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).
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.
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.
“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.
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:
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.
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.
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
Do you all remember the moment you heard about CCI? I
still remember the sparkling that I felt. I was sitting in the back of the
classroom and listening about what is CCI and how could we apply? Every
sentence that I heard made me so excited and my eyes wet. I don’t know why, but
I was so hopeful at that moment. I am telling you about back then because I
ensure you, I felt the same thing during the Pathways to Success Program Alumni
We had done lots of things at Pathways to Success Program (PSP). This program was organized for us to keep on fresh and stay motivated as CCI participants. Also, we had a chance to engage with students from other colleges and countries. We heard about their action plans and CCI experience stories of participants that were in the panel. Shortly, all workshops we had were to help us improve ourselves.
I am kind of a person who likes listening success stories, mainly if the story somehow related something that I am trying to achieve in my life. On the 5th day of PSP, we started to hear about some alumni success. I was paying so much attention because I knew that I could find the inspiration that I need for my action plan. Firstly, we learned about Ana Lucia Cole (Costa Rica). She won the AIEF funding with her group, then we saw that Gilbert Sabinga Lekalau (Kenya) found a system to save elephants in his area. Jaya Gulo (Indonesia) helped his community children, providing them with books, bags and other school materials. Mokgadi Sharon Papetswa (South Africa), helped her community by starting a green company and giving the opportunity to women to start their franchised businesses. Pradeep Kumar (India), his NGO became #1 on TripAdvisor website and Vanesa De La Cruz Pavas (Colombia) created a CCI Colombian Alumni Club to stay in touch as alumni while volunteering and helping their community.
Hearing their stories from first hand has given me the
courage to improve my action plan and after hearing them, I already feel filled
with motivation, but as soon as they entered the room; I surprised and amazed.
As I saw them, I felt the same sparkling in my heart as when I heard about the
CCI Program. It is essential to have the same feeling, because that first
sparkling was the reason that I am in the program now. I hope with the second
one I will accomplish what I want from my Action Plan!
I also had a chance to engage with Vanesa. She was the person who inspired me the most. She replied my all questions patiently and sincerely and she made me understand that it isn’t a big deal to fail sometimes. It is important to have the courage to continue. Thank you, Vanesa! Thank you for sharing you story with me, I appreciate it!
I think that almost everyone had lots of fun in Arizona! Meeting with our country people, sharing our memories, making new friends and networking was excellent. I already feel sorry that it ended. I am sure that we all are going to remember everything about it, and I hope we will, also remember the workshops and ideas that CCI has given to us. Those were precious moments that we can’t get at the same time and same place. (Again) Thank you, CCI!
Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
After Christmas, an entire semester in the U.S, and a long time reflecting about the impact that this experience abroad has had in my life, I must admit that I am no longer the person that arrived on that plane, 5 months ago. My personality, my priorities and my mindset have changed and evolved since then, and my concept of what being open-minded means, has had to be redefined a couple of times. That brought me to the conclusion that being open-minded, can actually hurt.
I have observed how many of us in the CCI Program are struggling with it. Understanding the different ways of life, realities, beliefs, and even the manners of our new friends and colleagues has collapsed many walls in our minds, and pushed us to see the world with different eyes. For me, learning and sharing with them has not only been a one-of-a-kind experience, but also a major headache in some occasions.
The cause is not that sharing the apartment or spaces has been a big deal, but sharing our perceptions and going deep into each others views and backgrounds, while trying to get used to a new country and its culture, leaves us in a unique situation, that has been overwhelming in some cases.
Learning about different lifestyles, and especially, bringing down those prejudices that a thousand times I denied having, has been a difficult task, that requires a conscious effort to be done. I am still improving on that field every day, and my goal is to leave all of those obsolete misjudgments and wrong concepts I had, behind.
The biggest lessons that the CCI Program has given me have been occurring out of the classrooms, which was unexpected for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and I hope that every participant in this program can realize this, and really learn, grow and develop, not only in a professional way, but in their personal lives as well, even if thinking out of the box about all of this, leaves us with a bad headache more than once.
Post written by Roger Alexander Hincapie from Colombia, 2018-19 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.