Right from the start of selection, the thought that kept ringing in my mind was how was I to cope with my stay in the USA. I got selected for the Community College Initiative Program. It is an exchange program organized and sponsored by the US Department of State. It brings together participants from 12 countries who live together to study in selected Community Colleges in the US. The Community College Initiative is founded on five pillars which includes academics, volunteerism, internships, leadership and action planning, and cultural exchange. The pillar of cultural exchange requires us to meet new people through sharing our culture with one another and experiencing other cultures too. My few months of stay in the States has brought me in contact with wonderful people. It has open me up to people with different cultures with whom I interact on a daily basis. Being a Community College Initiative Participant requires you to have special people called social hosts. These people are American citizens that are given to us in order to help us better understand American culture. My social host for this program is Torrian. She is an amazing lady who strives to make me feel at home here in the US. Torrian schedules time most often after work to spend quality time with me. She educates me on issues pertaining to America and how to make the best out of my stay here. She is always there for me when I need her and is ever ready to help. Torrian by far is making my stay in the US enjoyable. In this season of thanksgiving, I want to express my gratitude to her. I am thankful for the new family I have got.
Post written by Roseline Kekeli Odzor from Ghana , a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
Have you ever asked yourself about what you are doing, usually during some decision process? And did you know that asking questions about everything would help your personal development? I have learned this, and I am still doing that in my CCI journey. How? Here it is!
One of the most important things in this life is personal development, right? Well, for me, it is. I’m just 20 years old, and until this time, I have never thought about my personal development and never thought if I’m doing something to improve myself in life. Until the CCI Program’s inception, I knew this is it! I didn’t know this program will teach me about life at all, especially in a short time.
It has been only 4 months, but I realize that I never had a chance to listen to myself, and ask questions like ‘what I am doing?’ I found out, the first step of personal development, is asking questions. Always ask questions about what you are doing at that moment. I had lots of chance to do this and think about it. After I am done questioning myself, I try to find out what may be wrong about what I was dealing with. I try my best to fix it -even though I know I cannot reach the solution-. Anyways, I realize that just thinking about it makes me careful about it the next time.
The reason why I figured it out in my CCI program journey is, perhaps the opportunities that it has given me to do things on my own. I have never lived alone all my life. My family used to tell me that I should try to do things as they may seem easy with consistency. It is evident that most experiences are learnt the hard way, as things do not come easy as we expect. Now, the only person who is giving me advice is my coordinator Kelly Forbes. She always guides me to making decisions. The last option though is up to me. In order to make the best out of it, I ask questions concerning any type of decisions I make. This is not just helping me with my personal decisions, it is also affecting my relationship with other people especially with my friends. CCI program is helping me in every type of subject and I am sure that CCI will help me to build my life.
Post written by Emel Eylül Akbörü from Turkey, a 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
It is incredible how this experience has made me a whole new person. There is no way to put into words what I am feeling now. Three months ago, I realized that I was lost in myself. I felt that I did not know who I was. I felt that a part of me was dying, but that little part was just dying to be born again. I cannot be more grateful for this challenging moment. It has not only made me grow a lot as a human being but also made me understand how important it is to challenge myself to overcome every stage of my life.
When I came here, I knew I wanted to challenge myself, but I did not imagine how hard it was going to be. Although I have always been passionate about my dreams, there was a time when I just did not know how valuable they are. Since I lost my confidence, I did not know how to express my ideas. So, I felt that I did not belong here because I was not good enough for this program. It was really frustrating to feel that I was not able to do what I wanted to do. As a consequence of these issues and other personal problems, I became depressed. Nevertheless, having one of my worst moments I realized how important is not only to appreciate difficult times but also to die in each stage of your life. On first thought, it does not make sense, but let me explain to you the big meaning that it has for me. I strongly believe that life is made of cycles. Each cycle of our life is a stage that we should live to learn from it; however, we should also die to be born again. We will have learned a lot, but we will also need to keep going without look back.
