and service work all included in one. The PACU trip was more relaxed compared to other trips I've been on with ARCC which was nice especially due to where we were in the world. It allowed me to take in the beautiful scenic Patagonia and focus more on my personal growth. Cuba's culture exchange and service work was definitely a highlight from the trip as well. The ARCC office was always available and more than willing to answer any questions I had before and during my trip.

How can this program be improved?
This was ARCC's first year of running this program so I knew going into it that it wouldn't be perfect. There were a few bumps in the road but nonetheless we always found an alternate activity to do. Some feedback as well would be having a smaller group for this specific trip.
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Victoria
9/10

ARCC Gap Patagonia / Cuba

I have a lot of favorite memories from this trip. One that immediately comes to mind is from the earlier days of our Patagonia section. While driving along the Carretera Austral (a rugged highway that took us through the entire Aysen Region) to the Rio Baker to begin our rafting trip, we got a flat tire. This came to be a fairly common occurrence, but at the time, we were all a little stressed and confused. Our guide, Jona, immediately took a turn and pulled over to change the tire. We all got out the van and were truly taken aback at where we had stopped. We were in such a random, little spot just off the main road but the views were unlike anything we had ever seen before. The sun was glistening through these pearly white clouds onto a valley that stretched for miles, and all surrounded by some towering mountains. That's when I realized that we had just began our 6 week adventure in one of the most beautiful places in the world and no matter where we turn and looked, we were going to be nothing short of amazed.

One of the most unique aspects of this specific ARCC trip is how it pushed me both mentally and physically. I really enjoyed ARCC's curriculum alongside the adventure so we, the participants, understood where we were and what we were doing. Our course readers were always very informative and useful in guiding us to further understand the issues Chile and Cuba were facing, as well as giving us some general background. This became especially useful to me in Cuba when we were constantly learning about their health care, education and political systems. We were also provided many resources in Cuba like talks with local professors and doctors to broaden our understanding of how the locals live and interact with their communities. My leaders, JP and Alex, were also very knowledgable about environmental issues and overall history in both Chile and Cuba, so they were great resources too. Finally, our capstone project at the end of the semester helped each of us put all of our newfound knowledge together into one presentation. In terms of being physically challenged, this trip had a lot of hiking. More than I have ever done before, and often, more difficult than I expected. However, being with a group of people that I had gotten so close with, gave me the support and encouragement I needed to push through whatever challenges I faced. I never felt alone while being away from my family and friends and doing things that constantly pushed me out of my comfort zone.

Another really unique aspect of this semester is how it combines two places that have almost no similarities. Patagonia and Cuba share the same native language, but aside from that, they differ in temperature, landscape, dietary norms, traditions, political structure and almost everything in between. Being able to experience and immerse myself in both of these cultures within the same three month period was really interesting and valuable to my broader understanding of latin american culture and the world.

If you're considering taking a gap year, do it. I made the choice halfway thought the summer before and it wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do at the time, but I don't regret it for a second. In fact, every day during my entire gap year and now, I think about how grateful I am to have had these incredible experiences and how different my life would have been if I just went straight to college. I was nervous and anxious to start my gap year... probably more nervous than I was to go to school, but I've ended it a more a appreciative, worldly, confident, and intelligent person with memories and friendships that I don't doubt will last forever. I know that sounds really cheesy, but it's true and it has all changed me for the better.

How can this program be improved?
I think this program can we improved by adding some variety to the itinerary. I found the 6.5ish weeks in Patagonia to be too much. If we had been there for 4-5 weeks and were in the Atacama Desert or another northern Chilean attraction for a week or so (or another urban city in South America), it would have been more diverse and fun.
Yes, I recommend this program
Default avatar
Becca
10/10

PACU 2018

There's really too many things I could say about why I love this program. We had many diverse experiences through the chaos of central chile, the beauty of Patagonia, and the politics of Cuba.

The structure of the Patagonia section of this trip allowed us to really develop our goals and set out to achieve them. We hiked different peaks each week, eventually leading up to our 5 day trek at the southern tip of Patagonia. Each week we challenged ourselves, gaining mental strength and confidence both individually and as a group. By the time of our final trek, we all felt prepared physically and mentally, and when we reached the final peak (see Torres Del Paine photo) we felt so much pride in all we had accomplished together. It was the perfect way to end our Patagonia section, as we left the region having grown so much.

Because we were in such a beautiful and protected region, I also believe that many of us have developed a newfound appreciation and respect for the natural beauty of the planet. For many of us, we were experiencing the earth in a new way, in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We discussed conservation efforts and spent time in national parks that have been revegetated after years of grazing and invasive species taken over. Through these experiences, I think I've become more appreciative of my surroundings and have been more conscientious about how my actions affect the world around me.

Cuba challenged me a lot to understand the way our world works. I've never particularly intrigued by the political world, but the experiences we had and people we met in Cuba kept me engaged and curious. We learned about differing education systems, health care systems, and careers that forced me to think critically about these same systems at home. Beginning to think more deeply about governments (in general, in Cuba, and in America) while being in a foreign country was truly a unique experience for me.

That being said, I think what made this program so special for me was all the little moments that weren't necessarily on the itinerary. When I look back on this semester I like to remember the nights spent under the southern constellations as we described our day with a single noise, or the ice cream place we found near where we were staying in Cuba that we returned to FOUR times and even walked there in the rain together. It's trying to understand why a souvenir shop in central Patagonia would only be open from 8-12 at night, or having to serve a conference of doctors from several different countries a meal wearing an apron and a hairnet under the towering peaks of cerro Castillo. It's attempting to have a conversation with our local guide about extraterrestrial life in Spanish and somehow understanding each other, or the fact that after a month we were still excited to eat rice and beans and felt disappointed on the rare occasion we didn't have them.

Spending 90 days with such a small group of people is really unique, as we get to know each other on a really personal level. But spending 90 days with a small group of people while simultaneously having one of the most formative experiences of your life is truly incredible and indescribable, as we feel each other's highest of highs, lowest of lows, and everything in between. I'm so grateful for every single second of this Patagonia/Cuba semester and for all it has taught me.

How can this program be improved?
This was a new program when I participated in it, so of course a lot was trial and error. I think now having run this program once, ARCC is more aware of how it can be improved. Because we were working with new people and trying new things, a lot of our itinerary changed, and it often resulted in more downtime than we had anticipated. This downtime is not necessarily a negative thing, however I feel that we would have felt more comfortable with it had we been more prepared for it. I also would have liked to explore northern chile, as we often discussed it and the diverse vegetation and cultures it offers. I also think it's important for people to know that there is a lot of group time on this program. I don't think this is negative or something that needs improving, I just know that some of my group members struggled with a lack of independence and alone time, so it's important to be aware of this when looking to sign up for this program...(but group time is FUN, as long as you're prepared for it)!!
Yes, I recommend this program

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ARCC Gap Semester Programs offer an educational and cultural bridge between high school and college. They are an opportunity to live, work, learn, and explore in some of the greatest classrooms on earth. Designed with a rich educational fabric...