Traveling to a new country is a great opportunity to learn, try new things, make new friends, to expand your horizons, and why not have fun, but sometimes understanding the culture of that new place can be a big deal. In order to make easier that process, the Community College Initiative program works with social hosts, who are volunteer people that help introduce the American culture to the new participants.
In my case I am so lucky having Mr. and Mrs. Steelman as my social hosts, they are a retired couple who really enjoy sharing their stories, and believe me, they have a lot to tell, having been in many countries in the past, there are many things that you can learn from them. I can simply define them as incredible people; Mrs. Steelman with her kind smile is always ready to reply to your hesitations and Mr. Steelman is a wise man and without doubt a good example to follow.
One of our first meeting was the Irish Festival, which was carried out in old town part of the Alexandria city. This event was fascinating, it was a great opportunity to learn about the Irish community in the US, their impressive dances and how much they love to drink beer, but the most interesting part was learning about how Irish culture has influenced the American one, and a good example of this is the famous St. Patrick’s day.
That day was amazing because I could learn more about my social hosts, I discovered that Mrs. Steelman has Irish roots, and even together we found the emblem and the origin of her family name on a map that was posted in the event. It was fascinating understand how multicultural is America and how immigrants that have arrived to this country have contributed to make this land an awesome cultural place.
Share with the Steelmans is gratifying, they are people who you can have deep conversation but also funny ones, friendly people that offer their time to share their stories but also always ready to listen and help. The exiting thing is that this is only the beginning of many incredible adventures with them.
Oscar Iván Barrera.
Post written by Oscar Ivan Barrera Barrera, a 2019-2020 participant from Colombia studying at NOVA Alexandria.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Post written by Roger Alexander Hincapie from Colombia, 2018-19 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