Rijal’s Blog: Gratitude, Self-Reflection, and Valuable Lessons

Since I was kid I never had the vivid dream of wanting to go to US. I was aware I neither had capability to afford much money to travel and was scared of dreaming big. But when I was 18 years old, I was exposed to many things about US because of TV show that I watched back then. Since then, I told myself: ‘I have to go there when I am 25 years old’. Here am I now !

Being a part of CCI Program is the most incredible chance I have ever been given in my life. I am so grateful of everything I have experienced because of CCI Program. Before I start telling what great things I have done so far, let me write a dedication short paragraph to important people in my life.

Dear, Dad and mom.
This is not my accomplishment; this is yours, dad and mom.
Being able to step my feet on the United States of America, a country in which I have never imagined I would be able to go to, is both exhilarating and emotional. Words do not suffice to depict the exhilaration I have felt since the first day I came here despite the few difficult days of adjustment; but the excitement is somehow being followed by this emotional feeling that I can identify as sadness. I am sad because every time I go to a new country—a new place which enables to me to visit its renowned places along with the foods— I do not go with the ones who contribute to make me who I am now, my dad and my mother. My mother is someone whom I owe everything in this world. She is the one who successfully made me fall in love with English. Regardless of her little to no knowledge about English, she did her best to nurture my fondness towards English. What my mom did was likewise done by my father. My father is a strong figure who passed down important traits and values. He was the one who managed to make me become a strong and independent person who does not forget to be grateful of what I have accomplished.
Mom and Dad,
I am not proud of what I have accomplished; I am proud of having you who contribute to make me accomplish things in my life.

Rijal enjoys traveling by himself and getting on the metro is his favorite thing to do.

Let’s get this started.

Being in Virginia makes me much more thrilled than I ever imagined; I had the chance to be able to visit Washington D.C., the capital of US, every week. Travelling alone is one of the things I like in the US. Travelling alone makes me grow.  Having been in the US for almost four months teaches me a lot of things: First, independence: I have had the chance to do everything by myself and arrange everything by myself as well. Second, selflessness: I used to be a very self-centered person, I didn’t care what people are doing or pay attention to what they are experiencing. Here, I have been able to learn from others and am open to others. I used to like to speak more than listen, but now I realize that being a listener is ok too. I have more compassion for others who are different from me, and many other important values that make grow not only as individual but also as a member of community. Hence, I could not be more grateful of the path I have been given so far.

Rijal enjoys hanging in White House street
Rijal looks exhilarated to visit the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Words cannot depict this profound gratitude I have in my chest now. The chance I have been given now is the ultimate reason for me to give back to community and use the skill I have gotten here.

Gratitude continues.

Post written by Khairur Rijal Usman Abra, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Indonesia.

CCI Through My Eyes

CCI THROUGH MY EYES

Studying in the US was the biggest dream I ever had. I got the opportunity through the CCIP (Community College Initiative Program). Back in India I was studying and working at the same time. I used to work for 14 hours a day; I was working as a Teacher in an organization and on weekends I used to work as a personal tutor. I started teaching in my community when I was 13 years old. I had a big dream to do something different in the IT field but I did not know how to go about it. After a lot of hard work and I came to the USA. New country, culture, language.

(Outside the Alexandria Campus)

Every day I feel like a new life I got here. I found a really great learning opportunity in the USA. I came here with my goals and plans so, whenever someone asked me “what is your next goal?” I always answer sometimes people laugh but I keep focus on my goal. I was pursuing my graduation from distance learning education where I could not learn practical’s. I am a student of IT. As my major is Cybersecurity I learn a lot. There are tons of opportunities for students to learn something new for example, I have been to an event in Marymount university and it was free for students only. There was one guest speaker came who was from NIST (National Institute of Standard and Technology). It was a very great night for me. A lot of information, networking, and I realize that I can achieve how much I want here. Since then I started looking for more opportunities and my coordinator always support me to do. I attend their events to learn new information which is really helpful. One day I was researching health and I read one important thing “ if you really want to be on a track so, keep learning about that topic “ I started following. One day I got to know about Amazon career day and I was so curious to know about it.  I went to the place and I found that Amazon is not a normal corporation because it took 40 min to go inside. There were a lot of people a huge crowd. I got to know there AWS certificate is more important which is provided by Amazon. Since then my hungriness of learning increased.

