All posts by syirenkyi

Food Brings Us Together

Being a part of the CCI program has been a great privilege for me. Learning about American Culture was just the beginning. The diverse group of participants from all over the world has opened me up to new and exciting experiences! The various cultures opened my mind to new ways of thinking and learning. Each participant coming from fourteen different countries from around the world all had their own way of expressing themselves and teaching about their culture. But there is one thing that we all could be brought together for and that is food!

Mici and her friends enjoying food together!

I have always had healthy appetite for the spiciest of foods. Sambal is a staple and not everyone appreciates it as much as I do. While I was down with my boyfriend, I prepared it for him to try. He coughed as the smoky peppers filled the air. He tried my Sambal and enjoyed it. He wanted to share with me his American food. This was around Thanksgiving time, so he invited me to join in in preparing a traditional feast. We skinned sweet potatoes, prepared the turkey, I made Watergate salad, made the green beans, and mashed potatoes. His specialty was these sweet potatoes that were covered in sticky brown sugar. I loved them so much!

Mici cooking with her boyfriend

While living in the apartment with other friends, we loved to encourage each other to explore each other’s dishes too! I enjoyed exploring new foods and expanding my taste in foods from other cultures. I found Indian food to be next for me to explore. I attempted to make some basic Indian food with my good friend, Rashi. She taught me how to make Roti and Potatoes and peas curry. It was very tasty! I had experienced Indian food before in Singapore but never had the opportunity to try making it on my own.

Mici learning how to make Indian food

My housemates came from all over the globe and they all brought with them amazing food for me to learn and enjoy. They came from South Africa, Ghana, Bangladesh, India and Indonesia. We all loved sharing and teaching how to prepare all sorts of our home cuisines. I learned how to make Briyani and Samai (Vermicelli) which was a sweet dish from Bangladesh. I love making all of them as much as enjoyed eating them!

We grew very close and I am very grateful for the diversity that CCI program had. It made a very large impact on how I view and learn to respect other cultures. I enjoyed this time and I will keep it in my mind and heart for the rest of my life.

 

Post written by Mici Maniagasi, a 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Indonesia

My First . . .

Sometimes things come to us in an unexpected way. The CCI Program was one of them. I wanted to go to America and study. It was possible only if I had money. The CCI Program gave me the opportunity to come to America for FREE. It still sounds like a dream for me.

After coming to America, it took 6 months for me to accept that I am in America. Before coming to America, I made my plans about what I will do over there. When I was selected, other people in my society came to know about it. From that point I was treated differently. I was treated as someone who is very smart and who knows everything (I felt like a president). People started asking advice for them to me as if I was an expert.

Simran and her CCI colleagues at the 2020 Pathways to Success Mid-Year Program in Washington, D.C.

When I met my CCI colleagues and other people, they seemed to have a different mind- set and knowledge. Even people from same countries have different level of thinking. I explored that there is so much more to learn. CCI Program gave me an opportunity to learn on a big platform. Every day, I am learning something new. We share our culture with each other. It is really fun for me to know others culture. Every culture have their own way of expressing, communicating and different ways to look at the situation. I also learned people from different culture hold different beliefs. After knowing more things, I became more open-minded person. I felt like I was changing every day.

Volunteering in the local community.

I do not like changes. But I cannot resist how CCI Program is changing and shaping me in a better way. I got chances to know myself in many ways. One pillar of CCI Program is volunteering. I was scared to do volunteering. I lack from self-confidence. I thought I won’t be able to do that. I was scared of taking task during volunteering. I did my first volunteering at “Around the World Food Festival.” During that volunteering, I had to take initiatives. I was scared of taking initiative because I thought I won’t success. I discovered that I performed very well in my task. I overcome my fear of taking initiative. I became more confident about myself. That one volunteering changed my assumptions about myself. I started taking more initiatives by doing more volunteering. Now, I am no more scared to take initiatives.

Cultural Exchange: Sharing about India during NOVA’s International Education week

This was my first time facing my fear alone. In the past, I used to cry when I was couldn’t succeed and I try to avoid the situations. I used to hold a lot of assumptions about myself. And I believed those assumptions were the truth about me, rather than facing my fears and creating the truth about myself. I thought maybe running from that problem will solve my problem. But actually, it never did. I learnt that running from the situation is not the solution. In order to know whether I am capable of doing tasks, it is actually engaging in the tasks and not making perception about my capability.

