Ever since diplomatic relations were severed between the United States and Cuba more than 50 years ago, the island nation has been a source of intrigue for many Americans. Thanks to Rutgers’ longtime relationship with cultural exchange groups in Cuba, the Rutgers University Alumni Association is getting set to explore the country.

From January 22–30, 2016, a group of Rutgers alumni, staff, and friends will join the Florida Keys Tropical Research Ecological Exchange (TREE) Institute on a trip to Cuba. Guests will visit UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) heritage sites in Cienfuegos, Trinidad, and Havana, receiving an insider’s look at Cuban art, history, health care, economics, architecture, music, cigar factories, open-air markets, gardens, and natural resources. Travelers will also enjoy a private visit to Cuba’s natural medicine research facility, a venue bursting with potentially life-saving botanicals and managed by Fulbright scholar Brittany Graf GSNB’14. She works closely with Rutgers professor Ilya Raskin, an internationally recognized expert in plant-derived therapeutics, molecular farming, and bio- and chemodiversity, and with Carolann Sharkey DC’74, cofounder of the TREE Institute. Both will serve as trip guides.

“Rutgers is really the first university in the nation to break ground in research plants for human health with the Cuban community,” says Sharkey, who has been visiting Cuba for the past 12 years. “Cuba is a mecca for green medicine  and natural disease-fighting cures. If we can preserve its environmental magnificence, innumerable future medicines may follow.”

During the trip, travelers will learn about the TREE Institute’s efforts to save and protect the country’s natural remedy “recipes.” Until recently, such recipes were scattered all over Cuba in paper and ink format. “One bad storm or disaster and years of research and advances would be lost,” says Sharkey. “We are helping digitize and preserve them and, in the process, help more people heal more naturally.” 

A second trip to Cuba has been added for April 2016. To book this trip and learn about other exclusive Rutgers travel opportunities, visit Ralumni.com/RUAAAdventures.