(Attending a presentation)

(Line outside of Amazon Career Day)

Everyday learning I am able to connect with my main goal. I got an internship which is similar to my goal. I work as an Instructor of Technology in Action and Career Development. I have to make my students enable to get better jobs and help them to find their careers. When I was applying for the CCI Program, my main goal was to provide IT education to students who are really great but could not get an opportunity. This is just one look for the CCI program. I did volunteering, internships, action plans, and fun. These experiences are fun. I generally go to the events for volunteering and I learn a lot about people their culture, countries, their work style. I have an opportunity to learn about American culture through my Social Hosts and our Coordinator. I never realize that I am away from my family as I have my hosts and my coordinators.

Every day It is full of excitement but still, I open my excel sheet about my details and check how many days are gone. This document makes me excited every day and gives more dreams for INDIA for my nation my dreams for my family.

(Attending the Amazon Career Summit)

Rashi Saini

Climate

Sled dogs run through meltwater in north-western Greenland. STEFFEN M OLSEN VIA TWITTER / DANISH METEOROLOGICAL INSTITUTE

We all hate the fact that the weather is getting warmer, that the food we love to eat is scarcely available, that many parts of the world have limited to no access to clean water.

This note, coming from a fellow human, who has seen the deadly consequences of Climate Change first-hand, is quite underwhelming. From multiple cyclones to a major flooding event to a really bad drought, I have seen them all within a disturbingly small period of 4-5 years.

Climate Change is a big deal for me, as it should be for everyone else. This is because, the proper functioning of the Planet matters more than anything, as it is the primary reason of survival of whatever that is standing, sitting, jumping, walking, crawling, etc., on this magnificent mass of ice, water, air, and land. Without which, nothing will exist.

There’s a lot more to this. We don’t have to do something significant, just changing the way in which we do a couple of small things can make a major difference. Never think that you are too small to make a difference.

As CCI participants, there’s a certain amount of responsibility on our shoulders. We are the ambassadors of our country and are an example to all those that are directly impacted by us.

Some of the ways in which we can reduce our carbon footprint are, taking a reusable steel water bottle when we go out, using reusable bags to buy groceries, taking a small towel or handkerchief so that we don’t have to use paper towels, eat less meat whenever possible, taking a short shower, and the list goes on.

I want to use this opportunity to learn more about the effects of Climate Change and how to combat the same in the US and beyond. There is so much of exposure in this country, which I wish to take advantage of. I would also like to share my experiences and thoughts with the fellow participants and whoever my path crosses with.

A lot of organizations in the US encourage the general public and the students like us to engage in both volunteering activities and internships to work alongside them to combat this major issue. There is umpteen amount of opportunities around us, we just have to keep our eyes open and our ears sharp enough.

As an individual, we can create an action plan to reduce our carbon footprint slowly, but steadily. For example, we can start reducing the amount of single-use plastics that we buy, use, and throw away in an instant. Every single contribution towards the greater good helps the Planet.

More than helping the planet, you are helping yourself first – to become a more responsible and a conscientious human being.

When I return back to my country, after this year of study in the United States, I wish to use all that I have learnt from my experiences and contribute towards achieving a greener and sustainable future by collaborating with many of the different organizations who are working towards the same unified goal.

As my major is Business and Entrepreneurship, my future plan is to start a business, a very sustainable one at that, to go along with my beliefs. I want to be an example to the rest of them, who say that sustainable practices and profits do not go along well with each other, by proving otherwise.

It does sound like a big dream, but what value does it hold if it is not so. So, I encourage every single one of you, who is reading this entry, to have big dreams and work towards them without compromising on your values midway for temporary and materialistic results. Have an insanely good life, full of positivity and success!

