The end of the first semester, my first 5 months abroad and the beginning of a new chapter in my life

As the semester ends challenges become more real, but so are the lessons it taught us. In one hand, we have the expectation of getting good grades and ending well our first academic semester. While in the other hand, we start to wrap everything up, and putting things under perspective. The things we did right, the positive impact we made, the goals we already reached, the things we will need to work on a little bit more, or the personal/professional challenges we still need to overcome. One thing I’ve done is reviewing my overall performance during the fall semester, not only at school but also in any of the other pillars of the CCI program.

Marlin with Kelly Forbes, the CCI coordinator for the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

After going through this personal evaluation, and focusing on the things that needed some extra work, I realized the following things that can wrap up my first semester as an international exchange student in the United States: I wasn’t being too active with the activities and plenty opportunities around me, I could have focused more on maximizing my time in this country and not pay that much attention, time and effort to momentary things and lastly, I could commit more to master procrastination. In my opinion, losing your focus or feeling demotivated and overwhelmed from time to time is usual, when you have so many things to do and to think about at once, but I also know that if you don’t make a commitment to push yourself in those exact moments you probably won’t achieve your goals. Because that extra effort is the one determining whether you move and grow or stay the same person in the same old place.

Marlin with the CCI cohorts from the Dominican Republic, who came to visit Washington DC for the winter break.

For that reason, I made the commitment with myself to engage more with school activities next semester, to risk more, get out of my comfort zone more often and be more conscious about my emotions and the things around me that affect me in some way. Our time to go back home is closer every day and I know that when I return to my country I want to remember this time as a transformational experience in my life. It will only be transformational if I do my part and push myself to my limits and develop the discipline I need to complete my purpose in this program and in life itself.

I’ll close, by saying that I am beyond grateful for this time in the USA and the lessons I’ve learned so far. For making it through this program that is far from being easy but is such a worthy experience. For being alive and able to learn something new every day, for my new international friends, for traveling to new places and for staying true to myself and my values during this time.

Marlin on a rainy day in Washington, DC.

Looking forward for even more greater results in the next semester,

Post written by Marlin Chabely Estevez  from the Dominican Republic , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

My Amazing Experience in the U.S.

The beginning of 2018 was a joyous one for me. I got selected for an exchange program United States of America. The Community College Initiative program enables you to study in a community college, exchange your culture as well as learn American culture. These participants are from 12 different countries. Seven months later my dream to come in America came true. During the first few days I saw how beautiful the places are and the diversity showed at this area. I did not know that my stay in the United States will be beyond my expectation and change my life. The most amazing things begun when I started school at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Annandale. The education system in this country is far different from my home country. NOVA is full of diversity as a result of the numerous international students here. People here are respectful about all cultures. In addition, the technology use here in this country is higher than in my country, as all the classes here are linked to the internet and it makes learning fun and easy. At the beginning I was having problem on how to use the ‘Blackboard’ system, after using it for a few times I was able to handle it well. The most interesting thing in the American education system especially on campuses is the involvement of students in clubs, associations and activities held on campus. Students also make use of all the resources available for use for your classes. However, the main thing that amazed me a lot is the respect of time by professors and their availability for each student on campus. After finishing the fall semester, I can say I really enjoy my study in one of the best colleges in the United States.

Another one of my experience in this country is the commitment for that people have for their communities. In fact, volunteerism is one of the big essences of American culture. Here, everyone is involved in all community activities for the welfare of everybody. This made me understood the meaning of volunteering. One of my greatest volunteering moments was when I volunteered at the ‘Presidential Park’ at the White House. It was a good moment and an honor to be part of the volunteers for the ‘Fall Garden Tour 2018’. I never believed that one day in my life, I will be so close to this famous place through volunteering.

Another volunteering experience is that at the ‘Lincolnia Senior Center. It is a care center for aged people. When I started over there, I was a little bit skeptical about being with them and I was also sad to see them like this. After spending close to a week, I started getting used to them and helped them as much as I can. The Managers, employers and the residents there are really nice to us the volunteers, and I feel welcomed to be among them. My experience with the Lincolnia Senior Center and the other volunteering activities made me understand from that moment that when I volunteer, I know who I am and what the other people are expecting from me in order to contribute my part in the community.

