Touch Your Society

Coming from a country like South Africa that has a history of white supremacy and black oppression, I always knew that racial differences exist and are becoming problematic yet again in other countries including the United States of America. I had heard of people saying there are way too many racial issues in this country, I am fortunate so far to have never came across any racial prejudice but this has impacted my stay in this country in other ways. I am one person who loves having the television playing in the background when I study and often I’d be drawn by a racial incident involving a white cop and a black child, or some comment made to the Muslims / Mexican people. I can always feel the hair on my back stand up every time I see a police car; I am terrified to even help people in the street because the popular belief is that black people aren’t capable of any good deed. When I walk around campus, seeing Muslim students my heart aches with pain because I can almost smell their fear due to the current political climate that is building up in the country.

Hearing about how innocent people are killed and mistreated because of their race, religion, sexual orientation etc really boils my blood and it gives me even more motive to encourage people to travel more often and to connect with people outside their race, religion, tribe and country. And you probably asking yourselves why I’m talking about racial issues well let me take you out of the curiosity box: our scholarship program exists for cultural exchange, academic reasons and building relationships. It is important that we as beneficiaries of this program go back to our home countries and erase all this myths and stereotypes that exist in our own families and societies about other people.

I feel that it is now our responsibility to create world peace, honestly we cannot change the globe at once but if each and everyone one of us touches their society eventually the entire globe will see the light. Sometimes people are not even aware of their discriminating comments, not because they are ignorant but simply because they are not informed and were never exposed to a different group of people. We have been afforded the opportunity to learn about 13 different countries, their cultures, the traditions and their belief about other people-what now ? Now you go back home and be an ambassador for a world free of discrimination & the elimination of any supremacy.

The world is big enough for everyone to live in harmony and peace, without fear of being mistreated or killed for being different.

Post written by Ramaabele Millicent Mabotha, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, South Africa

Time

I have always wanted to experiment with something new; something meaningful for my life, something that changes who I am.

Moises Gomez, Photo by Vanesa de la Cruz

My experience with the CCI has been more than amazing. The people, culture, and the continuous learning experiences have been part of this journey that I call “life”.

During this process, I have become more receptive to the details and important things in my life. Before, I thought that I was living, but, I was just in a rush to obtain the things that I wanted. I was always focused on my dreams, and never enjoyed the journey to obtain them.

When I let go of my anxiety about the future, in that moment, and just in that moment, I opened my eyes. Before, I couldn’t see the things that were around me, and I totally forgot to live my life, because I was always trying to achieve my dreams no matter at what cost.

Being here has made me realize that the most important thing is to not only just achieve a dream, but, to enjoy the journey. Doing what I love brings happiness to my life. As Steve Jobs said “your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do a great work is to love what you do”.

This program, that brought me outside of my comfort zone, took me from what I know to the unknown, and helped me to realize that dreams can be achieved. The process won’t be easy, and maybe there will be failures and doubts, but, at the end, what matters is not how fast we can achieve our goals, it’s about how we live during the journey.

Your time to live is limited, so don’t waste it. Our life is full of options; what happens today happens because of what we chose in the past.

Post written by Moises Gomez, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Colombia

No need to be colored

Spending 10 months with people you never thought you will see or meet one day. People that you don’t choose to live with. People that you just heard about them through media. When you get to meet them and live with them it is just an awesome experience.

Have you ever asked yourself how it feels to sit by somebody who looks physically different from you?? Without even talking to that person? Yes I made it and did more than that. From Pakistan to Dominican Republic, passing by Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Columbia, Ghana, South Africa, Turkey, Brazil, Yemen, even my own country, Côte D’Ivoire. What a great opportunity.  The best way for our world to come together is to communicate. It is true that it will be difficult the first time but isn’t it true that strength lies in diversity???

These simple things are not really taken into consideration but they are all linked. If only the world can see it. How important it is to learn from each other, regardless the color of the skin, or the differences. We have much more to learn.  We all complete each other. We are divided because we don’t understand. Let’s just take a little bit of our time to know each other. We just need to be open minded, we need to get out of our box to see how awesome it is to learn other culture.

Post written by Adjoke Therese Babalola, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Côte D’Ivoire

Share the Love

Sharing is caring. CCI Program has given me the opportunity to experience this beautiful phrase through volunteering. I have witnessed how American loves to give back to the community and to help those in need. There are people who are willing to sacrifice their time, energy, mind, and even money to put smiles on somebody’s else face.

As CCI participant we are required to do minimum 125 hours of volunteering, therefore I and some friends signed up to help Alexandria Dept. of Community and Human Services last year, December 11th-14th, distributing Christmas presents for low-income families.

I was amazed of the number of presents were delivered to the office. There were literally more than 1000 boxes and bags filled up with things. I and some other volunteers were marking and counting the presents, we put them in different sections based on their numbers to make it easy for us to find them when the listed families came to take them the next few days. More and more presents were delivered each day by those who signed up as donors. Little children came with their parents holding small boxes they had helped wrapping to be given to people they never even met before. There were new and beautiful bicycles coming in ready to be taken away to make other small children happy, Christmas trees and its ornaments to lighten up some more houses, jackets and gloves to warm some more people during winter, and many other things.