In other words, that challenging moment not only made me born again but also changed the perspective of my life. I learned that my dreams are as valuable as I want them to be. I learned that I am important for my community and that I may cause a significant change if share all the things that I have learned until today. Now I know that nothing is impossible and that I am the only one who can strongly believe in her dreams to make them come true. Being involved in CCI program change my life. This is a stage of learning for my life and I really appreciate it. All the CCI cohort has taught me to be confident about my dreams and that I am not alone when it comes to making a positive change in the world.
Post written by Natalia Martínez Conde, CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria from Colombia
From November 8th and 9th, a 2 days US Exchange Alumni Conferences organized by the US embassy in Abidjan took place at Belle Côte Hotel – Abidjan. More than 200 Ivorian beneficiaries and former scholars who have been to the United States or have benefited from educational programs funded by the US Department of States are taking part in this conference. These are the Fulbright and Humphrey programs; the Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI), the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the International Visitors Program (IVLP); the Community College Initiative Program (CCI Program); the Study of U.S. Institutes program (SUSI), and many others. As a CCI Program alumni, I was indeed invited to participate too.
These conferences were marked by panels that was moderated by former Fellows and focus on topics such as: English language learning, entrepreneurship promotion, women’s empowerment, civic engagement, promotion of good governance, health, and human rights. I was personally happy to meet all these Alumni to talk about all the opportunities of the CCI Program and to discuss with them about good governance and transparency, fostering inclusive economic growth, supporting security sector reform, and improving the health system and education system in Côte d’Ivoire.
Post written by Soma Ismael Bola, CCI Participant at NOVA-Alexandria 2016-2017, Côte d’Ivoire
Three Months… Wow… It’s incredible how time flies… There are no words that can explain how I feel at this moment. It seems like I arrived yesterday at an airport of a foreign country, I was really nervous and just thinking “this is the moment to show how good my English is” I still remember how scared I was, it is my first time out of my country and I was alone.
When I arrived to my final destination, Virginia, and I saw Kate with a big smile waiting for me at the airport, it was so heartwarming. It made me feel so good, I start realizing that I was about to start a new life, I still remember that I was amazed, it was like a dream, I was feeling a mixture of inexplicable feelings. Then the first two people I met on the program arrived, Mamello and Vuyani… Wow… It was something crazy, although they were coming from a really long fly, they were smiling, and was as happy as usual. They greeted me as if we have been friends for a long time while we haven’t even talk before; that was the same with all the other CCI participants, they all received me with a smile that makes me feeling at ease. They showed me that I came to my new home.
Now it´s been three months… Three months full of wonderful experiences, where I have learned to appreciate the smallest details of every day. Thanks to all the volunteer activities I have done, I know how good you can feel when you do something good for someone else without waiting for something back. Definitely a warm smile can make you totally change your mood. I have also enjoyed the tours and the tourism around the DC area. The places are so amazing; seeing all those places makes me realizing that there is much more to see, to know, to discover…The world is big and the life is too short, our stay in United States as well yet sometimes we are losing time staying in our beds while we should go out and discover and learn new things. By doing so we will be well immerse in the US culture. It will also be an occasion for us to share ours the others. We must give the importance that Time have. We have some objectives here, if we don’t move on we will never reach our goals. Opportunities are around us and we need to find them.
It is pretty cool to know more about American culture and their history. I’m learning a lot about Americans, it is really nice to see how proud they are of their country and their culture and we can notice it with all those places we visited such as the capitol and the Senate. There are no word that can describe those buildings they are just marvelous; the art printed on the walls and the roofs is just incredible almost like magic, it is incredible how much they can transmit. Those buildings are just awesome! Another wonderful place is the Mount Vernon far from all civilization and monuments that we are now discovering, it relates the history of George Washington’s family and house which is pretty cool and interesting. I definitely enjoyed the landscape, the Potomac river with all those threes changing their colors and the sun shining in the sky it was just like a perfect painting. So relaxing it is incredible how this place can transmit a feeling of peace.
