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Jasmine Harvey has always wanted to travel, but she never had the money to pay for a passport and study abroad. Now the Jackson State University senior plans to see what Paris has to teach her, thanks to a partnership between her school and an education exchange council.

An international trip is important to her, Harvey said, because it would give her a competitive edge. “I’d be getting a different experience so I can be culturally competent — and have fun,” she said.

Council on International Education Exchange
JSU students Jasmine Harvey (left) and Julia Stotts fill out their passport application forms. Credit: Kayleigh Skinner

The Council on International Education Exchange is a non-profit organization that puts together study abroad programs for students worldwide. They came to Mississippi on Thursday to kick off their “Passport Caravan” in collaboration with JSU — marching band and pep rally included.

The event is the first of many for the council that pledged to provide at least 10,000 free passports and $20 million in scholarships to help American students study away over the next five years. A passport costs upwards of $140 and a summer program can cost thousands of dollars.

For JSU, a historically black college, this is the beginning of their “Passport to the World Program,” that offers a summer program for students to visit one of six places – from Paris to Shanghai. About 700 students signed up for the passport freebies but only 200 were sponsored by the collaborative, council staff said.

Nationwide, just 1.4 percent of college students studied abroad during the 2012-2013 school year according to NAFSA: Association on International Educators report. Mississippi ranks second to last in participation, beating only Alaska with .44 percent of students traveling overseas in study abroad programs.

Council on International Education Exchange
CIEE President James Pellow and JSU President Carolyn Meyers sign the agreement to work together on study abroad programs. Special assistant to the provost for international programs Priscilla Slade (right) organized much of the partnership. Credit: Kayleigh Skinner

JSU President Carolyn Meyers and International Exchange Council president, James Pellow both cheered on the partnership at a press conference after the pep rally.

“The wonderful thing about being a student today is that the whole world is your playground, so we have to give you some skills to add to your toolkit and go into the world,” Meyers said.

Pellow added that passports are the first step to getting more students to travel, because many cannot afford the application fees or find the process too complicated.

Related: As study abroad becomes more crucial, few low-income students go

“Once you are able to open doors, you start to look at the options,” he said. “Without a passport many students would not even look into study abroad.”

To apply, students needed to bring specific items: a photocopy of valid photo ID, proof of U.S. citizenship, an unsigned passport application form, and a passport photo. The council had staff prepared to photocopy and had a photographer on hand for students who weren’t prepared.

“It looks like a lot of work,” Pellow said. “But its not that hard and the benefits are worth it.”

State Sen. Hilllman Frazier (D-Jackson) was also at the pep rally to support his alma mater’s new partnership.

“Our students need to experience what happening beyond the borders of Mississippi, beyond the borders of the U.S.A.,” he said.

Harvey, one of 9.500 students who attend JSU, was excited to have her passport in the making and dreams to study abroad a little more real.

“I’ve always wanted to travel, but the financials always kept me from being able to,” she said.

Once they are equipped with their new passports, Harvey and her peers might remember the advice they received from their university’s president, Meyers – “Be brave, take advantage of a new opportunity and explore.”

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