Participants get vocal during a global climate change action strike on Sept. 20 in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. They are demanding that the German government and corporations take a fast-track policy towards lowering CO2 emissions and combating global warming.

(Photo: Maja Hitij / Getty Images)

Some of the other quotes that I’d like to share,

“It’s Never Too Late”

“Care about the Planet as much as you Care about who you Believe Created it”

“Don’t be a Fossil Fool”

“Winter is not Coming Anymore”

“There is no Plan(et) B”

https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/climate-change/

https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/

https://www.ipcc.ch/

https://royalsociety.org/topics-policy/projects/climate-change-evidence-causes/basics-of-climate-change/

A note by,

Aswin Raghav Rengarajan (CCI Participant – India – 2019/20)

 

Sharing with the Steelmans

Traveling to a new country is a great opportunity to learn, try new things, make new friends, to expand your horizons, and why not have fun, but sometimes understanding the culture of that new place can be a big deal. In order to make easier that process, the Community College Initiative program works with social hosts, who are volunteer people that help introduce the American culture to the new participants.

In my case I am so lucky having Mr. and Mrs. Steelman as my social hosts, they are a retired couple who really enjoy sharing their stories, and believe me, they have a lot to tell, having been in many countries in the past, there are many things that you can learn from them. I can simply define them as incredible people; Mrs. Steelman with her kind smile is always ready to reply to your hesitations and Mr. Steelman is a wise man and without doubt a good example to follow.

The Steelmans and Oscar Ivan enjoying the Irish Festival.

One of our first meeting was the Irish Festival, which was carried out in old town part of the Alexandria city. This event was fascinating, it was a great opportunity to learn about the Irish community in the US, their impressive dances and how much they love to drink beer, but the most interesting part was learning about how Irish culture has influenced the American one, and a good example of this is the famous St. Patrick’s day.

The Irish Festival, August 24th, 2019, Alexandria, VA

That day was amazing because I could learn more about my social hosts, I discovered that Mrs. Steelman has Irish roots, and even together we found the emblem and the origin of her family name on a map that was posted in the event. It was fascinating understand how multicultural is America and how immigrants that have arrived to this country have contributed to make this land an awesome cultural place.

Share with the Steelmans is gratifying, they are people who you can have deep conversation but also funny ones, friendly people that offer their time to share their stories but also always ready to listen and help. The exiting thing is that this is only the beginning of many incredible adventures with them.

Oscar Iván Barrera.

Post written by Oscar Ivan Barrera Barrera, a 2019-2020 participant from Colombia studying at NOVA Alexandria.

An Open Letter to All CCI Alumni

Hey everyone, this is Marlin Estevez, a CCI Alumni from the Dominican Republic. I was part of the 2018-2019 generation of the CCI Program. Today, I am writing an open letter to every CCI Alumni across the world, because I feel there are some issues that needs to be addressed.

Although, I’ve been wanting to write this letter since the first week back in my country, I wanted to make sure I gave myself enough time to experience the whole cultural shock, so that I can be more objective and write something that bring value to your life and this new path you are taking now that you are back in your country of origin.

Here’s what this is about:   CCI you are a seed, you will blossom not matter the place or the circumstances.

It has come to my attention that some of my CCI friends and myself included have experience what it’s like to feel that you don’t belong anywhere once you return to your country. You get to miss your friends like never before, even the ones you didn’t spend much time with, but somehow everyone became part of your family.

CCI Cohorts and Lieutenant John Weinstein from 2018-2019 at the beginning of their year.

You also have a hard time defining thing like Happiness and home. On top of that, you struggle with readjusting to how thing work in your country, the things that aren’t that well accepted in your society, the lack of tolerance or respect towards everyone’s right to choose how they live their life, make decisions and what they stand for.

Sometimes (and I am going to be realistic here) you even wonder if you should settle and act like everyone else (been there done that), so that you don’t feel pressured because you think, and perceive life different than everyone else.