My experience on the program is wonderful so far, it teaches me how to appreciate little things I have and previously overlooked, because today I’m not the same person I was yesterday; I’m sure I am not the same I will be tomorrow, this experience is teaching me to be more open minded, to go beyond prejudices and not to judge without knowing first. CCI teaches me that family is not just blood and even though we are so different we will always have a common thing, after all, before being from different countries, with different cultures, first, we are humans and we are from the world and now we are a family, because despite differences, discussions and cultural shocks, when someone needs something everyone is there, as the family now we are, because CCI teach us that everything goes beyond a culture, a religion or a skin color, we are all people who dream, and we are here following our dreams and that is what put us together, what make us stronger, because we are many but at the same time we are just one.
Three months may look like is not too much time, however it is a lot when I look back. I can notice how much we have experienced and lived during these few months, and it’s now that I can understand the real value of time. We are walking a path full of learning, it’s like that I can describe CCI, a path of learning, where we not only just grow as professionals but also as persons, because every day is a new step, a different adventure, a new world, and in each world, there is something new to learn, something new to discover.
Written by Camila Colorado Garcia, 2017-2018 NOVA Alexandria Participant
Have you ever imagined how it feels for agent J (starred by Will Smith) – a secret agent movie Man in Black (MIB), when he entered the intergalactic secret agent station of MIB? The station is filled with unusual creatures and aliens from far away galaxies and distant planet throughout the universe. Traveling around 10,000 miles equal to 15,000 kilometers from Indonesia to America, upon my arrival as an “alien” for the first time in United States, all that was reviving in my mind was the scene of Agent J in the fore mentioned movie. It was a long and snaking queue full of various strangers at the Los Angeles international airport which was super crowded. The queue was caused by the computer system of the Los Angeles international airport that went down at the recent time. I witnessed a diverse group of people from different countries and ethnics. It was breathtakingly astonishing and I was overwhelmed with amusement. Finally, I officially arrived in United States, the country of immigrants.
From my observation, I noticed Koreans, Japans, Europeans, Hawaiians, Mid-Eastern people, Africans, Americans, children, gentlemen, ladies and so on, so forth. There was a kid, ignoring the summer-heated circumstance, rode on her pinky baggage along the line back and forth as if she was riding her favorite bicycle and did not belong to any queue. There was a couple who remained their scuba-diving costume rolled down from the upper body to the waist leaving a piece of grey T-shirt on their top. They did enjoy their line up by holding hand. I assumed they were from a vacation in Hawaii. Another guy in-line that I believed from Japan was still in gentle and neat black suit after his flight. Seemingly after escaping from the queue, he would directly join a very important business meeting. Mostly I could assume the nationality of the individual by their physical features and by also identifying their language.
Flown with American Airlines touching down Los Angeles Airport by July 14th, It was around 3 pm in the summer. Despite the long entry line, I enjoyed the thrilling view and I was full of excitement. Observing them was like reading global population map book. Inspired by that weird, yet impressive moment, I started to think about the diverse individuals that I was going to meet on campus, apartment, and environment.
I can deliberately claim that I am one of the luckiest persons on earth to have this precious chance to visit United States through CCI Program funded by The State Department amid the new the US immigrant policy of banning Muslims in regards with my name being typical Islamic name with ‘Muhammad’. After all I conclude that ‘typical name issue’ is just an assumption that I was proven wrong. Everything was going as smooth as my thirty-hour trip from Indonesia to the USA. I can confirm that as long as we have cleared our background and have willingness to study, all of us will find our way out. We just need to devote a bit more courage and effort. Besides, US government has deep concern on global education. In addition to it, prayer is a must-need.
As an international student who will stay in this country full of dream, I must get settled in as quickly as possible in order to begin what I have been dreaming for years, the journey of America. On the process, there are lots of new things I have found in regards with individual, groups of people, local community, and varied things which are either impressive or unexpected. And of course, there are hidden gems in many spots in my living environment. This writing will tell some few concepts and points that examine how I, a new international student, have dealt with my first impressions, culture shocks, and various adaptation processes so far.
GAINING MENTAL AND PHYSICAL READINESS
There are many challenges to encounter in the early stay in a new living place, not to mention in United States which can be very difficult. The most important thing is, as human being naturally equipped with adaptation ability, we are expected to always be mentally and physically prepared for any condition, this unique human attribute prevents us from complaining and keeps us moving.