 

Post written by Simran Gala, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from India

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.

Conferences as a Medium of Learning and Growing

Presenters discussing girls education

One of the things I like about America is, here, people like to research on different topics and then share it with other people at a conference. So if you have interest on particular subject, you will find various conferences or workshops on that subject which helps a lot to know more about recent studies. Being so close to Washington DC, we get more chances to attend conferences and the best part is, some of them are free for students! Last week I attended a conference on “Girls’ Education Research and Policy Symposium” at Brookings Institution. I was overwhelmed when I found one of the guest speakers Kazi Nasrin Siddiqa was from my country, Bangladesh. I also met some other Bangladeshi people there and that was an amazing feeling to be with some people from the same country who also have passion in the same field.

I found people who work in Bangladesh!

In the conference, they focused on girls education from an early age to their working age. Three different people from three different countries are working to empower women in three sections such as early childhood education, science education for teenagers, and practical education for job. As I am studying Early Childhood Education, my main focus was on this area which I believe will help me in my career in various aspects. But the concepts presented about girls education blew away my mind and made me think more practically. I especially like when the speakers talked about the obstacles they faced and how did they overcome them. Their experience will help me to work on my project in the future.

Along with learning, conferences are a great opportunity for networking. If you look properly you may find the perfect person who can be your mentor or may help you with your dream profession. I also found people who works with my favorite NGO’s and working in my field of study. So next time, if you go to any event like this, you should focus on networking and do not forget to take your business card with you. Because Porter Gale said, “Your networking is your net worth”. Hope all of you attend various conferences to increase your knowledge and networking through this whole CCI journey.

Post written by Ayesha Akter, CCI 2019-2020 participant from Bangladesh

Educational Tours

CCI NOVA Participants at Arlington Independent Media.

 A holistic education is not all about books but includes extra curricular activities like educational tours, and field trips. It reduces stress, gives one the opportunity to explore and learn new things, and get new experiences. The CCI Program also includes field trips which gives us the opportunity to learn more about the American history, culture and visit places.

When learning is accompanied by fun, excitement, and enjoyment, it makes it interesting. After a hectic week with a lot of assignments, the CCI Participants get the chance to go for educational tours mostly on Fridays. This helps us to have fun, reduce our stress, boost our energy, and prepare us for a new week.

CCI NOVA Participants visit Virginia Senator Kaine’s office in Washington, D.C.

An educational tour to new places is not just a fun get-away. It is about exploring new environment and learning new things. It empowers us with new ideas and enhanced perspective to look at things and become more open minded. Our visit to Harper’s Ferry-West Virginia made me learned a lot that day. One thing that surprised me the most was that John Brown’s Fort was moved from a different location to its current location. I never thought a building could be moved from one location to another.

 

CCI NOVA Participants at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

When we go for educational tour, I get the opportunity to observe and experience many things. When we visited the Native American Museum, I found out a lot of interesting things about their history and culture. I got the chance to see their traditional wear, arts, and food.

The educational trips have helped me to make memorable experiences and got deep knowledge in various aspect of my life.

Post written by Veronica Owusu, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Ghana. 

My Experience Using US Public Transportation

I used to take public transportation to go to campus or other places when I was in college in my country. When I read one of the rules in CCI Program that participants were not allowed to drive a car or any vehicle, as someone who did not know how to drive at all, it’s not a big problem for me. Otherwise, I was so excited to experience US public transportation.

The first day I came to US, Sarah Yirenkyi, our program coordinator, gave us one folder with one Smartrip card inside. It is a rechargeable card that we can use to pay the bus or metro. We need to tap it on the machine on a bus or metro station. On the first day of orientation, Sarah picked us up with a van to go to campus. Then, she taught us how to use maps and trip planner for bus. In other words, that was the last time she picked us up to go to campus. We had to learn how to take bus by ourselves.

Sarah Yirenkyi explaining the bus route on the orientation.

My first time to take bus was hilarious. I and my friends were still confused how to use the WMATA app. We had not known the direction to campus and which bus we should take. All buses looked the same for us. All eyes were on the apps trying to solve this confusing route.

Me and CCI Program Participants waiting for the bus.