CCI Participants with Sarah Yirenkyi and Kelly Forbes during Spring Break

Here’s my point, that happens to you, because YOU ARE DIFFERENT. You experienced almost a year in a society that taught you to be independent, bold, to set clear goals and make sacrifices to achieve them. You proved yourself what you are capable of. You let go of fears, insecurities, a fixed mindset, assumptions and everything that was keeping you down.

I am not saying being back is going to be easy, I am just reminding you how capable you are of achieving anything you set your mind to. Don’t settle, don’t give up and don’t you dare to forget how special you are. And if you do, remember you were chosen among many other people around the world to be part of a program such as the Community College Initiative Program, which means, everyone involved in taking that decision thinks there’s something SPECIAL about you, so why wouldn’t you think that way about yourself too?

Marlin back in the Dominican Republic with some of her CCI peers and her sister

Here’s some of the things you can do when you need some motivation:

  • Sit down and think of what makes you happy or whatever goal you want to achieve and build a MoodBoard (also called Vision Board) and paste it somewhere you can see it every day.
  • Break down your goals, what is that that you want? What steps can you take RIGHT NOW? Set due dates and start step by step. Think of each day as if that’s the only one that matters, but don’t forget your vision.
  • Connect with other CCI Alumni, ask for advices, email some of your professors if needed or the CCI Staff and coordinators. I assure you, they want to hear from you, and they can keep adding value to your life from distance.
  • Find a way to release stress, whether it is by doing some exercise, going to a park or Facetiming with your International Friends.
Marlin and her mom

Finally, I want to say goodbye with something Leeza Fernand told me once during my CCI year “People say they will do many things, but only a few take action”   

Be one of those that act and remember, if you need someone to talk to, you can count on your CCI Fam.

  • Marlin

How do you measure the impact of the CCI Program?

I have been a program coordinator for the past four years and it has been an amazing and life changing experience. It’s not without some hesitation that I am leaving, but it’s time. I was asked to publish my remarks from our end of year ceremony on May 10, 2019, so here they are…

We often talk about the impact of the CCI Program—the impact the program has on the participants and the impact the participants have on campus and in our community. Leeza mentioned the extraordinary number of hours and the associated dollar value that this amazing group contributed through volunteering and internships. What I think is more extraordinary is the immeasurable impact that they have had on the people who they have met during their short time here.

How do you measure the spark of creativity when several minds from diverse backgrounds and different countries come together to solve a problem, whether it’s in the classroom, Model UN, or at MyBook?

How can you measure the excitement of the young girls who got to visit the Embassy of the Dominican Republic and meet the Ambassador with Marlin and Eylül or the excitement of the children who had lunch with Santa and a Brazilian elf named Schawany?

How can you measure the pride and sense of accomplishment that children felt when Sundar taught them how to play chess, when Sara and Masud helped them solve a math problem, or when Helen helped them make crafts at a kids festival?

How do you measure the awakening of a young explorer who learned about Indonesia for the first time from Elfis and Virdiani when they interned at FACETS?

How can you measure the joy that Sibusiso, Kekeli, Williams, Emmanuel, John Evans, and Patrick brought to the residents at the Lincolnia Senior Center?, where combined they volunteered over 300 hours serving meals, playing games, and simply having conversations with the senior residents, some of whom have no family close by to visit them.

How do you measure the gratitude an event organizer feels to have reliable and enthusiastic help to pull off a successful event?, whether it’s a book sale at a local library, the Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-a-Long,  TedEx Tysons, or a large festival? I don’t know how to measure it, but I know that they feel it, because they ask for the CCI participants to come back and help again and again.

How do you measure the friendships and bonds that were created over the past ten months between these CCI participants from 12 different countries and between them and their social hosts?

How do you measure the lessons learned, the culture and traditions that were shared, the mutual understanding that was built? We may not be able to assign a numerical value to these things, but the impact is no less valuable. These are the stepping stones for building more peaceful and inclusive societies, where people recognize the value and strength in diversity. This is the foundation for strengthening relationships between our countries—those people to people connections that start with the CCI Program and last a lifetime.