For instance, my first day in Alexandria city of Virginia, The City of Lovers, was quite hard considering my 30-hour-flight exhaustion and I almost ruined my sleeping pattern – at least it was what my coordinator told me. After arriving in the morning at Dulles Airport, I unintentionally fell into sleep at 4 pm to 9 pm in my first night local time. I might still have my Indonesia sleeping hours which 12 hours ahead of America, I thought to myself.
Instead of being anxious on jetlag, I got myself out of the house and walked down the street near the house until 2 am. Not only that I could exhaust myself so that I can fall asleep and keep me in US sleeping hours, but also I could enjoy beautiful sightseeing to my surroundings in my first night in the city of Alexandria. Recently Virginia is glowing under Summer sunshine, so stay hydrated!
HOLDING THE SPIRIT OF TRAVELING
A traveler always believes, God spreads pieces of His beautiful paradise over somewhere around in this earth. Like treasure, one just needs to take a first step to discover it. That is what I strongly believe. The first day I arrived, I could not ground my feet remain on the floor of my apartment. I just wanted to go out and explore. One hour being inside the house upon my arrival was enough. All that was in my mind was to have a date with the beautiful Virginia.
The first day, with clueless mind, I took courage to step out of the residence. It led me to see how beautiful the trees standing neatly side by side around my house were, with their pink colorful blossoms. Some were yellow and pale green. It felt like spring, yet It was summer, but I then remembered, my program coordinator said we would be able to see colorful leaves in the fall next season. If flowers were this beautiful in summer, I just wonder how they will be in the fall season.
In order to have a sustainably well-managed life for an international student in the US, I quote Benjamin Franklin words stating, “failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It was a big clue for me before the departure to my US study. Thus, the first day by being informed by Kelly Forbes, my program coordinator, I noticed some information. Therefore, I had been able to schematize all needs and prospects of my one year stay here. It is not only about budgeting, but also learning facilities at home like books or even accessible libraries or any other comfortable spots to read books. In addition to that, planning our study will be as essential as planning dietary. Both are reciprocally supportive each other.
I want to make special discussion about money. If you come from developing country like Indonesia, you might find banking system in US is more sophisticated. Bank provides abundant online service that makes everything reliably easy. Most of transactions at shops require debit or credit swipe card service; cash transaction is likely extinct. Yet the sophistication does not mean perfection. I have to always keep my password and some confidential codes. No one should know, not even the bankers. Only God and I know.
MEETING THE LOCALS
Based on books and discussion with friends in my home country, Americans are individually-oriented community. I have made up my mind in deep contemplation after experiencing my first two weeks here. It turns out people here are easy to get along, at least in the town I’m living. Every time I visit a restaurant or get on the bus, I frequently find occasion the officers will certainly say, “Hi, how are you?”, “How are you doing?”, “have a nice day” or simply “good day”. The first time, I did not respond anything, just simply because I was too much wowed to see people were very warm to greet each other. The last time from hanging out with my roommate when passing the street, a mother inside her stopped car waved her hand to us with her smile. Anyhow, again I feel so welcome in this country.
I also want to share that some friends and I were very lucky to visit Timothy’s house. We were introduced by Sunny, a very kind Pakistani brother who studied at Northern Virginia Community College, where all participants are studying. When we visited, Tim and her wife Terry were holding ice cream party. He was visited by friends from many cities too, like His friend Shibu from Philadelphia and her wife. The house was so crowded with other cheerful people who kept coming and had their enjoyable conversation. We did enjoy our discussion resembling like family chitchat. I was thrilled on the very comfortable conversation. I also had a chance eying and touching the house antique properties like the unused chimney, old photos, old gramophone, Timothy’s veteran hat, pendulum watch, etc. Poured under summer rainfall, the house was felt very warm inside with the family togetherness and friendship. He said, we have much time ahead to savor togetherness next time.
