Tag Archives: alumni

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 Life After CCI Program: Choice and Surprise

I write this because I want to share my experience and thoughts during the few weeks before my returning home and how I made a different path during my transition back to my hometown in Indonesia after the program. As our time was reaching the verge and going home was such a good news, there was one thing left in my mind: finding a better job. I had no a clear idea about what kind of job was a better job. Some of us thought the job should be with a higher position and a higher salary as the title of American School Alumni in our hometown was appealing and worth bigger incentive. Actually graduated from CCI program is a really big thing in a way that equips us with better skills,  more experience and stronger resume, so there was nothing to worry about, but I also knew I was worried if I failed to have what-so-called a better career.

This fear about failures nestled like a bad dream night and day before my departure day. It made me perceive going back home would be stories of failures. But there were times I pulled up in between. I tried to pause and take some time to think. I asked myself some fundamental questions, like why do I have to pursue a career? Is that because other people pursue a career, so I should do the same thing? Or is it because I want to do something that I like and worth doing? If so, do I have to set up myself a standard for a better career that is coined from their opinion? It was not easy to figure out a single answer. Even until now I’m still craving the better one.

There’s one thing that came in my mind, I could not let myself live a life I did not want to live, so I decided that I had to start to emancipate from the mentality that lived other people’s expectations and tried to know myself better. The takeaway is that we really do not have any obligation to think about anybody’s will to us, not even ours if it just causes us mental pressure. I knew I had got everything I needed to go home and to do better things for my career and my life. I believed I had been prepared enough to deal with any challenge after the program and would still be myself, not anybody else. That’s the bottom line.

***

The early days of my arrival, there was more reunions and a lot of questions from people about my life experience in the United States. Some organizations invited me to speak in their event or write my experience for their social media content. On top of that I returned to my previous job in the news media company. I saw this as a better choice. I worked again as a radio announcer in the town. But this time it had to be different. I told the management that I wanted to direct and design my own program and they approved my proposal.

A social project interview with the organization staff

I got a good chance to do what I had learned during the program and it was one good opportunity to create more opportunities. The program was a radio talk show which hosted people working in startup business in the town. These fellows had done very excellent works for the digital business development in the town. They said they were excited to attend the show – of course primarily for their product promotion. I could make good connections with them as well. By then I enjoyed that job more than before.

Makassar Bangga radio talk show with the Floating School Organization

***

I decided to resign from the radio company after about four months. I wanted a job in a more reputable media company in Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. It is the biggest English newspaper company in the nation. If I could succeeded it, it would be a big leap in my professional career. Long story short, I failed one of the tests. I felt disappointed and terrified since the job was my biggest dream upon completing my CCI. I studied my failure, having an appealing resume was not enough. One should be able to demonstrate their skill and leave the employer to have no choice but to hire them. I promised to myself, sooner or later I will return to the newspaper and make my better skill an offer they cannot refuse.

The secret is failure is an important stop in our life. Like Newton’s law of motion, sometimes we must come to that point in order to leave it behind and move forward. If someone does not move, they will never move from there and will remain there forever, unless they decide to move themselves by working it out all the way they can. Failure leaves a crucial interval in our life path to meditate and contemplate things that we need to do so we deserve what we want. I used the interval to work in different job and get more experience. Therefore I preferred to work in different institutions as a freelance reporter, a content writer and a translator/interpreter. My experience as an internship staff writer in one of the student-run newspapers in Virginia had built my confidence to do more jobs in writing area.

I worked in NGO Save the Children that focused on family welfare and children education in my hometown. Someone recommended me. That was a fruit of making connections with different people. Getting a job does not always mean one has to pass a series of test, but sometimes knowing somebody who has a big contribution in the institution and recognizes your credibility are enough to get you hired. They assigned me for their publication project as a content writer. They sometimes had extra jobs for me like a note taker in their conference or a trainer in their teaching project, so I could earn extra income from it. I knew I did not earn as much salary as it was usually expected to American school graduate in my hometown, but there was just something different I knew I needed and I thought it was not really money. It is very relative. To know yours, you have to ask yourself.

Speaking in a seminar themed better education opportunity and waste management to school student in coastal town of Selayar.

The project target was for a group of community who lived close to a waste disposal area in the town. The job allowed me to have more time for books and more traveling which were good things. My co-workers recommended me different books in different fields related to our project, like social justice, more fictional books and IT. Freelance job is inclusive, diverse in professionalism and fun in a way people have different backgrounds and inclined to the principle of sharing ideas in order to discover new ideas. They are also working everywhere, so you can reach them from anywhere.

At seminar themed better education opportunity and waste management to school student in coastal town of Selayar

With my team I worked on some interviews with mothers aged 15 – 20 and children who lost chance to study at school because they had to collect plastics from the disposal area almost every day. That’s the only way they knew they could survive their life with their family. Consequently I spent longer time to visit the disposal area during the period. I wrote their stories and worked with some designers to put them together for the organization’s magazine publication. Working with them was the real new leap in my career. I thought I would enjoy the job longer after almost two months I should move abroad.