Post written by Kelly Forbes, CCI Program Coordinator at NOVA Annandale from 2015-2019.

Photo credit: Marlin Estévez

My Life After CCI Program: Choice and Surprise

I write this because I want to share my experience and thoughts during the few weeks before my returning home and how I made a different path during my transition back to my hometown in Indonesia after the program. As our time was reaching the verge and going home was such a good news, there was one thing left in my mind: finding a better job. I had no a clear idea about what kind of job was a better job. Some of us thought the job should be with a higher position and a higher salary as the title of American School Alumni in our hometown was appealing and worth bigger incentive. Actually graduated from CCI program is a really big thing in a way that equips us with better skills,  more experience and stronger resume, so there was nothing to worry about, but I also knew I was worried if I failed to have what-so-called a better career.

This fear about failures nestled like a bad dream night and day before my departure day. It made me perceive going back home would be stories of failures. But there were times I pulled up in between. I tried to pause and take some time to think. I asked myself some fundamental questions, like why do I have to pursue a career? Is that because other people pursue a career, so I should do the same thing? Or is it because I want to do something that I like and worth doing? If so, do I have to set up myself a standard for a better career that is coined from their opinion? It was not easy to figure out a single answer. Even until now I’m still craving the better one.

There’s one thing that came in my mind, I could not let myself live a life I did not want to live, so I decided that I had to start to emancipate from the mentality that lived other people’s expectations and tried to know myself better. The takeaway is that we really do not have any obligation to think about anybody’s will to us, not even ours if it just causes us mental pressure. I knew I had got everything I needed to go home and to do better things for my career and my life. I believed I had been prepared enough to deal with any challenge after the program and would still be myself, not anybody else. That’s the bottom line.

***

The early days of my arrival, there was more reunions and a lot of questions from people about my life experience in the United States. Some organizations invited me to speak in their event or write my experience for their social media content. On top of that I returned to my previous job in the news media company. I saw this as a better choice. I worked again as a radio announcer in the town. But this time it had to be different. I told the management that I wanted to direct and design my own program and they approved my proposal.

A social project interview with the organization staff

I got a good chance to do what I had learned during the program and it was one good opportunity to create more opportunities. The program was a radio talk show which hosted people working in startup business in the town. These fellows had done very excellent works for the digital business development in the town. They said they were excited to attend the show – of course primarily for their product promotion. I could make good connections with them as well. By then I enjoyed that job more than before.

Makassar Bangga radio talk show with the Floating School Organization

***

I decided to resign from the radio company after about four months. I wanted a job in a more reputable media company in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. It is the biggest English newspaper company in the nation. If I could succeeded it, it would be a big leap in my professional career. Long story short, I failed one of the tests. I felt disappointed and terrified since the job was my biggest dream upon completing my CCI. I studied my failure, having an appealing resume was not enough. One should be able to demonstrate their skill and leave the employer to have no choice but to hire them. I promised to myself, sooner or later I will return to the newspaper and make my better skill an offer they cannot refuse.

The secret is failure is an important stop in our life. Like Newton’s law of motion, sometimes we must come to that point in order to leave it behind and move forward. If someone does not move, they will never move from there and will remain there forever, unless they decide to move themselves by working it out all the way they can. Failure leaves a crucial interval in our life path to meditate and contemplate things that we need to do so we deserve what we want. I used the interval to work in different job and get more experience. Therefore I preferred to work in different institutions as a freelance reporter, a content writer and a translator/interpreter. My experience as an internship staff writer in one of the student-run newspapers in Virginia had built my confidence to do more jobs in writing area.

I worked in NGO Save the Children that focused on family welfare and children education in my hometown. Someone recommended me. That was a fruit of making connections with different people. Getting a job does not always mean one has to pass a series of test, but sometimes knowing somebody who has a big contribution in the institution and recognizes your credibility are enough to get you hired. They assigned me for their publication project as a content writer. They sometimes had extra jobs for me like a note taker in their conference or a trainer in their teaching project, so I could earn extra income from it. I knew I did not earn as much salary as it was usually expected to American school graduate in my hometown, but there was just something different I knew I needed and I thought it was not really money. It is very relative. To know yours, you have to ask yourself.