MANIFESTING THE MIRACLE OF ASKING QUESTION
Frequently I felt shame or hesitated when I asked questions in a formal forum. Yet I started to realize that it is the way I can experimentally learn something new or fulfill my curiosity when asking. I believe curiosity is a philosophical behavior and a part of human nature that has rights to fulfill. Other than that, question is a part of the nature of journalism, the major I will proceed here. By any means, as long as I need, I will try to arrange my words to create strategical questions or investigative ones.
As a part of traveler’s value, question is how God gives clues to human who is cluelessly in need. To reinforce the concept, let me throw in quote saying, “No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives.”
LOVING LIVING WITH CCI FAMILY
CCI Program of Virginia bringing 12 country representatives is such a big family. Even though Everyone carries diverse life values and characters and just met, we are living under the same roof. Connecting everyone is so challenging for the early adaptation. In my apartment where I share house with brothers from Africa and Brazil, we are still getting over the difference. However, I do enjoy every talk and discussion while building understanding with everyone. I am strongly convinced this is a beginning I build a brand new, global family that I can tell people in my community back home in the future. Every meeting with them will be a precious story long-lasting in my memory. This first few weeks will be an eyewitness how a new melting-pot family is born in the land of colonial Virginia, USA.
There is no the best way for everyone, everyone fits one. In the other words, everyone has their own unique way to overcome the so-called culture shock or carry on adaptation process in a new area of living. This article just covered only one piece among thousands even millions of adaptation ways. What a person needs to settle in is to keep moving on and not left behind, unless he or she wants to get extinct like dinosaurs did.
All in all, our program coordinator once explained about the stages of cultural shock international students normally experience in US; honey moon stage; frustration stage; adjustment stage; and acceptance stage. This far I felt like I am overwhelmingly positive and become infatuated with the language, people, emotions and feelings in my new surroundings. As I project the prospect of my learning routines a year ahead here, I’m afraid if I cannot move on from the first level of culture shock; the honey moon stage.
Post written by Muhammad Arham, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Indonesia
I am Shruv. When I reached at Washington DC I was very scared, unknown country, unknown people, and unknown rules. There was a lot of thoughts in my mind, But when I came to my apartment I was just shocked my roommates were too friendly with me, which I never expected. They treat me as a younger brother.
When I went to the campus I was silent and I just talk to my few friends, but the other guys came to me and they want to know about me which I had lack in my country. Now every single day I feel like a celebrity everyone want to know about me, my culture, and my customs. My friends never said anything wrong about my English cause my English is not good yet.
After joining this program my confidence level is increased day by day, also I knew a very important thing that is ‘don’t judge a book by his cover’.
This program is not just going to teach me about my major subject this will also teach me how to be a good person in life. Not only this program every single participant taught me something. Sometimes I inspired by their lifes how they achieved this opportunity. Now I am able to know many countrys culture, ethics by their ambassador beside if this thinks we have a guide a very caring guide miss Kate and Kelly who teach us how to deal with our problems and encouraging us.
So it is a very nice experience for me to join such a huge program and thank you so much.
The thing I most like about people they listen to me and they tell me what is good for me . Thank you so much for a beautiful journey which just begin now.
Post written by Shuvajit Saha, 2017-2018 CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria from India
“Hi, this is Cessy. An exchange student from Indonesia. She’s doing a scholarship program funded by US Department of State and she’s studying Tourism and Marketing at NOVA. I and Terry are her social hosts, we help her to socialize that’s why we bring her here today”, said Mary when she introduced me to one of her neighbors.
“Oh hi, so does she live with you?”, her neighbor asked.
“No, they put her and her other friends in their own apartment. We will just take her out for dinner or to do other fun stuff”, Mary answered.
