U.S. students miss Mideast, travel to Cuba

Thursday, December 6, 2001

HAVANA -- Hundreds of American college students poured off a ship Wednesday for a two-day visit to Cuba after their world floating campus cruise was diverted from the Middle East because of security concerns.

The University of Pittsburgh's Semester at Sea program was supposed to take 672 students from more than 250 colleges through the Suez Canal, with stops in Egypt and Turkey.

"After the September terrorist attacks they wanted us to avoid the Middle East," Edgar Seah, 23, a student at Carnegie Mellon University, said of the program directors.

"This route is better than the original one. Not only did we get to come to Cuba, but we went to the Seychelles in Africa, which is a tropical paradise," Seah said. Another earlier scheduled stop on the trip, Malaysia, was replaced by a stop in Singapore.

Cuban officials were pleased by the floating campus' choice of their country as a safe place to visit after Sept. 11 attacks on the United States and with the ongoing war. Havana has been promoting Cuba as a secure tourism destination.

Student youth leaders and government officials welcomed the Americans with speeches and salsa music.

"When you leave here two days from now, I assure that you will have many good Cuban friends," Hassan Perez, head of the University Students Federation, told the American students inside Havana's cruise ship terminal.

Some of the students said program organizers and lecturers had told them that Cuba was relatively safe to visit.

"Not like Brazil," said Amy Evans, 21, an agriculture student at Montana State University of the ship's previous stop. "There were a couple of violent robberies when we were there, but mostly just a lot of pickpocketing."

"We understand that there are few security concerns here," said Adrianna Allison, 21, a communications student from Azusa Pacific University in Southern California.

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