Speaking in a seminar themed better education opportunity and waste management to school student in coastal town of Selayar.

The project target was for a group of community who lived close to a waste disposal area in the town. The job allowed me to have more time for books and more traveling which were good things. My co-workers recommended me different books in different fields related to our project, like social justice, more fictional books and IT. Freelance job is inclusive, diverse in professionalism and fun in a way people have different backgrounds and inclined to the principle of sharing ideas in order to discover new ideas. They are also working everywhere, so you can reach them from anywhere.

At seminar themed better education opportunity and waste management to school student in coastal town of Selayar

With my team I worked on some interviews with mothers aged 15 – 20 and children who lost chance to study at school because they had to collect plastics from the disposal area almost every day. That’s the only way they knew they could survive their life with their family. Consequently I spent longer time to visit the disposal area during the period. I wrote their stories and worked with some designers to put them together for the organization’s magazine publication. Working with them was the real new leap in my career. I thought I would enjoy the job longer after almost two months I should move abroad.

***

Currently I work for a tech company in Malaysia. I have not so much thing to tell about it because I am still in the middle of this odyssey. The most important thing is I have chosen to live this life the way I want it to be and am always ready to be surprised with anything that will happen anytime. Good and bad episode equally share parts along the road. If it’s bad, I will never feel guilty, not to mention blame other people. I know the choices I make and what to do with them.

Life is full of choices and surprises. Like CCI and other preceding working experience I had, my current job is a surprise I never thought before I would have. I am completely a new person to people in this country and I have more time to mingle with them and enjoy their typical culture diversity. If I might say, doing different things and meeting and listening to stories from different people are more valuable than any other incentive I can ever receive. I do not know exactly why, but it just feels it evokes compassion in my life and tells me that in that way I always have a life to live and so I can contribute something to that life.

Post written by Muhammad Arham, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Indonesia.

Sharing the Dominican Culture with the Girl Scouts

My adventure During the past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to volunteer with a Girl Scouts Brownie Troop, led by Sara Mohamed. Someone I knew for being the Senior Program Manager for the CCI Program, but who I had the chance to know in what I perceive as one of the most important roles a woman can assume, being a mother.

Sara started this group because she wanted to give her daughter the chance to become a Girl Scout, but she couldn’t find enough leaders to start a troop near to where she lives, so she decided to be one. This was the beginning of a group of smart and kind girls that will later give me the opportunity to share my culture and identity as a Dominican citizen. We had several meetings with the girls where they learned some of the most important facts about the Dominican Republic. From our flag colors and what each of them means for the Dominican nation, to our delicious national dish called “La Bandera”. A plate conformed by rice, beans, chicken and green salad. They also learned about our traditional music, merengue and bachata, and we even had the chance to dance a few times.

Through an amazing internship I am doing at the Embassy of the Dominican Republic in Washington DC, we arranged a visit for the girls and a very special meeting with our Ambassador, José Tomás Pérez. My colleagues greeted the girls with so much love and excitement that I must exalt and reinforce the capacity of the Dominican people to make everyone feels welcome and loved when they meet us.  The girls and their parents were so thrilled to have this opportunity. They went beyond that when the Chief of Academic Affairs, Angie Martinez, told them that we were going to surprise the Ambassador in his office. They even learned how to say “Hola, Embajador” (Hi, Ambassador).

Girl Scouts with Jose Tomas Perez, Ambassador of the Dominican Republic in the United States.

The girls are learning about the Dominican Republic to represent my country at the World Thinking Day, an international event celebrated in 150 countries by Girl Scouts and Girl Guides on the month of March. The mission of this event is to show the girls the world we are living in and the impact each one of us have in our communities. I cannot end this post without giving full credit to my friends Eylül and Sara, from Turkey and Egypt, for being part of this experience and sharing the thing they have learned about my country with the girls.