I remember attending 2 social parties in Mary and Terry’s neighborhood, that’s how I got to know deviled egg (hard-boiled eggs that have been shelled, cut in half, and filled with a paste made from the egg yolks mixed with other ingredients such as mayonnaise and mustard – Wikipedia) and I like it. The second party was my favorite because it was a barbecue party, we had a lot of meat. Even though I love meat but the best part of the party was when everybody sat surrounding a stove with burning fire while singing old American songs, it was fall and the weather was cold. Everyone was so nice and welcoming, what a lovely neighborhood! I remember thinking this was the ideal American neighborhood I saw on TV and movies, where everybody knows everybody and gets together once in awhile, Mary even has a book club with the other ladies. Compared to the place where I lived which is a complex of townhouses it was totally different. I lived there for 10 months but I never even really “talked” to my neighbors, most of the time you would just look at each other sometimes with no smiles and continued to mind your own business. Hanging out with Mary and Terry’s neighbors really opened my eyes that yes this kind of neighborhood does exist.
Mary and Terry loved to involve me in their family’s gatherings as well and that’s how I learned about American values of family. In my country whenever we have a big celebration we love to involve everybody including our relatives and friends and it will take days to celebrate. For example during Christmas in my hometown, we Christian will celebrate it for the whole month till New Year and even days after that by opening our house for people to come and visit us. We will have cakes and snacks and drink for people to have and the next day other people will come sometimes even strangers. But in United States I learned that when it comes to big holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, it should be spent with your family and closest friends and it will only take one day or couple days of celebration depends on how many invitations you get. Of course sometimes they also invite other people like me, but family comes first unless you live far away from them then you may get invited to join your friend’s family or to join a celebration at church. I celebrated my first Thanksgiving with them and they even let me slept over. I was able to help them cleaning the house and then I met their son, granny and some of their good friends. We had big feast. It was a lot of fun. During Easter, I went to their church and then we went to Mary’s sister’s house. I helped them hiding the eggs for the kids and Mary made the most delicious bird’s nest cake (traditional cake for Easter) I’ve ever tasted.
Terry is an artist, he has a job but during his spare time he will make beautiful things from wood. Their house is filled with his creations and I love all of them. Terry is also funny, he loved to tease me pretending like he forgot which college I go to, he often told people that I went to George Mason University instead of NOVA. He’s a cool father and a great husband. I loved seeing how Terry and Mary work together and support each other as husband and wife. In my country usually wife is on the lower position than the husband but in their family both of them are equal, they’re a team.
Two weeks before my birthday, February 22nd 2017, I emailed them saying that I would love to cook for them Indonesian food and to invite them to have a birthday dinner at my place but they insisted to take me out instead as they said that’s how American do it so I agreed. When they came to pick me up I noticed that Terry seemed a bit down, later I figured out that he just lost his mother a week ago. I was so shocked and touched at the same time. The fact that they could’ve just cancelled our plan but they didn’t and instead they kept their promise to celebrate my birthday with me just overwhelming. I ended up having a heartwarming birthday celebration and to be honest it was the best one.
Post written by Picessylia Anakay, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Indonesia
‘’Pluralist societies are not accidents of history. They are products of enlightened education and continuous investment by governments and all civil societies in recognizing and celebrating the diversity of the world’s citizen.’’
-Aga Khan IV
The greatest thing can happen only when you move your one foot forward, then you can’t imagine how many good things can come across you. Yes, I took one step forward to learn, to experience and to meet some good people. I came across an opportunity that seemed very interesting to me. I read the missions and goals of the organization and I decided that I want to be a part of this organization. It is a nonprofit organization named Atlas Corps. I applied for a position as the executive intern and luckily, I got accepted for the position. I was glad and nervous at the same time. I asked my friends how am I going to do it well, they answered ‘just believe in yourself’. Believe me this simple advice helped to bring the best out of me.
My first day at Atlas Corps was great and I can’t forget that one moment I saw different faces with beautiful welcoming smile. They introduced me to everyone and by seeing their smiling faces gave me the comfort. My supervisor is the greatest person I’ve ever met, Mr. Calum Field, who welcomed and showed me around the office.
On that day, my first assignment was something I’ve never done before and it excited me that I was going to learn something new. Mr. Calum Field is a very well-planned and active Executive Assistant and on the higher position is Mr. Scott Beale, the Executive Director, a great man with great ideas. I found him very friendly and helpful. I came across many good things I can learn from them such as; how international organizations works, how they put together the work and idea of a diverse group of leaders. They all are leaders from different countries and I found myself as part of the team. My contribution was little but valuable for them as well as for me. What they do is they bring young leaders from all around the world to the United States of America to do volunteer work for one year. Atlas Corps is an international network of leaders of nonprofit organizations and they all promote innovation, cooperation, and solutions to address critical social challenges by building young leaders, and supporting innovation through an overseas fellowship of skilled professionals.
