Tag Archives: Celebrate

Mom Again…. My Experience as a Social Host in the Community College Initiative Program

My husband emailed me at work one day in early August of 2016 – he wanted to sign up to be a “social host” for the Community College Initiative Program.  I had no idea what that meant – and my first reaction was “absolutely not”.  Knowing that as “mom”, a full time lawyer, the “manager” of our family (and we had just adopted a 7 month old puppy!)– it would be one more thing added to my already full plate.

About a week later, my husband sent me a confirmation letter.  We were matched with a student from Ghana.  Reluctantly, I agreed to participate.

Our first meeting was at the NOVA Annandale campus.  We met Eben, our student from Ghana.  He is a tall young man, with a wide smile. Eager to meet his new family, share his culture and learn about ours.  The meeting went well. Our eleven year old daughter, Maya, was excited.  I remember feeling bad, because we were about to leave on vacation.  But we promised that we would connect upon our return and begin our duties as “social hosts.”

We quickly became Facebook friends with Eben.  I think he “liked” every photo on my page.  We went on vacation and upon our return, the whirlwind of back-to-school time began.  How do I have time for this student, I thought?

Well – sharing time with Eben became easy. I first invited him to one of Maya’s basketball games and dinner. I thought – “this is our life, he should see what we do.”

With Grandma in tow, we picked up Eben for our first outing.  Eben quickly became an active participant, bouncing the ball back and forth to Maya when she wasn’t playing.  Eben began teaching me words in his language.

Our first dinner outing made me realize how fortunate we are – and what little Eben knew about American life.  He wanted help deciding what to order, questioned why there were so many forks on the table and why the servers kept filling our water glass.  We guided him through it.  Maya took an active role in this, teaching Eben to place his napkin on his lap and to use the large sharp knife to cut his steak.  Eben savored every bite – and showed his appreciation to us.

And so it began: the relationship that would change my life.  We invited Eben to the pumpkin patch.  He was so amazed – this is not what a farm in Ghana looked like – there were pumpkins, hay rides, goats to feed, swings, and huge slides to go down.  By the end of the day, Eben was exclaiming to us that “America is great!”  At this time, we were about to go into an election, where our soon-to-be President wanted to make our country great again.  I thought, ‘Eben is right – America is already great.’

Soon after this trip, I became “mom” to Eben.  I was a bit taken aback, but decided to roll with it. I learned that his own mother was not currently part of his life. I felt awkward and honored that he would bestow that title on me.

We continued on with our journey.  We took Eben to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate his birthday.  As “mom”, I began looking out for him. He’s allergic to corn, so I would discuss that with the servers. We made sure he received lots of gifts and wore the Sombrero.  He invited his roommate, Mehedi.  Little did I know, I was about to be a “mom” to both students.

We invited Eben to Ohio for Thanksgiving. He met my family. He saw snow!  If you really want to get to know someone – take them on a road trip.  It was then that I began to realize that Eben is an amazing young man.  He soaked in every moment of the trip, thanking us profusely along the way.  We toured Cleveland with him, took him to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the waterfront, Dave & Busters, and a Hibachi restaurant. He met my high school friends, saw my grade school, my high school, my college and prayed in mother’s church.  I was moved beyond measure at how much this simple gesture – sharing my past – meant to him.

Inviting Eben and his roommate Mehedi to events with our family then became second nature.  They attended Maya’s piano recital, we went to Georgetown cupcake, we went to church.  They learned how crazy American’s are about their pets when I threw a 1st birthday party for our dog, Munchie.

We planned a trip to New York City, my husband’s parents live outside the city.  Eben and Mehedi met Ed’s family, toured NYC, and explored great restaurants.  They photographed EVERYTHING along the way!  It is amazing to know that even a subway sign is new and exciting to some.

As I said before, if you really want to get to know someone, take them on a road trip.  Because after this trip, I now had two sons. I was now “mom” to Eben and Mehedi. I didn’t mind one bit anymore. They were now part of me, my family and my heart.

Family birthday parties were to follow.  The Women’s March on Washington, roller skating, bowling, the Harlem Globetrotters, my birthday celebration, the movies.  They became family.  More church services.  We brought Mehedi to church services.  What an eye opener to see a Christian church experience through the eyes of a Muslim.  He soaked it all in – enjoying every minute.  We brought
them to Palm Sunday service, dyed Easter eggs, attended a vigil, they helped with lawn work at our home and even received a visit from the Easter Bunny and brought more friends to our Easter dinner and egg hunt!  Eben and Mehedi brought friends from the program and visited Maya’s school.  They shared a wealth of knowledge about their countries with Maya’s class.  And the class – they took up a donation of school supplies to send to Ghana.

