A group of CCI participants sprawl out in funny gestures for a group photo in the lobby of Kirkwood Community College.

The 2020-2021 Year in Review

In January 2021, the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program welcomed 93 participants from 10 countries to the United States. During the 2021 program year, participants came from Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Cote D’Ivoire, Dominican Republic, Ghana, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey. Prior to their arrival in the United States, the program commenced with a virtual pre-program from October through December designed to familiarize the participants with the CCI Program, U.S culture, local U.S. host communities, and each other.

After the virtual pre-program, CCI participants arrived in the United States for a shortened one-semester-long program committed to making the most of their exchange semester. Upon arrival, participants quarantined and participated in the program’s hybrid Gateways to Success Program (GSP). The GSP is a pre-academic and orientation program that immerses participants in English language learning and college preparedness skills. Despite the new obstacles presented by COVID-19, after getting to know the standards and expectations of the American classroom and culture, participants were not only building trust and friendship between one another but also ready to begin their spring classes and make the most of their exchange semester.

Throughout their time in the program CCI participants engaged in a holistic learning and exchange experience by concentrating on the five pillars of the CCI Program: academics, cultural exchange, service learning, internships, and leadership and action planning.

Below is a snapshot of how CCI participants engaged in the pillars of the program over the course of their semester-long program.


For the 2020-21 program, six community colleges in six states across America hosted CCI students. At their colleges, CCI participants completed academic coursework in fields of study including agriculture, business, early childhood education, engineering, information technology, media, public safety, and tourism and hospitality management.

Each CCI host college either held classes online, in-person, or through a hybrid model. Regardless of their class delivery,  the 2020-2021 CCI cohort was resilient and excited for their academic semester in the United States. At Northern Virginia Community College’s Alexandria Campus, Abiba Kone (Cote d’Ivoire, Early Childhood Education) quickly excelled in her coursework with a positive and enthusiastic attitude. In addition to her coursework and CCI Program activities, she went above and beyond by also completing a one-month class on Monitoring and Evaluation online, enrolling in a Project Management workforce development class, and doing a virtual internship with Foundation Beyond Belief as a research and evaluation intern. In Illinois at the College of DuPage, participant Maria Nuhu’s (Ghana, Media) academic work was highlighted in the College of DuPage Fashion Studies Department fashion photoshoot. Maria, who is a tailor in her home country, combined her education in media and graphic design with her passion for fashion to digitally envision a garment that interwove her Ghanaian cultural designs into fashion course assignments. One of her creations, a beautifully vibrantly colored jacket, was selected by the head of the Fashion Studies Department and highlighted in their departmental photoshoot. These short snapshots represent just a couple of the many incredible accomplishments made by CCI participants this year.

A female model poses in a photo studio wearing the vibrantly colored jacket crafted by CCI participant Maria Nuhu (Ghana, College of DuPage, Media)

A student model poses in the vibrantly colored jacket crafted by CCI participant Maria Nuhu (Ghana, College of DuPage, Media)

Service Learning

During their orientation program, participants were also introduced to the U.S. spirit of volunteerism by participating in virtual volunteering or in-person group volunteer outings. These opportunities gave participants the chance to explore the different kinds of service activities available in their host communities. As the spring semester progressed, the 2020-21 cohort demonstrated they were not just ready to serve their host communities but that they were fully invested in the mission of giving back as they pursued volunteer opportunities on their own related to their personal and professional interests.

CCI participants’ volunteer activities included coordinating community clean-ups and marathons, caring for local parks and gardens, and serving meals to the needy during the 2021 winter storm and power outage in Texas. In January, CCI cohorts across the country also volunteered in observance of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Engaging in these volunteer activities gave participants a deeper understanding of American culture and helped them foster relationships with U.S. community members. By the end of the program, this year’s CCI cohort contributed an impressive 5,441 hours of volunteering to their local and neighboring host communities.

A woman takes a selfie with a group of CCI participants standing under a tent behind a table with boxed meals to be given out.

CCI Program Coordinator Odeta Zheku takes a selfie with the Houston Community College cohort while they are distributing food during the Marking Luther King Jr. Day of Service event.

Professional and Career Development

In addition to contributing to communities across the country through meaningful service, CCI participants also capitalized on making the most of their program year by building their employability skills. Participants engaged in series of workshops on resume writing, interview skills, and searching and applying for internships/jobs.

Some participants pursued optional internship opportunities during their time in the United States. At Northern Virginia Community College, for example, CCI participant and self-described “young tech entrepreneur,” Faizur Rahman, who studied Information Technology, had the opportunity to intern at Journey, a social media start-up company that fit perfectly with his interests.

In total this year, CCI participants impressively completed over 1,457 hours of internship work at U.S. businesses, nonprofits, and other local organizations.

Cultural Exchange

During the program, CCI participants continuously embraced the diversity, history, and culture of the United States with excitement. Throughout the year, they visited U.S. cultural and historic landmarks, participated in weekly U.S. Culture Society, and Institutions classes, and celebrated U.S. holidays. Each cohort visited different local sites, such as the Illinois and Texas State Capitol buildings, to learn about U.S. State governance.

As they learned more about the United States, CCI participants also shared their cultures with the Americans they met through culture-sharing activities and events including engaging with the Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) Program at Northern Virginia Community College. The LLI Program is an educational program dedicated to supporting individuals who are 50 years or older to pursue intellectual enrichment and enjoy social interaction. Partnering with the LLI Program CCI participants hosted weekly virtual “country tour” presentations that allowed the group of lifelong learners to experience some of the joys of traveling the world with a local expert and learning more about international cultures despite being unable to travel themselves due to pandemic, financial, or personal safety restrictions.

Leadership & Action Planning

Throughout their exchange program, CCI participants are encouraged to seek out opportunities to develop as leaders in their community. One means of developing as a leader is to be exposed to leaders and learn about their types of leadership. In Texas, participants met with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and had the chance to learn about leadership hands-on through his years of lived experiences. By speaking with leaders, CCI international exchange participants got the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts of how leadership works in various sectors and organizations.

A female CCI Coordinator as well as three CCI participants pose with the Mayor of Houston, Texas in front of a banner displaying the logos of sponsors for a local charity event.

CCI Program Coordinator Odeta Zheku (center left) and participants Amaarah Sadien of South Africa (far left) Vanessa Villar Reyes of Dominican Republic (center right) and Juliana Giraldo Galeano of Colombia (far right) pose with Sylvester Turner (center), Mayor of Houston, Texas.

CCI participants are also given the opportunity to develop leadership skills through exclusive CCI leadership programming. For example, in February and March, participants joined the two program-wide, virtual mid-year Pathways to Success Program mini-events. These two events included expert speakers, interactive workshops and activities, and networking opportunities to hone CCI participants’ leadership and professional development skills. This mid-year leadership program also plays a key role in helping CCI participants develop their Action Plans for when they return to their home countries.

Leadership training didn’t stop after the mid-year events. In April, the CCI cohort came together virtually once again for the program’s virtual end-of-year Launch to Success Program (LSP). The LSP prepares participants for re-entry by giving them the tools they need to launch into a new phase of their personal and professional lives. The participants heard from guest speakers and engaged in interactive workshops on topics focusing on strengthening life-long skills including leadership, reverse culture shock, staying connected as alumni, essential professional skills, and professional branding.

A grid 25 CCI participants and staff members smile on a online Zoom lesson.

CCI participants and staff smile and wave as they participate in the virtual Launch to Success Program (LSP).

As their exchange program ended, CCI participants took part in in-person or virtual commencement ceremonies. College faculty and staff, social hosts, and community members directly impacted by the CCI Program attended the ceremonies to celebrate the participants. These celebrations helped to highlight the incredible accomplishments and triumphs of CCI participants this year, with students surprised and delighted by the many lives they had an impact on – including at Houston Community College, where community members created a procession of cars to honk and wave at participants to congratulate them!

After an exciting and sure-to-be historic year, this year’s successful CCI participants joined the ranks of over 3,400 CCI alumni. We are excited to see how they will make a difference in their home communities!


Do you have a story that you would love to share with the Community College Initiative Program? Participants, alumni, instructors, staff, social hosts, and community members are encouraged to share their stories for the chance to be highlighted in future blogs and social media highlights. Follow this link to complete our “Submit A Story” form.


Written by Evan T. Flatt, Alumni Relations and Communications Coordinator
Edited by Dana Brantley, Senior Program Manager
Posted in Academics, Action Plans, Cultural Exchange, Events, Internships, Leadership, Participants, Volunteering.