Tag Archives: Mutual Understanding

What is it like to live in the United States?

By Roger Cardona Arias

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.

Silent and Strong

By Mercy Mildred Adhaya

The four-hour journey from the State of Virginia to Pennsylvania State was awesome with the perfect weather for travelling. Finally, my longing to spend Thanksgiving with the Mennonite and the Amish was being met. Especially knowing who the Amish are as they are perceived to be a peculiar people.

The Friday morning chilly weather was not going to stop me from quenching my thirst of learning who the Amish were. A one-hour drive filled with the beautiful view of the countryside to a One-roomed school in the middle of large farms was the beginning of the learning experience. The school Penny Town School was started by a beggar who went round the Amish and Mennonite communities begging for pennies. The school has both Amish and Mennonite students and only their attires can help you differentiate them. Amish female students have their hair folded neatly in a Bun and ankle length plain dresses with aprons starting from the waist down to the ankle, black stockings and shoes. On the other hand, the Mennonite female students have their hair made in a French-plait, floral ankle length dresses and black stockings and shoes. Male students from both communities put on checked shirts, jeans, instead of belts, suspenders and black stockings and shoes. Teachers from this two communities dress like the female studies from their respective communities except that for the Amish teachers, their aprons are full body length. Their main languages are;

  • Pennsylvanian Dutch- Oral and learnt from home (Not written at all)
  • English- Learnt in 1st Grade
  • Germany- (18s/19s version) Learnt in 3rd Grade and is their Bible is translated in this language.

On Average, in a one roomed classes there are about 30 students from the Grade 1-8, this I found very interesting as it is not the norm in most cultures. A school of this nature has 2 teachers who are known to be of good virtues in the community and are trained during summer by elder teachers for about 1- 3 days. The form of learning for the students is interactive those in senior grades teach those in junior grades when the teacher is teaching one grade on the blackboard. Music is part of their syllabus.  After the 8th grade, Amish students aren’t allowed to go to high school, colleges, or universities like the others, instead they are home schooled by their parents.

Amish and Mennonites are mostly farmers and they use horses but their methods of farming and equipment used are different. The tractors used by Mennonite farmers have rubber tires but the Amish tractors have steel wheels. The Amish mainly use bikes, carriages/buggies and wagon for transport purposes. Family is the most important unit of the Amish Community. A man is only allowed to marry one wife and have as many children as they want. The average age for marriage is 20 years. Divorce is a taboo and it’s not allowed in this culture. A typical family has between 5-15 children with their parents and they aren’t disciplined in a hard way. The Amish in a way are diverse as in some communities parents will find a partner (wife/husband) for their children while in others; one is to find his/ her partner on their own. This applies even in the area of technology in some, little bit of technology is allowed while in others its not allowed at all. Rules governing the Amish are either written or oral depending on the community and are changed every 2 years since they are broken.

 

Ex-communication happens to members when the following happen;

When one advances with education past 8th grade.

If an individual declares in front of the community that they are born -again Christians.

When one practices what is against their cultural customs, rules and regulations.

When ex-communicated, one does not have a direct link with his or her family members and their voice or suggestions don’t count even in Family gatherings.

Today, the Amish community is an area of great interest and many travel from inside and outside the US to learn about their unique and outstanding culture as well as to eat the delicious Dutch cooked dishes made by them.

‘Courage doesn’t ALWAYS roar……sometimes it’s the quite voice at the end of the day saying , ‘I’ll try again tomorrow’ ’.

Rijal’s Blog: Gratitude, Self-Reflection, and Valuable Lessons

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.

Rijal enjoys traveling by himself and getting on the metro is his favorite thing to do.

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.

Rijal enjoys hanging in White House street
Rijal looks exhilarated to visit the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

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.

Gratitude continues.

Post written by Khairur Rijal Usman Abra, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Indonesia.

Educational Tours

CCI NOVA Participants at Arlington Independent Media.

 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.

CCI NOVA Participants visit Virginia Senator Kaine’s office in Washington, D.C.

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.

 

CCI NOVA Participants at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

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. 

Sharing with the Steelmans

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.

The Steelmans and Oscar Ivan enjoying the Irish Festival.

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.

The Irish Festival, August 24th, 2019, Alexandria, VA

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.

How do you measure the impact of the CCI Program?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Marlin Estévez

About those old fashioned concepts

After Christmas, an entire semester in the U.S, and a long time reflecting about the impact that this experience abroad has had in my life, I must admit that I am no longer the person that arrived on that plane, 5 months ago. My personality, my priorities and my mindset have changed and evolved since then, and my concept of what being open-minded means, has had to be redefined a couple of times. That brought me to the conclusion that being open-minded, can actually hurt.

On a visit to the Manassas National Battlefield

I have observed how many of us in the CCI Program are struggling with it. Understanding the different ways of life, realities, beliefs, and even the manners of our new friends and colleagues has collapsed many walls in our minds, and pushed us to see the world with different eyes. For me, learning and sharing with them has not only been a one-of-a-kind experience, but also a major headache in some occasions.

The cause is not that sharing the apartment or spaces has been a big deal, but sharing our perceptions and going deep into each others views and backgrounds, while trying to get used to a new country and its culture, leaves us in a unique situation, that has been overwhelming in some cases.

In Washington, DC

Learning about different lifestyles, and especially, bringing down those prejudices that a thousand times I denied having, has been a difficult task, that requires a conscious effort to be done. I am still improving on that field every day, and my goal is to leave all of those obsolete misjudgments and wrong concepts I had, behind.

Roger and Eylül from Turkey

The biggest lessons that the CCI Program has given me have been occurring out of the classrooms, which was unexpected for me. I feel incredibly lucky to have this opportunity, and I hope that every participant in this program can realize this, and really learn, grow and develop, not only in a professional way, but in their personal lives as well, even if thinking out of the box about all of this, leaves us with a bad headache more than once.

Roger and Carlos in Harpers Ferry, WV with John Sedlins, retired Branch Officer at the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.

Post written by Roger Alexander Hincapie from Colombia, 2018-19 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.

The Importance of Learning a Second Language

CCI Student Oscar Casilla interviewed stakeholders in the NOVA community about their experience learning Spanish and the ways in which it has benefited their professional and personal lives.

Video created by Oscar Casilla, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Alexandria from the Dominican Republic.

Let’s erase the borders and embrace peace….

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.

CCI Participants from Pakistan and India at the Mid-Year Retreat in Arizona

 

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”.

Maria Eiman (Pakistan) and Kaveri Aavula (India) volunteering together.

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.

CCI Participants at Northern Virginia Community College sharing their culture with one another

 

Post written by Maria Eiman, CCI participant at NOVA-Alexandria from Pakistan