The Girls creating their poster of the Dominican Republic for the World Thinking Day.

I feel honored for being given this opportunity and I hope the girls continues to grow and learn about many other countries of the world.

Looking forward for March!

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

 

We have more things to learn than to teach

“You never know how the things that you are doing are going to impact others”, said Dr. Rahman and, as always, I listened to what he was saying carefully because his words are filled with truth and experience and because I already know that, if you listen to people like him and actually do what they advise, you can achieve and realize great things.

Dr. Syedur Rahman and Vanesa

I was sitting in a room with 5 other Alumni in Sedona, USA, being part of the Pathways to Success Program (PSP) after only two years of being a participant myself.

We were hiding from the current participants because we were a “surprise for them”, but I did not understand what that meant until the moment they saw us and start clapping and standing up for us. I don’t think they understand how much it mean for us, how humbled we were feeling and how filled our hearts were because a group of students who never met us before were so happy to see us. In that moment I remember what Dr. Rahman said, that we impact people in some many ways without realizing. What the participants do not know is that the surprise was for us and that we, the Alumni, were the ones who learned the most during the week.

We were there only to share our experiences in hope that the participants could learn something from them, to help them understand that going back is extremely hard but is necessary because is a process of growth, to remind them that they have been given a great opportunity and that for those “to whom much has been given, much is requested”, and to help them realize that failure is also a possibility, but not the last word. For us, as Alumni, it is also hard to stay motivated, to find resources and help, to create a path to follow and to keep working even when it seems like it is worthless. We are also humans. But we love our work, we are passionate about helping and we will not stop until we make the change we want to see in the world. Because, if it is not us, who else will do it?

I felt humble to be part of the PSP because my project is just starting, but I hoped I could teach that starting is a huge challenge and that it takes a lot of time and mistakes. I also felt honored to be able to learn from my fellow alumni:


Vanesa and the other alumni with Dr. Syedur Rahman

Analú, from Costa Rica, taught me that having a good team is very important; that if you are not given an opportunity, you must stand up and create your own; and that things do not usually go as expected, so you should always be prepared with a backup plan. She also showed me that real women help each other to shine bright!

Sharon, from South Africa, has the biggest smile to face anything that comes to her life and is a strong woman who can also help other women to grow, to learn and to be independent. She is not selfish with her knowledge and experience.

Sabinga, from Kenya, taught us another expression of love: he showed us that we can love, protect, and give up everything we have to help those who cannot speak by themselves, the animals. Our hearts are big enough to fit not only humans, but every being on the world.

Pradeep, from India, was the example of balance: he taught us that we can both create business opportunities and help those around us. Also, he has Learning by Locals to show that to help others, you first got to help yourself.

Jaya, from Indonesia, showed us that, little by little, you can achieve huge things and that trust is the most important thing you can gain from anyone.

Vanesa, Sabinga, Analú , Pradeep, Sharon, and Jaya

Everything we do will have an impact in our lives and everything we hear and see from others can change the way we think and can give us ideas about how to act. Sometimes, listening is more important than talking.

I also had the pleasure of speaking with current participants that helped me understand that the future is bright because they have great ideas and the willingness to make them come true. They have the same fears as we still have and so many questions, but that is part of the path. Eylül, (Turkey), for example, has a lot of energy and is a great ambassador of the program and of her country, and that is already a lot to start with. Roger and Carlos (from Colombia), are already making connections and presenting their project to possible partners. Lalit, from India, is passionate about is work and did not wait for the CCI to end to start acting. Sarah, from Egypt, mixed what she enjoys with her action plan. And like them, many more participants have strong plans to help their communities back home.

Vanesa with Eylül and Analú

Finally, I was able to go back to the same places I walked two years ago and to meet many people that I lived and spent time with. The moment the plane landed in Washington, DC I was very emotional and nostalgic and could not stop my tears. The place was the same, but the feeling was bittersweet because I was not there with many of the friends that I love and miss.

