All posts by syirenkyi

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.