Williams with Malikah, volunteer coordinator at the Lincolnia Senior Center

To conclude, I would like also to share more about my recent Internship experience. Effectively I started my first internship as a Social Media Manager in the U.S with a company called ‘MyBook’. They specialize in buying and selling books to students. Truth be told, I was anxious on my first day. Not only because the system is something totally new for me, but also because I did not have much experience in that field of study. However, I did not experience what I thought prior to my first day. Everything was different from my thoughts. The staff were very kind and collaborative, they appreciated me and gave me tips in order to help me accomplish my assigned tasks on time. Something I still don’t catch well is This simplicity of my teammates and my superiors makes me feel important. This encourages me to be efficient and also to work hard in order to make them proud. I also yearn to learn a lot before going back to my home country and implement that whiles creating my own company.

Internship with My Book

To sum up, after spending close to six months in the United States, and with regards to education, volunteering, and internship experiences I can affirm that the CCI Program is like a book with blank pages where you have to write your own stories or experience by maximizing everything you can grasp and build your own future.

Post written by Ayih Williams Akrong  from Côte d’Ivoire , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

Volunteering is a way to learn and have fun!

Every person has their own style to learn things. The best way to learn something for me is, directly experiencing the subject; additionally, I care about experience so much. I just need quick brief about the content and I will be read to move on.  Volunteering is one of the best ways for me to learn new things. Moreover, since my field related to communication, I can practice on my field of study a lot! There are volunteering opportunities out there! I believe that everyone can find volunteering related to their major.

When I heard about 100 hours volunteering, I felt really overwhelmed. I though that it was too much and unnecessary work to deal with. If we are not going to earn money, what is going to be our gain? Or, how am I going to find that much opportunity? I was wrong, there were more important goals then earning money? For instance, having fun. I mean LOTS OF FUN! As a Northern Virginia Community College, CCI student my volunteering started with the Around the World Food Festival which I have exchanged a lot of cultures. (You can read more about it: https://blogs.nvcc.edu/ccinova/2018/09/14/around-the-world-cultural-food-festival-iyla-global-summit-world-bank/ )

And then I head on doing fun volunteering and I had fun at the Kite Festival. All day long we tried to fly kites and engaged with another people. I personally, had a chance to talk a lot which was good for my English practice.

I had a chance to feel myself like I am at home, at the Turkish Festival! It is not hard to find opportunities that has similarities to our cultures. I was luck enough to find the Turkish Festival which pleased me a lot. We are missing our homes’ day by day more. This festival refreshed my missing and made me feel so good.

Then I kept enjoying with the Halloween Fest. I was always curious about the Halloween at the USA. I wanted to spend it while doing volunteering, and I really liked it! My duty was helping children to paint a pumpkin which I enjoyed. I loved being with the children at the Halloween party!

I stand for my belief with Northern Virginia Community College Sexual Assault Services. I was trying to make people to paint a t-shirt to attract their attention to sexual assault issue of our worlds’. I was feeling so good to work with this project.

We had a chance to listen TEDx live! Watching the TED Talks through the Youtube was always my passion. I always excited watch about everything. Thanks to my another CCI friend, Dede Defir Firmansah for meeting me this opportunity!

We sang a lots of Christmas songs after cleaning the huge concert hall. Even though I didn’t know most the songs, I tried to keep up with the orchestra. We all were having fun at that moment. In the end of the day my cheeks were aching because of laughing.

We have been doing volunteering since we arrived in the USA. At the beginning of this journal I didn’t realize how it feels. Besides its personal benefits; it feels really good to help other people. Excepting all those thanks in the end of the day make me feel proud of myself. I believe everyone has the same feeling. To feel good, learning too many new things and having fun; we should keep doing volunteering even though we completed the 100 limits. For instance, I am already done with that, but nothing can’t stop me!!

Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü  from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

The Best Semester I Could Have Had

My fall semester was different from all the other CCI participants. I think this was the hardest semester of my life. When I arrived my English wasn’t so good and I needed to improve it as soon as possible. After the summer semester classes, I took the English test, and then I started my intensive English classes. Three months of good laughs and a tremendous improvement of my English. I learned a lot from my classes. My teacher was always providing us with something different in the classroom, like videos and music. We always made presentations and shared our experiences. I know that my English is really better now, thanks to my performance, my English classes and also the help of my housemates, Sarah and Helen.

Schawany with her housemates Sarah (Egypt) and Helen (Indonesia)

I got a better improvement also with volunteers. Talking to someone who speaks English has made me learn a lot and also lose the fear of speaking English. The conversation with an American is different and I find it a bit difficult. I learned that I do not have to be afraid to make mistakes in this phase of learning that I find myself in, it is super normal to make mistakes and I will not be judged because of them. All the people I met during my volunteers were very kind and patient with me, and this behavior made me a bit more confident about my English.

Now I can express myself, take other classes, and have long conversations with much more confidence. Those were good months of good use. I hope to get much more confidence when I start my internship, it will be another great step to complete.

Post written by Schawany Brito from Brazil, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

PEACEBUILDING CONFERENCE & CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

The CCI program has changed my life dramatically, it has made me to be an open-minded person and to view life differently than I ever did before I got to United States. On the 25 of October 2018 I have attended the Alliance for Peacebuilding’s annual conference PeaceCon 2018. It was my first time in my life to attend such an amazing, and educating conference were people from various countries come together with a same objective of promoting peace.

Sibusiso as a volunteer at the Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference

On that day I felt very important after the conference because I have gained mutual understanding pertaining the importance of peace. I have attended two sessions, the first session was based on how to resolve a conflict in places such as working environment, School, and within the community. I have met with different people that day, as a result I have accumulated up building ideas as well as making connection with different people. I was highly motivated by one guy from South Sudan, he created few games that are designed to promote peace. He told me about his background and the fundamental reasons why he came into senses of developing games that seek to promote peace. I am enthusiastically and highly motivated to start my own restaurant intended to promote peace, for example, I am going to provide variety of cuisine in the same restaurant with a motto that says welcome home. These are some of the component I have learned in order to resolve a conflict:

  • Remain calm, tempers will stand in the way of working through your differences. After all, the goal is making peace with one another, not getting revenge. Respectfully communicate to them, through a mediator if necessary, that you should both take some time to calm down. Then agree on a time and a place to discuss and resolve your conflict.
  • Be willing to understand what went wrong and try to come up with a solution.
  • Understand the background of various people, because we all have different opinions, values as well as culture.
    We should bear in mind that people have different personalities.
Sibusiso with Lual Mayen, Founder of Junub Games.

On the 30th of October 2018 I have attended workshop at NOVA Community college.
I have learned varies aspects that makes people to end up in dispute or conflict, the first reason is that we see things from different point of view. We were given few complicated pictures to identify anything could we see, what transpired is people gave different opinions that could stir up a dispute. However, we learned that we should respect the opinions of others and give our own views in such a way that we do not offend other feelings. I took two tests to examine my personality and I found I am an Amiable person, therefore I read all amiable qualities and I found that they match my personalities. I learned about other three personalities which are Analytical, Driver, and expressive. The primary reason of that test is to keep us aware that people are different, so we need to bear in mind when we work with them. This workshop opened my eyes wide now feel like I am ready to present this information when I return to my home country.

Based on all experiences that I have learned here in the U.S. I am eagerly looking forward to sharing them in my home country when I return home.

Post written by Sibusiso Chipeta from South Africa, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

Thanksgiving with a traditional American family!

We all know, Thanksgiving is one of the most important traditions in the USA and brings family members together. This special holiday is also important for us -as CCI participants- to understand American culture. If you considered this as important progress step for yourself, probably you have spent Thanksgiving with an American family, like your social host. I wanted to make this tradition worthy and I decided to go to Pennsylvania to spend my Thanksgiving with a traditional host family!