Our time now is coming to an end. We are jamming in many more moments together before they leave to go home. I keep thinking that these are my boys and this is their home.  The students that I was so unsure of back in August will be leaving me, and it breaks my heart.  I am hoping they both return to the U.S as both hoping to come back and pursue more schooling here.  I am hoping to take Maya to Ghana and Bangladesh someday.  I want to meet both of their father’s that I have only spoken to on the phone.I know this experience has changed me.  I opened my heart and I learned so much about two young, amazing men and their cultures. My daughter has learned that she is very fortunate. And she has learned that if you work hard, you can overcome and succeed.

My advice to other families that consider being a social host – these students want to be a part of your life. Participate only if you have the time. Believe it or not, you probably do have the time – because all they really want is to experience the life you are already living.  And as I taught Eben and Mehedi, when you do something like this, you should “go big or go home.”  So take them along for the ride.

To my sons – forever – Eben and Mehedi.  Wherever life takes you, take me in your heart, as you will be in mine.

This experience was amazing and it went by way to fast. In fact, if I had blinked, I would have missed it….

Love,

Mom

Post written by Doreen Manchester, CCI Program Social Host 2016-2017

Finding Inner Light

Namaste. Tu kaise hei? Me teek hu. Dhanyavaad.

So I had to learn how to say some basics in Hindi because it seems that, for almost everyone who meets me by the first time, I am Indian. People literally have come to me and said “Namaste,” or suddenly start speaking in Hindi. I usually said “Namaste” as well, but then I explain that I am not Indian, that I am Colombian. Then they apologize, but what they don’t understand is that there is nothing to apologize for. For me, it is a pleasure to be call Indian.

With this, I do not mean I am not proud of being Colombian. In fact, I am a proud Latina and I would not have wanted to be born anywhere else in the world. I just like the fact that people think I am Asian. By the way, Indian girls are beautiful, why would I be upset by that? Haha!!

Before coming to USA, I was already really interested in Indian culture, traditions, religion, movies and music. I remember taking dancing classes where the music was Indian and watching movies of this handsome guy who cooks delicious Indian dishes. I never thought I was going to meet real Indians, and that I was going to be taken as one.

Each October, the Indians and some Pakistanis Celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, one of their major festivals. Since my friends knew I love immersing in new cultures, they planned to invite me to go with them to the temple. I delightedly accepted, I love the idea of “the victory of light over darkness.” But, they not only took me to the temple, they also made me look just like one of them.
The preparations started about three hours early. I first did not understand why would it take that long, but then I came to know. Nilo, from North India, provided me the Sari, some Jewelry and a matching yellow Kum Kum (that I still have kept in a safe place). Nimmy, from South India, took me to her room and we started the complicated process or making me look as close as a real Indian. Some baby powder here and there, little perfume, a nice makeup and pink lips, smooth hair and all the jewelry on. The Sari was the hardest part; I will try to describe it in two words: safety pins. Nimmy spent like 12 safety pins in my Sari, but she is just so good at it that she made it look perfect. It had some folds in one of my shoulders that fell down to one of my hips. After the Sari, minimal retouches were needed and we were ready to go. The night before,
Nimmy applied Mehndi in one of my hands.

While Nimmy, Nilo and Naveen (who is from Pakistan), were helping me to get ready (or basically doing everything for me), I felt like I was part of something bigger. They made me feel like a part of their cultures, they taught me how to behave, how to move, how to act. They told me stories of their lives and their cultures while we were alone. I felt really close to them, and the feelings I experienced are hard to describe: I was just so special but so common at the same time.

Then, the guys came to pick the three of us up. I was concern about how people were going to react. What if they did not like me acting like one of them? My anxiety was getting bigger the closest we were to the temple. Once there, we removed our shoes at the entrance, washed our hands, and went inside. I never saw anything like that before. It was full of colors, people wearing beautiful and elaborated clothes, smells, and representations of different Gods.

My friends always indicated me how to act, how to pray and what to say to people. I think anybody noticed that I was not and Indian, thanks to my friend’s instructions. We went to each God, we prayed sometimes and we sat on the floor for a while. I was feeling delicate and protected. I was comfortable with myself. Indians and Pakistanis are friendly and kind, they gave us sweets and a lot of smiles.

Once in home, they cooked some Indian traditional food. I did not want to remove the Sari, I wanted to keep it on because I was feeling so different; out of my comfort zone, but I was enjoying it. Eventually I did, and the process of removing was almost as hard as putting it.

I am sure my Indian and Pakistani friends do not know yet how meaningful that experience was for me. It was a real immersion. I am glad they made me feel one of them, because sometimes is good to be someone else. I feel bless to be able to discover and experience all these different traditions, and to learn from them. If you are reading this guys, thank you! That day was unforgettable, you may not understand how much, but it was. You taught me how big and open-minded love and friendship can be. This festival truly brought lights to my life.

