'Passport Caravan' Helps Black College Students Study Abroad

Mar 27, 2019

NCCU freshman T'ona McBride attends her university's "Passport Caravan" and talks about why she wants to study abroad. NCCU junior Christian Allison, left.
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

This is the season when many college students are preparing to study abroad for the summer. But numbers show the percentage of African American students taking advantage of these educational trips remains low.

N.C. Central University in Durham is working to change that.

NCCU hosted its first ever "Passport Caravan," partnering with the Council on International Educational Exchange, CIEE, to cover the costs of passports. The program is designed to encourage students of color to study abroad.

Students walked into the NCCU student union one at a time, with a birth certificate, photo, and other documents needed to get their first passport. T'ona McBride is a freshman, majoring in kinesiology. She said she wants to see the world, especially Japan.

"We always talk about diversity, but we always stay in one place," said McBride.

McBride admits she loves to travel but is afraid to fly in an airplane. Her first flight was earlier this month, during spring break. McBride is one of 125 students at NCCU who will soon receive a passport in the mail.

The Institute for International Education says in the 2016-17 school year, about 6 percent of African American college students studied abroad. But the number of students attending historically black institutions, like NCCU, who travel abroad is lower - just 3.4 percent.

Olivia Metzger Jones is the assistant director in the Office of International Affairs at N.C. Central. She's worked at the university for nearly 12 years.

"During that time I have seen waves of students going on study abroad or going abroad, and I have realized that the first stumbling block is fear," said Jones. "And when they overcome that the second one is they don't have a passport."

Jones added that the ability to pay for travel and lodging is also a major obstacle. NCCU partnered with CIEE to help entice students to get passports. CIEE paid for 50 of the passports, NCCU paid for 75. The cost is normally $145.

Alisa Jackson is manager of international relations for Minority Serving Institutions at CIEE. She recently visited Xavier University in New Orleans, Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena, and now NCCU. Jackson said travel is powerful and helps break down stereotypes.

"But once you realize that we can have funding, we can have our passports, and we can go out and do the same things," said Jackson. "Travel is not only a white only thing or something rich people do, it's something that we can all do. So, that's why it's important."

CIEE is committed to giving out 10,000 passports over a five-year period, which wraps up next year.