One month ago, from Thanksgiving I have heard this trip from International Friends Community Organization, that we have here at NOVA area. They told that this trip would be amazing experience for me as an international student. Program was including staying with an American family and visiting Amish community at Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The process of registering for this trip I have learned that we can stay with someone in the same house, so my other CCI friend Alka Sharma and I determined to stay together with the same family. I was so excited, but at the same time I didn’t know what to expect. On Thanksgiving morning, we traveled to the Pennsylvania and met with our host families. Our hosts were Amos and Kate King, who have a very large family. They were amazing! That 3 days I spend with them was so precious. They made me feel like I was with my own family, which was what I needed. Our social family was so curios about our countries. They ask lots of questions about India and Turkey, and we were so excited to answer all of it! We had a chance to introduce our cultures correctly. At the same time, we also asked very deep questions about American culture, because they were very traditional, and it made us more curious about learning true American culture. In that 3 days we exchanged our cultures a lot. Just like us, they were so respectful to our cultures. Even though there were 3 different religions in that house, we never felt different or outcast. I personally took too many things about American culture.

Since, one of CCI programs’ purposes is exchanging our cultures; this was a great opportunity for me. I think meeting and spending time with American families is the best way to determine American culture. If you can’t find this kind of opportunities you can try to spend more time with your social hosts.

Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü  from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Getting ready to go down to a place where no relation is going to be close yet it’s going to be your HOME was one I feared. Certainly I needed to let go and just accept the challenge. Left family, friends, colleagues and customers behind. Brokenhearted! How was I going to make new memories in this new place, AMERICA?

Being home sick was obviously expected yet I tried not to make it evident. Told myself I was going to make the best out of every possible encounter I make. Not long I lost a colleague back home few weeks after I arrived. Was broken. I picked up fast with the notion that it is well. As if that was not enough, I lost my grandmother. Was left in shackles literally and shut down. She was my ultimate testimony of a strong woman who raised her children and grandchildren the best way. Crushed like never before I wanted to leave the program and go back home to Ghana because in as much as I wanted to do this major step for myself and my future, I wanted her to at least witness my come-up. I guess that was the universes’ way of putting things into place and throwing into my face greater challenges. The bait cast to me was a dicey one.

 

Could have changed my mind and gone home if not for some beloveds such as Kelly Forbes who was much more soothing than I thought. Every lady in my apartment also played a major role in keeping me on my feet in the CCI program.

Abigail with her CCI friends

Emily Miller who is my social host has been one of the amazing people I have come across here in the United States and also being a participant of the CCI Program. That be said, I have been here only few months and I have experienced love and joy in a more different way. Together as a duo we have been to a fashion exhibition in Washington DC which was awesome. Had the chance to interact with other designers who came to showcase their clothing and arts. Had an American meal in one restaurant in DC, loved it. We ran in the rain like kids and it felt like sisterhood. Had the chance of shopping and cooking with Emily and during these moments I had this feeling of her being my mom. She made me belong openly without any barrier.

Abigail and Emily

Working as a volunteer in her office gave me the opportunity to shadow who exactly she was. Her employees love her for who she is. Emily defines what patience and love for humanity is. Her son Austin is adorable.

There wouldn’t have been any other ways to have felt like I belonged if not for the initiative made by the CCI Program to link us with social hosts. This has made my stay here if not memorable, a delightful experience. Her friends have been very true and sweet to me in diverse ways. We have once had a ladies night where I shared my culture as to how to cook a Ghanaian food and they were gladly interested and willing to help. They came in with gifts for everyone as well. We paired the Ghanaian meal with American side dishes. They tasted yummy together.

Abigail with Emily and her mother.

Post written by Abigail Daitey from Ghana, 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

Feeling Thankful

Right from the start of selection, the thought that kept ringing in my mind was how was I to cope with my stay in the USA. I got selected for the Community College Initiative Program. It is an exchange program organized and sponsored by the US Department of State. It brings together participants from 12 countries who live together to study in selected Community Colleges in the US. The Community College Initiative is founded on five pillars which includes academics, volunteerism, internships, leadership and action planning, and cultural exchange. The pillar of cultural exchange requires us to meet new people through sharing our culture with one another and experiencing other cultures too. My few months of stay in the States has brought me in contact with wonderful people. It has open me up to people with different cultures with whom I interact on a daily basis. Being a Community College Initiative Participant requires you to have special people called social hosts. These people are American citizens that are given to us in order to help us better understand American culture. My social host for this program is Torrian. She is an amazing lady who strives to make me feel at home here in the US. Torrian schedules time most often after work to spend quality time with me. She educates me on issues pertaining to America and how to make the best out of my stay here. She is always there for me when I need her and is ever ready to help. Torrian by far is making my stay in the US enjoyable. In this season of thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude to her. I am thankful for the new family I have got.

Celebrating Kekeli’s birthday at Springfield Town Center
Kekeli and Virdiani with their social host, Torrian

 

Post written by Roseline Kekeli Odzor from Ghana , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

The Laramie Project is my way of improving speaking skills

As a CCI Program participant from Indonesia, I have a weakness in speaking skills. Thanking for the first three weeks at Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC), an ESL class was held in preparation for entering the actual lecture. When I entered the actual class and joined a fluent English-speaking student, I was confused. Why? I really wanted to talk but I was embarrassed, afraid not to be understood by Professor and friends in class. Once, my fall semester has started, I became a listener only in class. I understand what Professor was saying but I did not dare to comment.

On September 25, 2018, I applied an audition for Fall Play, The Laramie Project, at NVCC. At that time, I said to myself, let me try this opportunity; moreover, I did not need to memorize and prepared anything. Good news, I was accepted in this project and the rehearsals were carried out from September 26 to November 7, 2018. I spent three hours, Monday till Thursday. At first, I felt inferior when I knew all friends, who came in Fall Play, were very fluent in English. I would like to step down but I consider this was a great opportunity to improve my speaking skills, interact with native speaking friends and learn theater arts at NVCC.

As time went by, I had been able to adapt to the atmosphere of the practice and began to say correctly the words in the script especially my pronunciation.

Finally the performance time arrived, November 8-11 2018, in CC building Room 115 and it was four times of shows. In the beginning, I was afraid and trembling if the audience would understand what I was saying later.

I have excellent experiences after joining The Laramie Project. I meet Professor Sara Weinstock, Jeremy Pritchard, and great friends who help me since beginning till the end.  Now, I am more confident in my speaking skills, I understand how to interact with people here, and I get new friends in NVCC.

Post written by Virdiani from Indonesia, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

I have never felt in my life that I`m progressing

Have you ever asked yourself about what you are doing, usually during some decision process? And did you know that asking questions about everything would help your personal development? I have learned this, and I am still doing that in my CCI journey. How? Here it is!

One of the most important things in this life is personal development, right? Well, for me, it is. I’m just 20 years old, and until this time, I have never thought about my personal development and never thought if I’m doing something to improve myself in life. Until the CCI Program’s inception, I knew this is it! I didn’t know this program will teach me about life at all, especially in a short time.

 

It has been only 4 months, but I realize that I never had a chance to listen to myself, and ask questions like ‘what I am doing?’ I found out, the first step of personal development, is asking questions. Always ask questions about what you are doing at that moment. I had lots of chance to do this and think about it. After I am done questioning myself, I try to find out what may be wrong about what I was dealing with. I try my best to fix it -even though I know I cannot reach the solution-. Anyways, I realize that just thinking about it makes me careful about it the next time.

The reason why I figured it out in my CCI program journey is, perhaps the opportunities that it has given me to do things on my own. I have never lived alone all my life. My family used to tell me that I should try to do things as they may seem easy with consistency.  It is evident that most experiences are learnt the hard way, as things do not come easy as we expect. Now, the only person who is giving me advice is my coordinator Kelly Forbes. She always guides me to making decisions. The last option though is up to me. In order to make the best out of it, I ask questions concerning any type of decisions I make. This is not just helping me with my personal decisions, it is also affecting my relationship with other people especially with my friends. CCI program is helping me in every type of subject and I am sure that CCI will help me to build my life.

Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü  from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

Experience the CCI Program through the voices of the students