 

As days go by, I finally figure out how to take bus by myself. Beside WMATA app, I also use Google Maps or Transit. They are probably the first apps I look up in every morning. These apps are very helpful. When you type your destination, it will show you the number of bus or the color of metro you should take, which bus stop you should wait at, and when it will arrive. I must be on the bus stop earlier or I will miss the bus. There were many times I had to run because I saw the bus was coming and I had not reached the bus stop yet. Thankfully, the bus drivers here are so nice. If they see you running, they would definitely wait for you.

My first time to watch Baseball game at Nationals Park

During my first 2 months here in America, by using public transportation, I learn a lot the value of punctuality. If I cannot manage my time well, I will miss the bus, another 20 minutes will be wasted to wait another bus, and I will be late for following activities on my schedule. Leeza Fernand, the Associate Director of the Community College Consortium, once said, “In the US, if you are in time, you are on time. But if you are on time, it means you are late.” I remember this and take this as my principle to manage my time and be punctual on every occasion. Because I believe being punctual means respecting my commitment and people whom I will meet.

Post written by Aninda Nurul Hadijah – CCI 2019-2020 Participant from Indonesia.

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

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

Antelope Canyon: Beauty of Colors

Wow! amazing! I toured the Antelope Canyon in Page, Arizona! It was quite a wonderful experience!.

Thanks to Mid-Year Retreat and Pathway to Success Program offered by CCI Consortium and the U.S Department of State, the six-day long Arizona tour becomes greatly remarkable with all high standard workshops again memorable with all these amazing landscapes.

The program includes touring four of the top-rated tourist spots-Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Cathedral Rock and Grand Canyon.

Lake Powell Reservoir, one of the premier boating destinations in the world, was right next to our first resort. I did not miss a single chance to appreciate its prepossessing beauty every moment I stayed there.

Roads in Arizona offer so scenic riding opportunities that you feel yourself lucky enough having a window seat in bus. But here today I write about my experience in Antelope Canyon.

It was astounding to see the beauty created by the force of flash floods and howling winds through the Canyon. Truly, I was immensely impressed.

Our guide made our whole experience so enjoyable, it wouldn’t have been the same without her guidance.
She showed us the many special sculptures within the Canyon created by nature itself. She sincerely helped us to capture the beautiful images perfectly on our camera.

Masud at the entrance of Antelope Canyon

I attended the lower canyon tour Tuesday, January 8, 2019. We took a jeep driven by our guide to get in the destination.
It was a sunny and beautiful day with no snow or rain.

At the entrance of the canyon our tour guide excellently provided a ton of information and details, not only about the canyon itself and how it was discovered and formed, but also the surrounding areas.

A canyon view close to the entrance

Once you have entered the canyon, the walk through the narrow passageways makes you feel thrilled. The place seemed to be dark at the beginning of the walk as the eyes take some time to adjust to rather dim lighting levels.

But after a while you find that all the canyons were always open to the sky and there is enough light to see the passage. The walks through the canyons were not very long or difficult.

It was amusing to witness inside the canyon what wind and water can do to rock.
The canyon and their walls have been carved very smoothly. We explored it and walked through them comfortably.
My friends and I really love what nature has done to these landscapes.

The guide is a skilled photographer and knows all about camera and Android/Apple phones. She captured awesome photos of ours and various sections in the canyon from different angels and taught us the perfect ways for capturing photos there. 
I learn from her that first and foremost task is to make some vital adjustments to camera settings before the click.

Looking up from the bottom of Antelope Canyon

The location really is a photographic gem. The texture on the walls of this natural canyon is incredible. 
A photo titled “Phantom” taken here by Landscape photographer Peter Lik was sold for $6.5 million to a private collector in November 2014.

The last part is walking back to the plain land to get in the vans to return us to our tour buses. She said “No more photos in way back. We now see it for ourselves”.

Another charm was there the route between mountains as they are everywhere in Arizona.
The hills were covered by the snow that turns them looking huge pile of white snow from some angels.

I believe the canyon is truly one of God’s finest creations! The tour was unbelievable. Our tour guide (wish I could remember her name) provided us with excellent narration and a rich history of the canyon.

Some of the “sculptures” created by the wind in Antelope Canyon

I consider this as one of the MOST enjoyable tour I have made so far.

Post written by Md Masud  from Bangladesh, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria.