What is like to live in the United States? That was my question several years ago. I didn’t know if I wanted to save money for 2 years to be able to come here to the US. Eventually, it didn’t take so long for this dream to come true. I was dreaming about studying abroad and getting away from my home, not because it wasn’t good to have this sense of “comfort”, but because deep down in my heart I felt it’s right to step out of my comfort zone to continue growing.
It’s been 5 months specifically and I have not enough words to describe what it has been like. I have lived lots of new experiences during this period of time. From traveling for the very first time in an airplane to another country to living with a roommate from another nation (Turkey) and six more people in the same house. I deepened my knowledge of Information Technology (IT) to learning about US culture. From meeting a lot of new friends to serving people whom I don’t know personally through community service.
I have had a lot of fun over the past months and a really good highs; however, I’ve had some challenges and some lows too. Firstly, being far away from my family, my friends, my church, my food, and my job wasn’t easy at first. While the time went by, I realized how much I missed each one of them. Secondly, embracing the life I have here took a little while. I felt defined by the “what if…?” question. What if I had learnt how to cook in my country? What if I had had more background in the IT (Information Technology) field? What if I had a better writing skills? These were my questions at the beginning of the program. But the only answer I found was: Embrace it!
After all this time, I think God has been so good to me. As he has given me a family called: Kairos DC Church. In which, I have been able to grow in my faith, meet wonderful people and live a lot of adventures that I feel if I went back today to my country, I would be profoundly grateful.
Growing up in Soacha and serving with a foundation and church called “Fundacion Herederos” for over a decade have shaped my vision of the world. Therefore, when I came here the only thing in my mind was that I have to find a way to serve the ones in need on this community. One of the greatest experiences I’ve had with Kairos Church was going to the Shelter: “Bailey’s Shelter and supportive Housing” where we gave food away and listened to these people. Mark Martins was the answer of what I was looking for since I came here. I had the opportunity to talk with him about his life story and how it is for him to live there, we are helping him out to recover the confidence in himself and spiritually. Therefore, I would say no matter where you are, if you don’t forget what drives you, you will be okay everywhere.
Being part of the CCI, has been the most rewarding experience in my life so far, I just want to finished off this little description by giving thanks to my mom Luz Stella Cardona Arias, who has saved me a lot of time living through her advises, as she has walked too much on this life, and she has accordingly led our home with wisdom. Hence, I thank you for trusting in me and letting me come to this country.
Since I was kid I never had the vivid dream of wanting to go to US. I was aware I neither had capability to afford much money to travel and was scared of dreaming big. But when I was 18 years old, I was exposed to many things about US because of TV show that I watched back then. Since then, I told myself: ‘I have to go there when I am 25 years old’. Here am I now !
Being a part of CCI Program is the most incredible chance I have ever been given in my life. I am so grateful of everything I have experienced because of CCI Program. Before I start telling what great things I have done so far, let me write a dedication short paragraph to important people in my life.
Dear, Dad and mom.
This is not my accomplishment; this is yours, dad and mom.
Being able to step my feet on the United States of America, a country in which I have never imagined I would be able to go to, is both exhilarating and emotional. Words do not suffice to depict the exhilaration I have felt since the first day I came here despite the few difficult days of adjustment; but the excitement is somehow being followed by this emotional feeling that I can identify as sadness. I am sad because every time I go to a new country—a new place which enables to me to visit its renowned places along with the foods— I do not go with the ones who contribute to make me who I am now, my dad and my mother. My mother is someone whom I owe everything in this world. She is the one who successfully made me fall in love with English. Regardless of her little to no knowledge about English, she did her best to nurture my fondness towards English. What my mom did was likewise done by my father. My father is a strong figure who passed down important traits and values. He was the one who managed to make me become a strong and independent person who does not forget to be grateful of what I have accomplished.
Mom and Dad,
I am not proud of what I have accomplished; I am proud of having you who contribute to make me accomplish things in my life.
Let’s get this started.
Being in Virginia makes me much more thrilled than I ever imagined; I had the chance to be able to visit Washington D.C., the capital of US, every week. Travelling alone is one of the things I like in the US. Travelling alone makes me grow. Having been in the US for almost four months teaches me a lot of things: First, independence: I have had the chance to do everything by myself and arrange everything by myself as well. Second, selflessness: I used to be a very self-centered person, I didn’t care what people are doing or pay attention to what they are experiencing. Here, I have been able to learn from others and am open to others. I used to like to speak more than listen, but now I realize that being a listener is ok too. I have more compassion for others who are different from me, and many other important values that make grow not only as individual but also as a member of community. Hence, I could not be more grateful of the path I have been given so far.
Words cannot depict this profound gratitude I have in my chest now. The chance I have been given now is the ultimate reason for me to give back to community and use the skill I have gotten here.
Post written by Khairur Rijal Usman Abra, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Indonesia.
One of the things I like about America is, here, people like to research on different topics and then share it with other people at a conference. So if you have interest on particular subject, you will find various conferences or workshops on that subject which helps a lot to know more about recent studies. Being so close to Washington DC, we get more chances to attend conferences and the best part is, some of them are free for students! Last week I attended a conference on “Girls’ Education Research and Policy Symposium” at Brookings Institution. I was overwhelmed when I found one of the guest speakers Kazi Nasrin Siddiqa was from my country, Bangladesh. I also met some other Bangladeshi people there and that was an amazing feeling to be with some people from the same country who also have passion in the same field.
In the conference, they focused on girls education from an early age to their working age. Three different people from three different countries are working to empower women in three sections such as early childhood education, science education for teenagers, and practical education for job. As I am studying Early Childhood Education, my main focus was on this area which I believe will help me in my career in various aspects. But the concepts presented about girls education blew away my mind and made me think more practically. I especially like when the speakers talked about the obstacles they faced and how did they overcome them. Their experience will help me to work on my project in the future.
Along with learning, conferences are a great opportunity for networking. If you look properly you may find the perfect person who can be your mentor or may help you with your dream profession. I also found people who works with my favorite NGO’s and working in my field of study. So next time, if you go to any event like this, you should focus on networking and do not forget to take your business card with you. Because Porter Gale said, “Your networking is your net worth”. Hope all of you attend various conferences to increase your knowledge and networking through this whole CCI journey.
Post written by Ayesha Akter, CCI 2019-2020 participant from Bangladesh
A holistic education is not all about books but includes extra curricular activities like educational tours, and field trips. It reduces stress, gives one the opportunity to explore and learn new things, and get new experiences. The CCI Program also includes field trips which gives us the opportunity to learn more about the American history, culture and visit places.
When learning is accompanied by fun, excitement, and enjoyment, it makes it interesting. After a hectic week with a lot of assignments, the CCI Participants get the chance to go for educational tours mostly on Fridays. This helps us to have fun, reduce our stress, boost our energy, and prepare us for a new week.
An educational tour to new places is not just a fun get-away. It is about exploring new environment and learning new things. It empowers us with new ideas and enhanced perspective to look at things and become more open minded. Our visit to Harper’s Ferry-West Virginia made me learned a lot that day. One thing that surprised me the most was that John Brown’s Fort was moved from a different location to its current location. I never thought a building could be moved from one location to another.
When we go for educational tour, I get the opportunity to observe and experience many things. When we visited the Native American Museum, I found out a lot of interesting things about their history and culture. I got the chance to see their traditional wear, arts, and food.
The educational trips have helped me to make memorable experiences and got deep knowledge in various aspect of my life.
Post written by Veronica Owusu, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Ghana.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The beginning of 2018 was a joyous one for me. I got selected for an exchange program United States of America. The Community College Initiative program enables you to study in a community college, exchange your culture as well as learn American culture. These participants are from 12 different countries. Seven months later my dream to come in America came true. During the first few days I saw how beautiful the places are and the diversity showed at this area. I did not know that my stay in the United States will be beyond my expectation and change my life. The most amazing things begun when I started school at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Annandale. The education system in this country is far different from my home country. NOVA is full of diversity as a result of the numerous international students here. People here are respectful about all cultures. In addition, the technology use here in this country is higher than in my country, as all the classes here are linked to the internet and it makes learning fun and easy. At the beginning I was having problem on how to use the ‘Blackboard’ system, after using it for a few times I was able to handle it well. The most interesting thing in the American education system especially on campuses is the involvement of students in clubs, associations and activities held on campus. Students also make use of all the resources available for use for your classes. However, the main thing that amazed me a lot is the respect of time by professors and their availability for each student on campus. After finishing the fall semester, I can say I really enjoy my study in one of the best colleges in the United States.
Another one of my experience in this country is the commitment for that people have for their communities. In fact, volunteerism is one of the big essences of American culture. Here, everyone is involved in all community activities for the welfare of everybody. This made me understood the meaning of volunteering. One of my greatest volunteering moments was when I volunteered at the ‘Presidential Park’ at the White House. It was a good moment and an honor to be part of the volunteers for the ‘Fall Garden Tour 2018’. I never believed that one day in my life, I will be so close to this famous place through volunteering.
Another volunteering experience is that at the ‘Lincolnia Senior Center. It is a care center for aged people. When I started over there, I was a little bit skeptical about being with them and I was also sad to see them like this. After spending close to a week, I started getting used to them and helped them as much as I can. The Managers, employers and the residents there are really nice to us the volunteers, and I feel welcomed to be among them. My experience with the Lincolnia Senior Center and the other volunteering activities made me understand from that moment that when I volunteer, I know who I am and what the other people are expecting from me in order to contribute my part in the community.
To conclude, I would like also to share more about my recent Internship experience. Effectively I started my first internship as a Social Media Manager in the U.S with a company called ‘MyBook’. They specialize in buying and selling books to students. Truth be told, I was anxious on my first day. Not only because the system is something totally new for me, but also because I did not have much experience in that field of study. However, I did not experience what I thought prior to my first day. Everything was different from my thoughts. The staff were very kind and collaborative, they appreciated me and gave me tips in order to help me accomplish my assigned tasks on time. Something I still don’t catch well is This simplicity of my teammates and my superiors makes me feel important. This encourages me to be efficient and also to work hard in order to make them proud. I also yearn to learn a lot before going back to my home country and implement that whiles creating my own company.
To sum up, after spending close to six months in the United States, and with regards to education, volunteering, and internship experiences I can affirm that the CCI Program is like a book with blank pages where you have to write your own stories or experience by maximizing everything you can grasp and build your own future.
Post written by Ayih Williams Akrong from Côte d’Ivoire , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
The Community College Initiative (CCI) Program is an exchange scholarship program organized by the US department of state. The program gives opportunity to students from about twelve countries to learn about the USA culture as well as exchange theirs with others. In my opinion, this program brings peace and diversity among students. Participants get the chance to learn new things and develop action plans, engage in volunteering activities that will be helpful to their community back in their home country. Academics as one of the five pillars of the CCI program, has had a great impact on my educational life within this three months of my stay in the USA as a CCI participant, I have found great impact on my educational life at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) as I experience some resources used on campus that I do not have in my country. These include using Blackboard service, Library and academic success center to help students in their academic life.
The college has a library and academic success center that helps students with difficulties in their courses. The library has variety of books that are free for students to have access. They provide database of articles and resources that are well cited and can be used for research work. At the library, there are lots of computers that students can use for studying, a quiet study area and a space for group studies. The librarians help student to search for books relevant to their courses and help them in editing their essays and articles. On the other hand, the Academic Success Center has a writing center that helps students with writing essays and provide guidelines for writing good research works. They also have tutors that help students to gain further understanding in their field of studies as well as organize seminars for students on how to be successful in their Academic life. I personally attended a seminar organized by the success center on how to manage time and making effective use of it.
The college uses blackboard service which is used to access student’s portal. This service is very important because it displays announcement of the different courses that students take. It also has a discussion board where students can ask questions and interact with their professors as well as other students in their class. This makes posting of announcements, assignments, and other information easily to be accessed by students.
The CCI Program has expose my understanding in my academic life where I meet and study with people of different culture and background. I have more resources on campus that helps me get better understanding in my field of studies which is engineering. My interaction with others in class is improving my communication skills and confident level. These resources have helped me improved my academics in this few months.
Post written by Valentina Asempah from Ghana, a 2018-2018 CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria.
AN OVERVIEW OF MY EXPERIENCE OF THE LAST THREE MONTHS IN THE CCI PROGRAM
I have now been in America nearly for 3 months and I am having the time of my life. From the moment I set foot in this country life has been nothing but a fun filled but an academically awarding roller coaster.
Coming from a background in India where you are living with your parents and are basically dependent on them for everything, being on your own is a big change. Luckily for me I have really good housemates who make me feel at home at all points of time. Though all of us are from different countries we yet put in effort in understanding each other and respect each other’s way of living. What this has done for me is that it has taught me to adapt and make most out of what I have and I feel that is a very helpful skill for anyone from anywhere in the world.
My CCI Coordinator at NOVA, Kelly has been Nothing but a mother to me and all the CCI participants she has helped us with the smallest of things and knowing she’s always just a phone call away is like a safety blanket for all the CCI participants here in NOVA.
Being on the NOVA Annandale Campus one can argue confidently that they are in one of the best colleges in America. There are numerous facilities in the campus like the language Lab, Writing Centre, library Media room etc, that are really helpful for students with the help of these facilities one can gain a lot of knowledge. There is always some event or the other going on in campus by the various campus clubs; therefore there is always a fun and festive environment in the campus. The teachers and staff here in NOVA are very helpful understanding and brilliant. They make sure that you understand what they are explaining and until you don’t, they won’t move on.
Northern Virginia and Washington D.C is one of the safest and kindest areas in America. People out here are so genuinely nice, kind, helpful and polite that on instantly feels welcomed and happy. I have made so many friends in events and volunteering activities so quickly due to kind nature of people out here. Even your teachers are so nice that you don’t hesitate to share a problem you’re facing in class as you now they will help you out.
In conclusion the CCI Program has been nothing but a dream for me. I feel grateful to be part of this program and wish to participate in it complete and to the best of my abilities. I feel I can give back so much of what I have learnt here back home and implement great change in India. I have seven months left to go and the only feeling I feel right now is excitement for what the future here in America holds.
Post written by Aaron Mistry from India, a 2018-2018 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
Even though I grew up in a moderate middle-class household, from early childhood, I was taught by my school and society to hate India. And although the country had become a symbol of hate, we never failed to enjoy their Bollywood movies and music .Throughout my life I had been told that Indians are our enemies, they don’t like Pakistani and there is a huge difference between us, we can never be united and much more – until at some point I found myself being brainwashed and started to consider India as the biggest enemy of the fortress of Islam. That’s how I was grown up listening to bad comments and stereotypes about Indians, Ah!
But then, fortunately I came to United States and after having interaction with them, I realized I have been indoctrinated with lies and my whole world view changed upside down.
Throwing back to July 15, 2018 (04:30pm), the day when my journey towards United states started-I was wandering around anxiously and in hurry at the London airport to see where I can get my luggage and to whom I should ask for help in that big crowd full of strange faces. In that situation, I heard a soft voice coming from behind and addressing, “Excuse me, ap Pakistan sy hen? Which means, “Excuse me, Are you from Pakistan? I, without any hesitation turned around and saw a girl wearing a big, sweet smile and offering her hand in order to greet me. I nodded my head and extended the conversation by greeting her back. I found myself satisfied by talking to her and after having some “gossips”, I came to know that she is from India and the most important she turned out to be CCI participant. That was the biggest jerk for me to haven Indian sitting beside me. I talked to myself-she is from India but still we are sitting together and having gossips like we have known each other from years. That was the first good impression about Indians for me.
As the days went on, I started to spend more time with my Indian friends. It seemed like we are from the same country, sharing the same language, same culture, same food, and same clothes—then, where is the difference? After some days, I realized that we have many things in common to love instead of hating and that hatred between both countries has political motives and has nothing to do with common people, like me and my Indian friends.
As CCI participants, we helped in celebrating each other’s Independence Day and tried to make it worth. My all Indian friends along with my other CCI friends came to our celebration of Pakistan’s independence and transformed it into a room full of cheers and joys. I still remember when one of my Indian friends came to me while everyone was busy in celebration, and said, “I wish if we could make it one nation again and stay together forever”. That was the moment that made me so emotional and I simply hugged her and replied her,” Let’s take initiative to make it possible”.
Our friendship strengthened with time, and we frequently and openly discussed how we were raised in our specific cultures to hate the other on the basis of religious or political backgrounds. It was not until a personal connection was established that we found that there were more similarities between us than there were differences. We shared our joys together and offered shoulders when in pain or sorrow, we cooked together – no shocks – you can expect luddoos to be as round, gulab jamuns as dripping and jalebis as complicated as in Pakistan. Moreover, we laughed together and sometimes went crazy while planning things together on how can we diminish these stereotypes that is falling us apart.
To me, the fact that Pakistanis and Indians are so close to each other in the United States, United Kingdom, and elsewhere in the world suggests that it is largely petty politics and propaganda that hold them back in South Asia. There is so much that the two groups can accomplish by communicating with and learning from each other, as similar challenges exist in both societies.
I am so thankful to the CCI program for this impactful experience that supported and helped us to come closer while breaking all those stereotypes created by conflict-promoting politics in both states and letting us to know the actual reality. And I believe, WE, little drops of water can make the mighty oceans.
Post written by Maria Eiman, CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria from Pakistan