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.
Getting ready to go down to a place where no relation is going to be close yet it’s going to be your HOME was one I feared. Certainly I needed to let go and just accept the challenge. Left family, friends, colleagues and customers behind. Brokenhearted! How was I going to make new memories in this new place, AMERICA?
Being home sick was obviously expected yet I tried not to make it evident. Told myself I was going to make the best out of every possible encounter I make. Not long I lost a colleague back home few weeks after I arrived. Was broken. I picked up fast with the notion that it is well. As if that was not enough, I lost my grandmother. Was left in shackles literally and shut down. She was my ultimate testimony of a strong woman who raised her children and grandchildren the best way. Crushed like never before I wanted to leave the program and go back home to Ghana because in as much as I wanted to do this major step for myself and my future, I wanted her to at least witness my come-up. I guess that was the universes’ way of putting things into place and throwing into my face greater challenges. The bait cast to me was a dicey one.
Could have changed my mind and gone home if not for some beloveds such as Kelly Forbes who was much more soothing than I thought. Every lady in my apartment also played a major role in keeping me on my feet in the CCI program.
Emily Miller who is my social host has been one of the amazing people I have come across here in the United States and also being a participant of the CCI Program. That be said, I have been here only few months and I have experienced love and joy in a more different way. Together as a duo we have been to a fashion exhibition in Washington DC which was awesome. Had the chance to interact with other designers who came to showcase their clothing and arts. Had an American meal in one restaurant in DC, loved it. We ran in the rain like kids and it felt like sisterhood. Had the chance of shopping and cooking with Emily and during these moments I had this feeling of her being my mom. She made me belong openly without any barrier.
Working as a volunteer in her office gave me the opportunity to shadow who exactly she was. Her employees love her for who she is. Emily defines what patience and love for humanity is. Her son Austin is adorable.
There wouldn’t have been any other ways to have felt like I belonged if not for the initiative made by the CCI Program to link us with social hosts. This has made my stay here if not memorable, a delightful experience. Her friends have been very true and sweet to me in diverse ways. We have once had a ladies night where I shared my culture as to how to cook a Ghanaian food and they were gladly interested and willing to help. They came in with gifts for everyone as well. We paired the Ghanaian meal with American side dishes. They tasted yummy together.
Post written by Abigail Daitey from Ghana, 2018-2019 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
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.
I still remember the moment when I applied for CCI Program. It is still fresh in my mind. It was in November 2017 and now here I am in the United State of America, the land of opportunity (sounds awesome right?). When I got the selected email confirming that I was one of the participants from Indonesia, I felt so blessed and grateful for the opportunity. Then, something crossed my mind. Would I be fine there knowing that I would not be around people I know and I love for almost a year? Would I be good enough? Would I be accepted there? It my sound cliché, but it was true. I would not be able to be around my loved ones. The feeling crept in my mind every single minute along with other million questions every single person going abroad for such a long time could have asked. Like it or not, I have to face it – myself strengthening.
I remember one of the questions I had to answer in the CCI Program essay was about what I would need besides other things the program has provided. I answered home. At that time, I knew that the participants would get a place (I thought it would be a house) to stay at, but house is not a home. They are two different clans; I needed the feeling of home. And guess what? I found home here. Here are the two reasons why I say so.
“Hey gentlemen, I am Mindi and I will be your social host this year”, that is the email I got from my social host. Yas, you are right, it is social host program that makes me feel home already. The perk of being CCI participants is that we are given a social host; persons who have been living in US for such a long time that are willing to give their time to introduce, teach, and help us experience US better.
My social host is Mrs. Mindi Maline, an English teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, place where I am pursuing my study in Business Management. She is superb nice. My friend from India and I got the same social host. First time we met was on Annandale campus after I had my English presentation in which I did not do well. The first impression I got was she was so calming and supporting even though it was our first meeting. I told her about my presentation and she calmed me like a mother calms her son. I felt like home already. She also invited us to join family dinner with her big family. She cooked chicken (our request) and she also made us apple pie and pumpkin pie. It was my first time trying the American typical pies; apple and pumpkin pie. I did not like them. I loved them. We got to hang out with the whole family; her husband, her son, and some relatives. We talked and shared about many things, study, life and culture. I learned a lot. I felt like I was home already. It was such a good experience.