This internship taught me many things and increased my network as well. I am glad that there is an organization like Atlas Corps that focuses on developing professional youth and promoting innovations among skillful young leaders. Atlas Corps gives opportunity to the youths and focuses on their contribution to the economy.
I am also grateful for CCI Program for giving me such an opportunity to learn and to improve my leadership skills, networking skills and to learn from some great individuals.
Post written by Meher Sultana, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Pakistan
This article originally appeared in the Northern Virginia Community College’s newspaper Above the Fold
Ms. Huyen Pham, a fellow from the Humphrey Fellowship Program from Vietnam, visited Northern Virginia Community College during the week of March 26 to participate in an international exchange of information and mutual understanding of major global issues -such as public health, while creating long-lasting meaningful and productive relationships and partnerships between NOVA and other countries. The week culminated on Friday, March 31, with a discussion with the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program participants about the Fellowship Program and the HIV/AIDS issues and substance abuse.
Ms. Pham has been a senior researcher for drug policy related studies with the Center for Research and Training on HIV/AIDS (CREATA) at Hanoi Medical University since 2009, and was previously awarded with a scholarship at the Australian Agency for International Development.
As part of the NOVA core mission of educational experience, the international exchange participation with Ms. Pham opened doors for the exchange of information with the NOVA and local community about issues of public health, substance use and abuse, HIV/AIDS, prevention, policies and human rights.
During the week, the members of the Humphrey committee organized meetings with the college members, staff and students at the Annandale and Medical Center campuses, and with experts from the National Institute of Health, the World Bank, Chris Atwood Foundation, and George Mason University. She had the opportunity to network and create significant connection that, according to her, “will help her to research and conduct evidence to advocate for different policies, involve the government, and change perspectives.”
The last day, Ms. Pham visited the participants of the Community College Initiative (CCI) Program at NOVA. Both the CCI Program and the Humphrey Fellowship Program are sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, provide ten months of non-degree academic studies in related fields, and foster a mutual exchange of understanding and knowledge.
Ms. Pham motivated the CCI Program participants to look for opportunities to learn and to give back to their communities. Naik Alam, CCI participant from Pakistan, said he is “interested in poverty alleviation in general, and the role of women in this cause. I really wish to have this kind of opportunities in the future, where we can work with our government on a policy level.” Rajesh Shanmugan, CCI participant from India, expressed that he wants to be a Humphrey Fellow in the future: “I want to make researches to find methods to cure cigarettes and alcoholism addiction, because many families in India are seriously affected by them.”
During the discussion, Ms. Pham said her major goals are to share her knowledge with the younger generation, to change policies, and to enhance the voice of those who are going through drugs and IHV/AIDS problems, and who are discriminated against by society, so that they can find support in the community. “They deserve to be seen as sick, not as criminals. They are humans as well,” she mentioned. Her work in ethnography studies has led her to be labeled as a drug consumer, since she spends most of her time with them. “I do it because I need to understand the reasons why they do it and what are their challenges,” she added.
Problems such as drug addiction and HIV/AIDS affect every nation, so she believes that through networking, conferences, and cooperation, the problem can be addressed. The goal is to inform and educate people from different parts of the world, and that is what the CCI Program is promoting with Humphrey Fellowship Program’s help.
Kgaogelo Mbewe, from South Africa, said “I though HIV/AIDS was only a problem in Africa, and after today’s discussion, my eyes have been opened to the fact that it is a worldwide problem, and that countries need to work together to educate people about the virus, how to protect themselves, and how to live and accept those who are already infected.” These issues are affecting all counties, because it is not only happening in Vietnam but everywhere. As Ms. Pham said, “What happens anywhere can happen everywhere.”
Post written by Vanesa de la Cruz, CCI Participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Colombia