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Ohio State to send first study abroad to Cuba since 2003

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The capitol building in Havana hasn't been used since the Cuban Resolution, but is a popular tourist destination. Lantern File Photo

The National Capitol Building in Havana hasn’t been used since the Cuban Resolution, but is a popular tourist destination. Lantern File Photo

Travel to Cuba from the U.S. has been mostly restricted since sanctions against Cuba began in 1962. Though some sanctions remain, some travel restrictions have been lifted, allowing a commercial flight to land in Santa Clara on Aug. 31, the first regularly scheduled flight to Cuba from the U.S. in more than 50 years.

Ohio State was in an advantageous position once restrictions loosened. Theater professors of Mary Tarantino and Dan Gray have had an established partnership with the Ludwig Foundation of Cuba, which facilitated Ohio State trips in the early 2000s, before travel became even more scrutinized in 2004.

“They didn’t make it illegal for us to go, they just made it impossible,” Gray said.  

As travel began to look possible again last year, Gray said that OSU had a place in line with Ludwig, the result of maintaining the relationship since 2004, despite the travel restrictions.

Still, the logistics of planning the 9-day study abroad — the first of three slated for this academic year — were not simple.

“Cuba is constantly changing,” said Leslie Anderson, a study abroad manager in OSU’s Office of International Affairs. “We can’t rely on what we did 10 years ago.”

While the trip will focus on visual and performing arts, it is set to draw students from multiple disciplines. Theater students will join graduate and undergraduate students studying history, business and criminology, said Tarantino.

Cuba’s performing arts are of great interest, Gray said, due to how apparent artists’ passion for the work is, despite constraints on resources.

That passion is mirrored by the students.

Mandy Mitchell, a puppeteer and graduate student studying acting is looking forward to the trip.

“A big draw to go to Cuba is to see Cuban puppetry,” she said. “(It’s) really exciting for me because it’s such a vibrant part of theatrical culture.”

Mitchell selected Ohio State partly because of travel opportunities, she said, with hopes a Cuba trip would be offered.

Anderson’s desire is that future students can plan, rather than hope, for a Cuba trip.

“We’re glad to see students return to Cuba,” said Anderson. “We hope this is the beginning of some very successful programs.”

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