***

Currently I work for a tech company in Malaysia. I have not so much thing to tell about it because I am still in the middle of this odyssey. The most important thing is I have chosen to live this life the way I want it to be and am always ready to be surprised with anything that will happen anytime. Good and bad episode equally share parts along the road. If it’s bad, I will never feel guilty, not to mention blame other people. I know the choices I make and what to do with them.

Life is full of choices and surprises. Like CCI and other preceding working experience I had, my current job is a surprise I never thought before I would have. I am completely a new person to people in this country and I have more time to mingle with them and enjoy their typical culture diversity. If I might say, doing different things and meeting and listening to stories from different people are more valuable than any other incentive I can ever receive. I do not know exactly why, but it just feels it evokes compassion in my life and tells me that in that way I always have a life to live and so I can contribute something to that life.

Post written by Muhammad Arham, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Indonesia.

We have more things to learn than to teach

“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.

Dr. Syedur Rahman and Vanesa

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:


Vanesa and the other alumni with Dr. Syedur Rahman

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.

Vanesa, Sabinga, Analú , Pradeep, Sharon, and Jaya

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.

Vanesa with Eylül and Analú

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

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.

US Exchange Alumni Conferences

From November 8th and 9th, a 2 days US Exchange Alumni Conferences organized by the US embassy in Abidjan took place at Belle Côte Hotel – Abidjan. More than 200 Ivorian beneficiaries and former scholars who have been to the United States or have benefited from educational programs funded by the US Department of States are taking part in this conference. These are the Fulbright and Humphrey programs; the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the International Visitors Program (IVLP); the Community College Initiative Program (CCI Program); the Study of U.S. Institutes program (SUSI), and many others. As a CCI Program alumni, I was indeed invited to participate too.

 

These conferences were marked by panels that was moderated by former Fellows and focus on topics such as: English language learning, entrepreneurship promotion, women’s empowerment, civic engagement, promotion of good governance, health, and human rights. I was personally happy to meet all these Alumni to talk about all the opportunities of the CCI Program and to discuss with them about good governance and transparency, fostering inclusive economic growth, supporting security sector reform, and improving the health system and education system in Côte d’Ivoire.

Post written by Soma Ismael Bola, CCI Participant at NOVA-Alexandria 2016-2017, Côte d’Ivoire

The Opportunity That Changed My Life!

jeidiGrowing up as a young girl it has been my lifelong dream to travel to the United States and experience other peoples culture and way of education. I did not know how or when it would happen and stop being a dream to become a reality. Luckily for me, the opportunity was presented to me at the least expected moment. God surprised me in a supernatural way. When I received the wonderful news, I was the happiest woman in the world. Every day before the trip what more I  did was look at pictures of where I would live and the college where I was going to study. You can imagine how happy I was.

Challenge In America
One of my biggest challenges in the US was using my English. I was not used to speaking English as I have always communicated in Spanish. My English was not very advanced and I was afraid to make mistakes when speaking, and that people did not understand me. But my English was not as bad as I thought, most people liked it. However, people were very patient to pay attention and help me when I needed. Over the months my English was getting better and better.

Special friendship I made
It would be hard to name a few because I consider I had a good relationship with all CCI participants in Virginia. But I would like to highlight  some people who were always with me and I could build a very strong bond of friendship. Sandra Appiah from Ghana, she was my sweet roommate. She never missed a smile on her face. Sandra always cared of me and I cared for her. Moreen Kajuju from Kenya, with her I had a very pleasant time. We used to go shopping together, cook together, travel together, and sometimes advise each other. The other one is Melisa Múnera from Colombia (Medellin). She is a very lovely person, she was always there for what I needed. That person which dried my tears when I passed difficult moments in my personal life.
sandra-gana-20160524_142535

Housemates
I could not ask for more. I had the best housemates ever. I’m very glad to have known them and have had them as my sisters during my stay in the United States. Charmaine (South Africa), Yuli (Indonesia), Luiza (Brazil), Moreen (Kenya) and Sandra (Ghana). They are the best.

jeidi-roommates

My Favorite Part
Every single day during my stay in the States were my favorites. Knowing I was living and experiencing a completely different life from mine including seasons, new people, new places, new culture and costumes, it just made my days very specials. I have had the opportunity to experience fall, winter and spring which was amazing. It was my first time seeing the leaves fall from the trees, the snow fall from the sky decorating the streets and seeing flowers bloom with beautiful colors, it was very enriching for me. During my time there (January 1st) was my first time of  being in a beach. Yes, my first time I was in Siesta Beach, Florida.
Lastly, I can’t forget to tell about of one of my last trip with my CCI family. We went to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg and I broke the fear of being in a roller coaster for the first time. Those ones, really were two of my best experiences during my journey! I had many more but if I write them down here I wont finish.

jeidi-cover-photo

Having such an amazing opportunity to have these experiences not only with American culture but also with thirteen different cultures from all around the world changed my life. I am grateful to all CCI NOVA participants and the two excellent coordinators Jaclyn & Kelly. Without them my experience in the United States would not have been as wonderful and unforgettable as it was.

Post written by Yeidy Daniela Rivas Carabali, CCI Participant at NOVA 2015-2016, Colombia