The fact that the donors didn’t even know the people they have been assigned to help personally but still they joyfully spent their time, energy, and money to brighten up those people’s holidays just really touched my heart. The donors simply registered through the office’s website, then they were given lists of families they could choose to help. Some of them even did more than one families. They received lists of things the family needed and then they started shopping, wrapping and delivering them to the office. Later on, the families came to the office to take them. We as the volunteers helped around to carry the things out for the families and to load them into their cars. I really enjoyed the work I did during those four days since I was able to witness the joy expressed on those people’s faces especially the children when they got new bikes or other cool stuffs. Even the donors came in happily with bags and boxes knowing that some people would have merrier Christmas or happier holidays time this year.


Volunteering has been a great learning process for me and also an eye opener of how much an individual or group of people can do to make better life for everybody else. What you do matters, you can choose to either put sulk or smile on other’s face. For me a smile it is.

Post written by Picessylia Anakay, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Indonesia

Building Peace In A Diverse Society

“What we have to do… is to find a way to celebrate our diversity and debate our differences without fracturing our communities”. Hillary Clinton.

The above-mentioned quote perfectly portrays a beautiful image of the American society and its culture. In this modern era where developed nations are doing research to shift mankind on the other planets from the planet earth, and on the same time nations of third world countries are still struggling for their basic needs of their life like, education, food, health, gender discrimination, women empowerment, injustice and rule of law is different for poor and rich. Although it is the responsibility of the state to equally facilitate its citizen with these all basic needs of life, but since the economy of the state is not stable, since its own expenses are managed through taking loans from international banks, how a country can do that? In the process of development and economic stability, a country has to face many external and internal challenges and currently, one of the main internal problems in my country is diversity which became weakness and a threat for its stability and economic development. When a nation is united, diversity can be power and when we split into groups then diversity become a threat to the stability of the country.

Growing up in a place where conflicts between religious and political groups are routine of daily life and being minority receiving threats from powerful groups is also a big challenge. During my studies, I have moved a lot inside my country and these conflicts vary from region to region. In some places, religious radicalism is the main element and in other parts, political division is one of the main reasons which divides our nation into minor groups. Personally, getting into trouble due to these issues were making me think about how and when we will be able to build peace in our society. Stories from developed countries were always fascinating me, and I was curious to see it personally that how these big states like the US, Canada, European countries and other developed countries are dealing with these challenges which are more diversified than the countries where we live in.

Today, I am lucky enough to experience few amazing months of my life with these cool minded people and this would never had happened without this great opportunity of CCI Exchange Program. Living with the fellows from twelve countries, sessions arranged on peace-building, visits to historical places like the Newseum, and through presentations on historical figures of black community, their continuous struggle for their rights gave me an insight about how these countries succeeded to build a peaceful environment for all the citizens with disregards their colors, beliefs, cast and nationality. From these all different experiences, I came up with few of the main findings which can help us in moving towards building a peaceful, safe, fearless and a happy environment for all the people in our countries including minorities.

First, Politics, secular education, and religion are three different things, and if all these institutions work within their limits then it can be helpful in building harmony and peace. Just educating the students and making familiar with these institutions is not a problem, but in developing countries, religious and political organizations are more influential and by using their powers these groups have damaged our education system very badly. Besides that, these both groups are the main reason for creating conflicts inside our educational institutions which further leads these conflicts on a higher level. Therefore, the involvement of these groups need to be discouraged inside educational institutions and instead of that, these institutions should provide different platforms for the youth to keep them engage in educational, positive and healthy activities.

Second, all the religions teach basic principle of humanity, but when we take our beliefs at extreme level, and when we try to impose our thoughts on other instead of convincing them or making them understand though a logical discussion or by inspiring them through our behavior and good deeds, and when we stop giving respect to others beliefs then it becomes a disaster in the process of building a peaceful society, which further becomes the one of the main barrier towards the development of a nation as whole.

Third, think tanks around the globe can easily predict the future any country through the engagement of its youth in different activities. Since we don’t have enough opportunities through government to keep our youth in positive activities, but being responsible citizens of the country, communities should provide platforms for their own youth to keep them engage in positive and healthy activities. It’s a saying “Evil comes into mind when we stay idle”. These positive activities will further lead our youth to make connections with like-minded people from other communities who will be engaging in the same kind of activities.

Further, “Diversity is the art of thinking independently together” Malcolm Forbes. Since my graduation, I have studied so many subjects in different institutions, but I have never studied something about diversity and its importance. Instead of that, we have focused on our own group “Sects” which has divided our society into minor groups. We start to introduce our self with the cast, region, province, and finally, if we don’t say something our beliefs, people will surely interrogate me which is totally  a personal matter, and if we found some religious differences then we must have some negative stereotypes regarding their beliefs and  unfortunately it’s because we have sown the seeds of hate which made this diversity our weakness, but it can be our power when we become unite like other nations and for that purpose, we should start educating people regarding the importance of diversity and peace building.

