Tag Archives: CCI Program

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

How do you measure the impact of the CCI Program?

I have been a program coordinator for the past four years and it has been an amazing and life changing experience. It’s not without some hesitation that I am leaving, but it’s time. I was asked to publish my remarks from our end of year ceremony on May 10, 2019, so here they are…

We often talk about the impact of the CCI Program—the impact the program has on the participants and the impact the participants have on campus and in our community. Leeza mentioned the extraordinary number of hours and the associated dollar value that this amazing group contributed through volunteering and internships. What I think is more extraordinary is the immeasurable impact that they have had on the people who they have met during their short time here.

How do you measure the spark of creativity when several minds from diverse backgrounds and different countries come together to solve a problem, whether it’s in the classroom, Model UN, or at MyBook?

How can you measure the excitement of the young girls who got to visit the Embassy of the Dominican Republic and meet the Ambassador with Marlin and Eylül or the excitement of the children who had lunch with Santa and a Brazilian elf named Schawany?

How can you measure the pride and sense of accomplishment that children felt when Sundar taught them how to play chess, when Sara and Masud helped them solve a math problem, or when Helen helped them make crafts at a kids festival?

How do you measure the awakening of a young explorer who learned about Indonesia for the first time from Elfis and Virdiani when they interned at FACETS?

How can you measure the joy that Sibusiso, Kekeli, Williams, Emmanuel, John Evans, and Patrick brought to the residents at the Lincolnia Senior Center?, where combined they volunteered over 300 hours serving meals, playing games, and simply having conversations with the senior residents, some of whom have no family close by to visit them.

How do you measure the gratitude an event organizer feels to have reliable and enthusiastic help to pull off a successful event?, whether it’s a book sale at a local library, the Wolf Trap Holiday Sing-a-Long,  TedEx Tysons, or a large festival? I don’t know how to measure it, but I know that they feel it, because they ask for the CCI participants to come back and help again and again.

How do you measure the friendships and bonds that were created over the past ten months between these CCI participants from 12 different countries and between them and their social hosts?

How do you measure the lessons learned, the culture and traditions that were shared, the mutual understanding that was built? We may not be able to assign a numerical value to these things, but the impact is no less valuable. These are the stepping stones for building more peaceful and inclusive societies, where people recognize the value and strength in diversity. This is the foundation for strengthening relationships between our countries—those people to people connections that start with the CCI Program and last a lifetime.

Post written by Kelly Forbes, CCI Program Coordinator at NOVA Annandale from 2015-2019.

Photo credit: Marlin Estévez

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.

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.

 

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

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.

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.