Letter to the Editor: In response to Sept. 24’s column titled ‘U.S. students don’t need passports’

While I agree with the assertion that the lack of a passport “shouldn’t keep students from developing a well-rounded, diverse and cultured learning experience that would make a great resume,” students should carefully consider the differences between cultural experiences within the U.S. and those abroad.

Recent studies suggest well-designed “global” home programs may be more effective than “study and travel abroad opportunities,” but reasons are debated. However, the notion that education abroad trips and campus-based activities should complement one another is undisputed.

In contrast to (the column’s) statement about Americans’ lack of a passport, I believe most Americans don’t have a passport for reasons other than our land size or national diversity.  

In fact, data seems to suggest that most Americans don’t even travel within the U.S. One can venture into an ethnic neighborhood, but Lemon City and Little River (i.e., “Little Haiti”) are not the same as Port-au-Prince nor is Miami’s “Calle Ocho” the same as Cuba’s “Calle Padre Pico de Santiago.”  In any case, both cultural diversity and international diversity are the goals for those of us who champion study abroad.

Traveling abroad makes “a post-national American identity” possible, which “encounters and confronts itself in the context of the world, as part of a conversation and as a participant in the human village.” Thus, as a 2004 article in the Comparative Education Review argues, “study abroad is not simply a private, good or individual experience.”

While cross-cultural experiences – and not international travel in and of itself – are what help with career-building, students may be surprised to learn that “courses or seminars in New York City” or “studying exotic species in Hawaii” may be as expensive as traveling to another country.  For example, according to an Experian analysis, the average amount spent by American singles on travel is $478. Some international destinations sponsored by USF are only a few hundred dollars more.   

Moreover, funding a university-sponsored trip may be easier than what most believe.  In addition to small loans, students may qualify for a number of funding sources to travel abroad such as the Gilman, Fulbright, and Critical Language scholarships.  Any USF student may seek assistance for these opportunities by visiting the USF Office of National Scholarships.

More than being “nice,” traveling abroad has benefits beyond the resume.  Research from the Journal of Studies in International Education demonstrates that “the most dramatic advances in promoting global citizenry are likely to be achieved” only within the context of a well-designed study abroad program. Yes, it may cost more than traveling within Florida or driving to other states, but time spent abroad is arguably worth the investment.  Assuming a student has engaged in both research and community service, the university will recognize her/his global experience at graduation with the Undergraduate Scholar Award which recognizes outstanding students who fulfill the university’s goals of community engagement, undergraduate research and global citizenship.

Arnie Mejias is an academic adviser for the Honors College.