Another reason is I have housemates. I am living with my five other brothers from other mothers. Honestly speaking, at first, I thought I would be hard to live with them. I mean we are too many in an apartment. There would be less privacy. I was wrong. After living with them for almost three months I finally realize why the program put more people in an apartment. There were (sure there will be) ups and downs, like you have no one to talk to or you feel homesick and other feelings. That happens, and it is normal. I don’t understand but somehow when I had a rough day and be back at apartment and met them, I felt better. we talked, laughed, and we sang together (only God knows how I love singing). My point is they make your days better. There were also clashes. And again, it is normal. I think that what makes us understand and appreciate each other better.
I had a small talk with one of my housemates when other housemates were out. He said that our last day will be on Wednesday, May 15th 2019 and he will miss us. I told him that I will not miss them. I lied. It is hard to describe the feeling of goodbye when you know exactly the time you will be apart. Going back home, living our normal life without seeing your housemates every day. Time does fly. I just want to say one thing. Enjoy the time here, make the most out of it. Be kind and nice to each other because you will never know when you will see them again. Last thank you goes to CCI Program for making this happen. It has always been a privilege for me to experience new things, but this year has been amazing and thank you for making me feel home already. #themoreyouknowCCIProgram
Post written by Elfis Adu from Indonesia, a 2018-2018 CCI participant at NOVA-Annandale.
Studying in US is full of adventures -everything is different and exciting, including our Host Family. All of a sudden, I share with people whom I have never seen before.
My Host Mom, Kirstin Riddick. She is IT technician in Northern Virginia Community College Alexandria campus. When I went to see her for first time I was nervous. When I reached her, she started speaking with me as she knows me before. She is righteous and happy Person. She became more than a friend to me. She took me to church where we both taught in Sunday school and she took me to shopping also. I felt very close to her that I could share my ambition, experiences, feelings etc. We both had very good time twice. She took me to have lunch together. It was one of the beautiful spot and she told me that it shows Texas culture. Kirstin always calls me to know about my health and experiences.
She made my exchange program better. She showed me what it means to be a member of an American Family. I am so thankful and blessed for having her in my life.
Finally, to say Host Family is the second family. In the Conclusion, I am having experienced and great exchange program in the United States.
Post written by Shwethana Lella, 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
Community College Initiative (CCI) Program- a one year non degree program that provides education for foreign students in US but this is what the rest of the world know. Participants feel that , it is an invaluable experience of gaining- knowledge, strengths, friends,family and courage of accomplishing goals. The beauty of the program is, no participant leaves US in the same way when he/she came here.
My story of coming into CCI began on my birthday of 2014. It was the day when I filled in the first application to participate in CCI. I asked god to make it my birthday gift by giving me this chance. My prayers and wishes of my friends and family worked, finally I landed in United states as a participant.
During the program time, there is no day where I did not learn something new even it may be one of my mistakes or weakness. The people in the program add more beauty to it. My social host whom I got from the program is no lesser than a Friend, philosopher, guide and a father to me. The love and care showed by them is irreplaceable.
The time never stops we need to move as well. Finally the day came, every participant was ready with their baggage for bon voyage. That’s when we missed everyone more. We remembered the words from a wonderful lady of our program “we all are under the same sky, some or the other day we will see each other again.”
Things would not be normal for a CCIPian after coming home again. Every participant is filled with the power to do something or experience new things for the betterment of community. In my case, one of the good things that I did after coming back is participating in a Model United Nations conference as a delegate of UNITED STATES. The motion for that session is International Terror and World Peace and who would not want it after having a family around the globe. The things that I do before and after program are almost same but the dedication, confidence and accuracy increased. One thing that I can never forget from the program- we lose the game but we won’t lose our players. Miss you all out there.
———we love NOVA———-
——–Thank you CCI———-
Post written by Praveen Mandadi, CCI participant at NOVA 2015-2016, India