By: Steele Smith, senior writer
This fall, 72 lucky Wofford students had the opportunity to receive passports free of charge through the Passport Caravan program hosted by the Office of International Programs. Through collaboration with the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), Wofford was able to apply and receive funding.
CIEE, a nonprofit that supports international education and exchange, pledged to fund 10,000 passports for students across the United States as a part of the IIE Generation Study Abroad Initiative. The passports that Wofford students received were a part of this initiative.
“After being notified that we had received funding for the Passport Caravan, planning for the actual event began this past spring. We needed to establish a marketing plan first—how we would get the word out to students about this opportunity—and then determine specific logistics to make the day-of event run as smoothly and efficiently as possible,” explained Assistant Dean for International Programs, Laura Braun, who has been in preparation for this program for several months.
Braun, who is in just her second year in her position, works closely with students throughout their study abroad experiences, from the initial stages of pre-departure to re-entry. She has been a key part of making the entire Passport Caravan run smoothly. While the event only lasted one day, the process was rather involved for both students and the International Programs staff.
Braun stated, “Students had to initially submit their contact information to the Office of International Programs to express interest in participation. Then, they had to schedule an appointment with a member of the Office of International Programs to review their passport application documentation,” detailing how the office wanted to ensure that the students who expressed interest had the required paperwork available and completed correctly. These preliminary efforts allowed the Caravan event to run quite well.
“It was relatively simple. I got an email with a list of documents I would need and the link to sign up for a time slot for a preliminary document check and after that, signed up for a time to give all my paperwork to a passport agent,” said first year student, Ashlyn Alexander, remarking on how smoothly the experience went.
Out of the 100 who registered, 81 students participated in the Passport Caravan and will receive their passport in four to six weeks. This is an unprecedented effort at Wofford to provide students with opportunities that they may have never had.
“The Office of International Programs believes in the importance of international educational experiences for undergraduate students, and we are committed to increasing access and awareness of these opportunities to undergraduate students who have historically been underrepresented in study abroad. By providing students with a passport, we hope to break down barriers that may prevent students from an international experience and encourage more students to consider an international opportunity during their time as an undergraduate at Wofford College,” said Braun.
Alexander said, “Being able to provide passports to students who can’t afford them and therefore opening doors for them, but also providing an opportunity for the process to be expedited and all in one place, provides an incentive for students who wouldn’t be motivated otherwise.”
A passport is not just valuable to have while attending Wofford. The ability to travel is a gift that these students will be able to reap the benefits of for a long time.
“An adult U.S. passport is valid for 10 years, so I anticipate that this will have a long-lasting impact on the students who participated. Of course, we hope that these students are able to participate in an international program during their time as a student on campus. However, if that isn’t possible, having a U.S. passport will allow them to travel internationally post-graduation, whether for an internship or work, graduate school or personal exploration,” said Braun.
If the goal of higher education is to have students leave with new ways of approaching and interacting with the world, the Passport Caravan is definitely making progress in that direction. Programs like it are what will give Wofford students unique and powerful experiences in and out of the classroom.
While funding for the Passport Caravan was only for this year, Dean Braun stated, “We are always looking into new ways in which we can be supportive of students seeking an international educational experience.”