As part of a nationwide effort to increase the number of students participating in study abroad experiences, Ramapo College’s Roukema Center for International Education partnered with the Council of International Educational Exchange to provide full-time students free passports at the first ever Passport Caravan on Sept. 19.
“A passport is a tool that opens the door for international experiences,” said Ben Levy, Director of International Education. “Without a passport, you can’t leave the country.”
With only 10 percent of undergraduates in America, or 300,000 students, traveling abroad each year, the CIEE took the Generation Study Abroad pledge to double that number by the end of the decade. This national initiative developed by the Institute of International Education seeks to increase accessibility for students who otherwise would not have an opportunity by funding scholarships, creating specialized programs for particular disciplines, and equipping them with the necessary tools needed.
“There are a number of obstacles for students studying abroad such as cost, culture, curriculum. Cost is a huge one and just getting a passport, the price of a passport could be an obstacle or even the thought of getting one,” said Betsy Parker Lindmann, a CIEE representative. “It’s been really fun to see the excited faces of students.”
For the past year and a half, the CIEE has been hosting the Passport Caravan on campuses across the nation. Depending on the number of students at the college, the CIEE will sponsor a certain number of passports and the institution adds to that number. While registration space was limited to only 125 students, the CIEE and the Roukema Center split the costs of the additional 25 who also applied to receive a free passport.
“It’s amazing that the school is providing this opportunity to help its students get a passport. I’m not working. My bank account is negative $86,” said Frank Rincon, senior. “To have the opportunity where I’m getting two checks of $110 and $25, it makes me feel good that the money that I’m paying and am in debt for is somehow coming back to me.”
In an advanced nation like the United States, only 46 percent of the population has a valid American passport, according to the State Department. States along the east and west coast have the highest percentage of passport holders, while those in the middle of the country have the least.
“It’s an interesting reality that here in the United States, there is a feeling of a less need or desire to cross borders. In Europe, because the countries are much smaller and the borders are much more easily crossed, there’s a lot more familiarity with mobility and more familiarity with other cultures, other languages,” said Levy.
The limited budget prevented the Roukema Center from offering even more passports, but the office encourages students to keep an eye out for its events where they do sometimes raffle passport vouchers as prizes throughout they year. Although the CIEE only contributes to the Passport Caravan once at its partner institutions, Levy is interested in creating this same opportunity for students in the coming years by reaching out to other benefactors and applying for grants.
“Once word gets out that we have been giving out passports, the more students that study abroad come back and share their experiences and students who never thought they could study abroad come back and say if I can do it, you can do it. It’ll become self-perpetuating,” said Parker Lindmann.