VCU’s free passport event opens the world for 125 students

The students were provided free U.S. passports as part of Generation Study Abroad, which seeks to double the number of students who study abroad by 2020.

Alexis Paige with her U.S. passport. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Alexis Paige with her U.S. passport. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Kymberly Hall has never left the United States, but she moved one step closer to changing that last week when she received a free U.S. passport at an event hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Education Abroad office.

“Within the next year or so, I’d like to start traveling abroad. But it’s really hard to get a passport because it’s an added expense on top of other financial responsibilities,” Hall said. “This opportunity is eliminating a problem that I won’t have to worry about down the road.”

Hall, a freshman majoring in international studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences, is making plans to study abroad in Greece or Belgium during her junior year. She was one of 125 VCU students who received free passports as part of Passport Caravan — a program created by the Council on International Educational Exchange Abroad that provides students from diverse backgrounds with a free U.S. passport.

Kymberly Hall receives her passport at the Passport Caravan event.  (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)
Kymberly Hall receives her passport at the Passport Caravan event. (Photo by Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Students selected to receive free passports met eligibility requirements of being a U.S. citizen and having never owned a U.S. passport. CIEE Abroad covered the cost of 100 passports and VCU’s Global Education Office covered 25. The event is part of CIEE Abroad’s effort to sponsor passports for 10,000 students around the country as part of its participation in the national Generation Study Abroad initiative, which seeks to double the number of students who study abroad by 2020. VCU participates in the initiative and has met its goal.

Like Hall, freshman Alexis Paige received her first passport at the event. Paige, who is studying psychology and minoring in Asian and Chinese studies, will study abroad at Shanghai University in China during the 2019-20 academic year.

“Being at this event is my first step outside my own sphere of influence in America,” Paige said. “Not only will I be able to see another part of the world, I’ll also be able to communicate with more people.”

An adult applying for a passport for the first time could spend up to $175. However, the Passport Caravan is about more than bringing access and convenience to students, said Simone Biasuzzi, an education abroad adviser who organized the event.

“This event is also about awarding them with the opportunity to have an important tool for travel,” Biasuzzi said. “It puts them in a position to say yes to exploring worlds beyond their home environment to take advantage of personal, academic or professional opportunities.”

Despite extensive regional and national travel, both Hall and Paige said that owning a passport for international travel was not a priority until they considered studying abroad.

“It wasn’t until I completed the application for my program, that the possibility of getting a passport came to life,” Paige said. “Enrolling in my study abroad program fast-forwarded the process of getting one.”

Since 2015, CIEE Abroad has hosted Passport Caravans at almost 100 universities and distributed nearly 7,500 passports. 

“I’m just excited,” Hall said. “No one in my family has been able to travel abroad and I just want to make sure everything goes well and [I] bring back happy memories to share with them.”

Paige agreed.

“I’m so thankful that this is an opportunity that we can have,” she said. “One of the things I dislike about life is that money controls a lot of the decisions you make. To think that just a few months ago, I couldn’t get a passport because I was too busy thinking about tuition and other things. For something like this to happen — it’s magical.”