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Office of Religious Life sponsors trip to Cuba

The Office of Religious Life is sponsoring a trip this June that will present students with the opportunity to travel to Cuba in order to focus on religion, human rights and social change, said Alison Boden, who is the dean of the Office of Religious Life and of the Chapel and is responsible for organizing and leading the trip.

Between 15 and 20 students will partake in the trip, Boden said, adding that she anticipates that students will be eager to take advantage of this unique opportunity for travel.

One such student is Deirdre Ely ’17, who has applied to go on the trip.

“It’s a cool country that, because I’m an American citizen, I wouldn’t really get the opportunity to go to,” Ely said.

Ely added that she hopes that in participating in the trip she will improve her Spanish and that she will come away with an understanding of Cuban culture and Cuban politics.

Getting permission to travel to Cuba was challenging in a few ways, Boden explained. She noted that even though Cuba welcomes visitors, traveling to Cuba is more difficult from the United States because American groups need special travel licenses in order to travel to the island country. Due to the requirements of the Treasury Department’s World War I Trading with the Enemy Act, the University formed a partnership with Witness for Peace, a nationwide grassroots organization, to obtain a license.

The trip costs $2050 in total, not including the costs of flying to Miami from where the group departs, but Boden explained that cost is not an issue.

“I make it a big budget priority to be able to give funding to students who need it,” Boden said. “It’s pretty much like the school’s financial aid system.”

Boden noted that in sorting through applicants, she hopes she can select a group of diverse students for the trip.

“I’m going for a real diversity of political and ideological thought, to the extent that I can tell what that is,” Boden said.

The application for the trip calls for brief answers to four questions that ask about interest in the trip, past experience with religion and social change, past experience with human rights and willingness to participate in presentations upon return to campus.

Boden also noted that even though the trip is religiously oriented, students across the religious spectrum are encouraged to apply as they have partaken in similar past trips organized through the ORL.

Dayna Li ’14, a student who partook in ORL trips to both Cambodia and the former Yugoslavia in the summers of 2011 and 2012, respectively, said that the trips “approached the issues through a religious framework, but ultimately it became more about the issues than the religious emphasis.”

“It’s probably one of the best things I’ve done at Princeton just in terms of how much it’s influenced me,” Li said of the trip, adding that both her junior paper and her senior thesis were inspired by the topics she was dealing with on those trips.

The ORL has also sponsored trips to Tanzania, Bolivia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras in the past.

While in Cuba, Boden said that the group will stay in a hostel in Havana adjacent to the Ebenezer Baptist Church, whose pastor is a member of the Cuban Parliament.

Boden said that in addition to hearing the pastor’s take on the Cuban political situation and the situation for religious communities, students will meet with a number of nongovernmental organizations and leaders in the political and religious community to gain a better understanding of the religious and political landscape in Cuba.

Students will also see the major sights of Havana, such as the Museum of the Revolution, and will end the week by visiting the US Interests Sections, which is the Cuban equivalent of a US embassy.

The deadline for trip applications is February 10. Students will hear the results about a week later.

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