We do not have to forget who we were to learn who we are, or to leave an open door to who we would be. I am Colombian, I like to be Indian sometimes, and I have no idea what would I be tomorrow. But I am willing to discover it. And my mind is as open as my heart.

Post written by Vanesa de la Cruz, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Colombia

Too Spicy but Yummy

Everybody was ready early in the morning. We dressed up nicely in our traditional clothes, batik. There were five of us, CCI Program 2016 participants from Indonesia, I, Morten, Fina, Tina and Lia.

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CCI NOVA participants from Indonesia: Cessy, Morten, Lia, Fina, and Tina

We stay in Alexandria, Virginia, and we go to Northern Virginia Community College. We live only 30 minutes away from Washington DC where the house of the Ambassador of Indonesia for United States is located. It was August 17th 2016, the Day of Independence of Indonesia, and we were about to go there to join the ceremony and the gathering. It took us 40 minutes to get to the closest metro station and then we had to walk for another 10 minutes to get to the house. We arrived on time and joined the ranks of other Indonesian people immediately. It is pretty rare to meet other Indonesian around the place where we live or even at campus so we were happy to get to meet our people for the perfect reason, to celebrate the Independence Day together. The ceremony was led by the Ambassador of Indonesia, Mr. Budi Bowoleksono. It was nice, the feeling of celebrating Indonesia 71st Independence Day 9730.6 miles away from home but that moment was “home” for me. The people I met were friendly as how Indonesian always be, we even took a group picture with the Ambassador and his wife and they were lovely.

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Group picture with Ambassador of Indonesia, Mr. Budi Bowoleksono and his wife

There was a performance of group consisted of little kids and some older women, they sang all famous Indonesian folklore songs from west to east part of Indonesia. After that, Lia and Fina and some other exchange students from Papua performed a mass dance from their hometown and everybody joined in. It was a lot of fun. Later, we were also invited to join the gathering and my longing of Indonesian food was fulfilled. We were so happy that we got to eat delicious Indonesian food after a month living in USA.

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Cessy

One thing I love about the celebration was the slogan, “Kerja Nyata” or “Real Work” in English. This slogan is proposed by our amazing current president, Mr. Jokowi, to encourage the government with the support of the citizen to start really building our country. Our country has the potential to become a big nation. All resources that we have either natural or human resources, if the government and the people can work together well as a team to support each other, we will surely become one of developed countries in the world like USA or Japan or Singapore. This slogan also reminded me that I could take part in the process of building my country and the people as well to be better. That’s why I am here to study, to gain experience, to expand my network, to improve myself, to learn things that make US a great nation and later when it is time for me to go back home I can apply those things in small steps firstly and hopefully I can be role model for others as well.

On our way home we discussed and decided to host a gathering with other CCI participants in the evening to celebrate with them. We divided the tasks between ourselves, I was in charge for the decoration while my other friends would prepare the food. We informed all of our friends and they were excited to join us. I asked them to wear something in red or white color since our national flag consists of those two colors. Red is the symbol of the bravery of our heroes who fought hard for our independence and white is the symbol of purity of the soul of Indonesian people. These two things, bravery and purity, are believed to complete and to perfect the body and soul of Indonesian people to build the nation. People started coming at 8pm. We had Indonesian food and some American food for our friends who can’t handle the spiciness of our food. Everybody who tasted our food loved it.

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CCI NOVA participants celebrate Indonesia Independence Day

Our friend from Colombia, Vanesa, embraced herself to try our food. After that, she said it was too spicy for her but it was delicious. We were happy that we were able to share with our friends from other countries a little bit of our culture through the food that we prepared, they now know and even experience it themselves how much Indonesian loves spicy food. We also taught them a little bit of our language, Bahasa Indonesia. We made a video and everyone had to say “merdeka, merdeka, merdeka” which means “freedom, freedom, freedom”. Mehedi, CCI grantee from Bangladesh, pronounced it well and passionately. Then we played music to start our favorite part of every gathering we’ve ever organized, dancing. Pew, the Bangladeshi girl, came wearing her traditional dress.

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Pew from Bangladesh

She looked beautiful. She entertained us by showing us how people from her country dance, it was nice. Our friends from India, Raj, Halith and Nime, also led us to dance to Indian song. We danced to almost every songs from every country represented by people in our group like African dancing that includes more legs and bottom part in its movements, Latina dancing which requires you to move your hips and hands more and even Yemen dancing which is done by couples who have to move forward and backward in harmony. Surely, we taught our friends Indonesian mass dance as well, Lia led the group to dance to the song “Poco-poco”. We had so much fun that night. It was great that we got to share more of our culture and also to learn a bit more of our friends’ culture. That night was not only to celebrate our day but also to celebrate the beauty of diversity.

Post written by by Picessylia “Cessy” Anakay, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Indonesia