A $145 gift from the country’s oldest and largest study abroad organization could make a huge difference for 175 University of South Florida students.
The present - a free passport - is giving them the opportunity to travel, study or even take a job in a foreign country.
Melvin Dandridge is a senior at USF St. Petersburg, where he’s studying accounting and information systems.
While he was born in the United States, he says a lot of people think he’s from the Dominican Republic. Even though he doesn’t speak a word of Spanish, he’d like to see that country eventually.
“I’d like to go actually see what the culture’s about, so it’s just going to be like a life-changing experience for me,” said Dandridge.
But watching his parents get their passports for a recent cruise made him nervous.
“I saw the process that they went through, and it was really hectic,” he said.
Plus there’s the cost of a passport, which can be steep for many college students. But if there’s one thing accounting classes have taught Dandridge, it’s how to budget.
“You figure out what’s necessary and then you just deal away with what you don’t need,” he said. “So being able to save money is vital to actually save up to go on trips.”
That's why Dandridge was thrilled to receive a recent email from USF Education Abroad, offering free passports to the first 175 students who signed up and had the proper documentation.
The Council on International Education Exchange, or CIEE, picked up the $145 processing fee. The non-profit organization is taking its “Passport Caravan” to colleges around the country, with a goal of giving away 10,000 free passports by 2020.
That effort fits in nicely with the Education Abroad target of having 2,000 students across the USF System study overseas for credit by the same year.
Eric Tarbill is CIEE’s manager of institutional relations for the southeast. During the caravan’s stop at USF on Sept. 26, he said his group targets students who likely haven’t thought about studying abroad.
“Giving them this passport, hopefully it’s going to be burning a hole in their pocket and they’ll be thinking about, ‘Oh, I’ve got all these great options that I can get some experience internationally to add to my career here at college,’” he said.
Snow White, the Student Programs Coordinator for USF Education Abroad, says a lot of those experiences are hands-on opportunities that they can’t get in the United States.
“Students go and meet with advertising agencies all over Paris and go to the Cannes Film Festival and look at advertisements at the film festival,” she said. “It could be students are doing research digging up volcanoes in Costa Rica. They could be studying the reefs in the Caribbean, looking at human osteology in Romania.”
USF Tampa senior Kathryn Kochinski was already looking at studying in Europe when she heard about the passport giveaway.
“So I’m actually taking molecular biology for forensics, and that’s something I’ve always been interested in in different countries because compared to America, they have…better technology over there so it’s something that I’m personally interested in,” she said.
But beyond the classroom, Kochinski is looking at the other things international travel provides.
“Learning different cultures is something that I think we all could do, we don’t need to stay in our little bubble here in America,” she said. “I think if you have the opportunity to study abroad, then I think you should do it, you know?”
USF System President Judy Genshaft has been a long-time supporter of students learning overseas.
In 2011, she and her husband, Steven Greenbaum, created a five year, $1 million dollar endowment for students who wanted to study abroad.
Genshaft also said at that time she envisioned a day where every new USF student received a passport application in their university acceptance package.
White has a similar target as well.
“Our goal is that every student coming into USF will have this opportunity,” she said. “I think this is just the first step and we want to build on this, we want to get more money, we want to offer this to students every year from now.”
And even if students aren’t interested in traveling now, White said the fact that passports are good for ten years leaves them a lot of available opportunities.
“You might not be interested now but you might be in five years, you might be in 10 years and you never know what opportunity could come up,” she said. “You could be able to just get a new job, try something new, save up a couple of dollars and get on a plane for the first time, there’s so many doors that could open up, literally just by having this passport book.”