Additionally, Intercommunity exchange programs can play a vital role in building understanding between different communities. If I am living with a fear of being convinced by others beliefs, then there is something wrong in my own faith. We should not hesitate to learn about something new, we should not worry about sharing our thoughts and if there are differences we should give respect to them and something inspiring we should take it from them. Being an exchange student, I am living with the fellows from twelve difference countries, we have so many differences in religions, culture, food, and different living style, but still we had so many things in common and we cherish those common things together and we give respect for the differences we have and actually these differences makes our group more colorful and interesting. It’s just been few months that we were strange fellows from different countries and now I consider them like my new family “the NOVA CCI Family” where we share our joy and we support each other when we have problems.

In conclusion, building peace in a society, where enmity has rooted so deep, is very challenging but still giving up is not a solution. So, I will recommend everyone to be open mind and try to experience and learn new things through meeting with people with different thoughts and opinions. Tolerance and patience are important things while discussing on differences among us so we could have a constructive conversation instead of destructive and prefer to discuss the common things we have instead of differences, which will help us to bring more close to each other. The more unite we are the stronger we will be as a nation and vice versa.

Post written by Naik Alam, CCI participant at NOVA, 2016-2017, Pakistan

Finding Inner Light

Namaste. Tu kaise hei? Me teek hu. Dhanyavaad.

So I had to learn how to say some basics in Hindi because it seems that, for almost everyone who meets me by the first time, I am Indian. People literally have come to me and said “Namaste,” or suddenly start speaking in Hindi. I usually said “Namaste” as well, but then I explain that I am not Indian, that I am Colombian. Then they apologize, but what they don’t understand is that there is nothing to apologize for. For me, it is a pleasure to be call Indian.

With this, I do not mean I am not proud of being Colombian. In fact, I am a proud Latina and I would not have wanted to be born anywhere else in the world. I just like the fact that people think I am Asian. By the way, Indian girls are beautiful, why would I be upset by that? Haha!!

Before coming to USA, I was already really interested in Indian culture, traditions, religion, movies and music. I remember taking dancing classes where the music was Indian and watching movies of this handsome guy who cooks delicious Indian dishes. I never thought I was going to meet real Indians, and that I was going to be taken as one.

Each October, the Indians and some Pakistanis Celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, one of their major festivals. Since my friends knew I love immersing in new cultures, they planned to invite me to go with them to the temple. I delightedly accepted, I love the idea of “the victory of light over darkness.” But, they not only took me to the temple, they also made me look just like one of them.
The preparations started about three hours early. I first did not understand why would it take that long, but then I came to know. Nilo, from North India, provided me the Sari, some Jewelry and a matching yellow Kum Kum (that I still have kept in a safe place). Nimmy, from South India, took me to her room and we started the complicated process or making me look as close as a real Indian. Some baby powder here and there, little perfume, a nice makeup and pink lips, smooth hair and all the jewelry on. The Sari was the hardest part; I will try to describe it in two words: safety pins. Nimmy spent like 12 safety pins in my Sari, but she is just so good at it that she made it look perfect. It had some folds in one of my shoulders that fell down to one of my hips. After the Sari, minimal retouches were needed and we were ready to go. The night before,
Nimmy applied Mehndi in one of my hands.

While Nimmy, Nilo and Naveen (who is from Pakistan), were helping me to get ready (or basically doing everything for me), I felt like I was part of something bigger. They made me feel like a part of their cultures, they taught me how to behave, how to move, how to act. They told me stories of their lives and their cultures while we were alone. I felt really close to them, and the feelings I experienced are hard to describe: I was just so special but so common at the same time.

Then, the guys came to pick the three of us up. I was concern about how people were going to react. What if they did not like me acting like one of them? My anxiety was getting bigger the closest we were to the temple. Once there, we removed our shoes at the entrance, washed our hands, and went inside. I never saw anything like that before. It was full of colors, people wearing beautiful and elaborated clothes, smells, and representations of different Gods.

My friends always indicated me how to act, how to pray and what to say to people. I think anybody noticed that I was not and Indian, thanks to my friend’s instructions. We went to each God, we prayed sometimes and we sat on the floor for a while. I was feeling delicate and protected. I was comfortable with myself. Indians and Pakistanis are friendly and kind, they gave us sweets and a lot of smiles.

Once in home, they cooked some Indian traditional food. I did not want to remove the Sari, I wanted to keep it on because I was feeling so different; out of my comfort zone, but I was enjoying it. Eventually I did, and the process of removing was almost as hard as putting it.

I am sure my Indian and Pakistani friends do not know yet how meaningful that experience was for me. It was a real immersion. I am glad they made me feel one of them, because sometimes is good to be someone else. I feel bless to be able to discover and experience all these different traditions, and to learn from them. If you are reading this guys, thank you! That day was unforgettable, you may not understand how much, but it was. You taught me how big and open-minded love and friendship can be. This festival truly brought lights to my life.

We do not have to forget who we were to learn who we are, or to leave an open door to who we would be. I am Colombian, I like to be Indian sometimes, and I have no idea what would I be tomorrow. But I am willing to discover it. And my mind is as open as my heart.

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

Experience the CCI Program through the voices of the students