Category Archives: Current Student

Sharing the Dominican Culture with the Girl Scouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking forward for March!

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

 

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

Second inspiration by CCI that is going to affect my life!

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 meeting.

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.

Eylül with other CCI NOVA participants

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.


Eylül with CCI Alumni: Pradeep (India), Vanesa (Colombia) , and Sabinga (Kenya)

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!


Eylül with Vanesa de la Cruz,2016-2017 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale from Colombia

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!


Eylül and Berke (Turkey) with NOVA CCI staff.

Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü  from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

About those old fashioned concepts

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.

On a visit to the Manassas National Battlefield

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.

In Washington, DC

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.

Roger and Eylül from Turkey

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.

Roger and Carlos in Harpers Ferry, WV with John Sedlins, retired Branch Officer at the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Post written by Roger Alexander Hincapie from Colombia, 2018-19 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

The end of the first semester, my first 5 months abroad and the beginning of a new chapter in my life

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.

Marlin with Kelly Forbes, the CCI coordinator for the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College.

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.

Marlin with the CCI cohorts from the Dominican Republic, who came to visit Washington DC for the winter break.

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.

Marlin on a rainy day in Washington, DC.

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 Best Semester I Could Have Had

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.

Schawany with her housemates Sarah (Egypt) and Helen (Indonesia)

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.

PEACEBUILDING CONFERENCE & CONFLICT MANAGEMENT

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.

Sibusiso as a volunteer at the Alliance for Peacebuilding Annual Conference

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.

Sibusiso with Lual Mayen, Founder of Junub Games.

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.

Thanksgiving with a traditional American family!

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.

HOME AWAY FROM HOME

Getting ready to go down to a place where no relation is going to be close yet it’s going to be your HOME was one I feared. Certainly I needed to let go and just accept the challenge. Left family, friends, colleagues and customers behind. Brokenhearted! How was I going to make new memories in this new place, AMERICA?

Being home sick was obviously expected yet I tried not to make it evident. Told myself I was going to make the best out of every possible encounter I make. Not long I lost a colleague back home few weeks after I arrived. Was broken. I picked up fast with the notion that it is well. As if that was not enough, I lost my grandmother. Was left in shackles literally and shut down. She was my ultimate testimony of a strong woman who raised her children and grandchildren the best way. Crushed like never before I wanted to leave the program and go back home to Ghana because in as much as I wanted to do this major step for myself and my future, I wanted her to at least witness my come-up. I guess that was the universes’ way of putting things into place and throwing into my face greater challenges. The bait cast to me was a dicey one.

 

Could have changed my mind and gone home if not for some beloveds such as Kelly Forbes who was much more soothing than I thought. Every lady in my apartment also played a major role in keeping me on my feet in the CCI program.

Abigail with her CCI friends

Emily Miller who is my social host has been one of the amazing people I have come across here in the United States and also being a participant of the CCI Program. That be said, I have been here only few months and I have experienced love and joy in a more different way. Together as a duo we have been to a fashion exhibition in Washington DC which was awesome. Had the chance to interact with other designers who came to showcase their clothing and arts. Had an American meal in one restaurant in DC, loved it. We ran in the rain like kids and it felt like sisterhood. Had the chance of shopping and cooking with Emily and during these moments I had this feeling of her being my mom. She made me belong openly without any barrier.

Abigail and Emily

Working as a volunteer in her office gave me the opportunity to shadow who exactly she was. Her employees love her for who she is. Emily defines what patience and love for humanity is. Her son Austin is adorable.

There wouldn’t have been any other ways to have felt like I belonged if not for the initiative made by the CCI Program to link us with social hosts. This has made my stay here if not memorable, a delightful experience. Her friends have been very true and sweet to me in diverse ways. We have once had a ladies night where I shared my culture as to how to cook a Ghanaian food and they were gladly interested and willing to help. They came in with gifts for everyone as well. We paired the Ghanaian meal with American side dishes. They tasted yummy together.

Abigail with Emily and her mother.

Post written by Abigail Daitey from Ghana, 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

Feeling Thankful

Right from the start of selection, the thought that kept ringing in my mind was how was I to cope with my stay in the USA. I got selected for the Community College Initiative Program. It is an exchange program organized and sponsored by the US Department of State. It brings together participants from 12 countries who live together to study in selected Community Colleges in the US. The Community College Initiative is founded on five pillars which includes academics, volunteerism, internships, leadership and action planning, and cultural exchange. The pillar of cultural exchange requires us to meet new people through sharing our culture with one another and experiencing other cultures too. My few months of stay in the States has brought me in contact with wonderful people. It has open me up to people with different cultures with whom I interact on a daily basis. Being a Community College Initiative Participant requires you to have special people called social hosts. These people are American citizens that are given to us in order to help us better understand American culture. My social host for this program is Torrian. She is an amazing lady who strives to make me feel at home here in the US. Torrian schedules time most often after work to spend quality time with me. She educates me on issues pertaining to America and how to make the best out of my stay here. She is always there for me when I need her and is ever ready to help. Torrian by far is making my stay in the US enjoyable. In this season of thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude to her. I am thankful for the new family I have got.

Celebrating Kekeli’s birthday at Springfield Town Center

Kekeli and Virdiani with their social host, Torrian

 

Post written by Roseline Kekeli Odzor from Ghana , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.