Those who I met, like Kelly, my coordinator, the CCI staff members and two of my best friends, Akram (from Yemen), and Stephanie (my Puerto Rican friend from Church), remain the same in their spirits and souls, but life has made them grow tons. Meeting them filled my heart and was one of the moments I will remember forever. I am blessed to have people so loving and caring.

Thank you CCI Program for changing my life and the life of so many more.

Post written by Vanesa de la Cruz from Colombia, 2016-2017 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale

My CCI Experience

Having been in the USA for six months now, I feel a lot has changed already. I feel I’ve changed to a better person. My visit to the USA has been an amazing experience. Ever since my first day here, people seemed to be very nice, kind and helpful. I’m glad I’m in a place that is open to diversity, truly open.

When I got the acceptance email and later the envelope I was beyond happy, not only will I study in the USA but I would also be doing activities to share my culture and explore the American culture. I was lucky enough to be placed at Northern Virginia Community College and also live in Virginia because the slogan is very true, Virginia IS for lovers!

I and my CCI colleagues have been receiving support from everyone (especially emotional support) from day one and later on, we learned how to support each other. Not to mention my social hosts who have been such a blessing from the day I met them.

Sarah, with her social hosts Patricia and Richard, on Thanksgiving Day.

What is very unique about the CCI program is that it not only focuses on the academic experience but also four other areas which are: volunteerism, internship, leadership & action planning, and cultural exchange.

Through academics, I was able to experience the American classroom and obtain great knowledge in the field I work in. I was honored to get to know some of my professors who had a tremendous experience and were also very supportive.

The second pillar of the program is volunteering. I enjoyed this part because I was able to meet people and interact with them and at the same time benefit the community.

The third one is the internship. This one is very important because I get to apply what I learned in my past years as a teacher and what I learned in the classes I am attending and gain hands-on professional experience at different preschools and schools through an internship.
The internship part is very important because beside the gained experience it will help me when I am back home to become a better teacher and get a better job and it will also help me a lot in starting my own project related to education.

Sarah volunteering at Family Science Night at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia.

The fourth pillar focuses on leadership and action planning. I’ve been working as a teacher back home and I also volunteered occasionally but never had something solid, something of my own.
Before the CCI program, I never felt I could make a real change in my community but now I feel like I gained very important and useful skills as well as resources that would really help me when I go back home to establish a unique non-profit organization.
Throughout the program we had classes that focus on many skills especially practical leadership skills and we also worked on creating an “Action Plan” for the project that each of us will implement upon returning home.
We also attended a mid-year retreat called “Pathways to Success Program” in January which was full of very useful workshops, networking activities and presentations. In the mid-year program I also got to meet other CCI participants from different countries and even though we did have the same major, we were still able to exchange very useful ideas regarding our projects.

Sarah with Helen (Indonesia), Aaron (India), and Schawany (Brazil), 3 NOVA Annandale Participants, at the International Young Leaders Assembly at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
Sarah with her Early Childhood Education classmates during a culture-sharing class period.


The fifth pillar (my favorite) is cultural exchange. I got to learn about the American culture through almost everyone I met and I got to share my own culture with them through presentations, food and simply conversations. Sometimes I’d talk to someone in the bus or in the street and then we end up talking about culture!
We also had several field trips which helped us further understand American history.
And of course the most fun exposure to other cultures is those of my CCI colleagues, not only the ones who go to NOVA but also the ones in the other states through the “Pathways to Success Program” where we all met.
Since day one in the USA, I was determined to focus on all the areas of the program in order to succeed and fulfill the program requirements and I was honored to receive the academic achievement award in the mid-year program and I hope I can achieve more this semester.

The CCI is not only the pillars though, it’s the whole mesmerizing experience and the opportunity to leave a mark.

Post written by Sarah Awadallah from Egypt, a 2018-19 NOVA Alexandria CCI Participant

Experience the CCI Program through the voices of the students