Tag Archives: Social Hosts

My CCI Experience

Having been in the USA for six months now, I feel a lot has changed already. I feel I’ve changed to a better person. My visit to the USA has been an amazing experience. Ever since my first day here, people seemed to be very nice, kind and helpful. I’m glad I’m in a place that is open to diversity, truly open.

When I got the acceptance email and later the envelope I was beyond happy, not only will I study in the USA but I would also be doing activities to share my culture and explore the American culture. I was lucky enough to be placed at Northern Virginia Community College and also live in Virginia because the slogan is very true, Virginia IS for lovers!

I and my CCI colleagues have been receiving support from everyone (especially emotional support) from day one and later on, we learned how to support each other. Not to mention my social hosts who have been such a blessing from the day I met them.

Sarah, with her social hosts Patricia and Richard, on Thanksgiving Day.

What is very unique about the CCI program is that it not only focuses on the academic experience but also four other areas which are: volunteerism, internship, leadership & action planning, and cultural exchange.

Through academics, I was able to experience the American classroom and obtain great knowledge in the field I work in. I was honored to get to know some of my professors who had a tremendous experience and were also very supportive.

The second pillar of the program is volunteering. I enjoyed this part because I was able to meet people and interact with them and at the same time benefit the community.

The third one is the internship. This one is very important because I get to apply what I learned in my past years as a teacher and what I learned in the classes I am attending and gain hands-on professional experience at different preschools and schools through an internship.
The internship part is very important because beside the gained experience it will help me when I am back home to become a better teacher and get a better job and it will also help me a lot in starting my own project related to education.

Sarah volunteering at Family Science Night at Graham Road Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia.

The fourth pillar focuses on leadership and action planning. I’ve been working as a teacher back home and I also volunteered occasionally but never had something solid, something of my own.
Before the CCI program, I never felt I could make a real change in my community but now I feel like I gained very important and useful skills as well as resources that would really help me when I go back home to establish a unique non-profit organization.
Throughout the program we had classes that focus on many skills especially practical leadership skills and we also worked on creating an “Action Plan” for the project that each of us will implement upon returning home.
We also attended a mid-year retreat called “Pathways to Success Program” in January which was full of very useful workshops, networking activities and presentations. In the mid-year program I also got to meet other CCI participants from different countries and even though we did have the same major, we were still able to exchange very useful ideas regarding our projects.

Sarah with Helen (Indonesia), Aaron (India), and Schawany (Brazil), 3 NOVA Annandale Participants, at the International Young Leaders Assembly at the World Bank in Washington, D.C.
Sarah with her Early Childhood Education classmates during a culture-sharing class period.


The fifth pillar (my favorite) is cultural exchange. I got to learn about the American culture through almost everyone I met and I got to share my own culture with them through presentations, food and simply conversations. Sometimes I’d talk to someone in the bus or in the street and then we end up talking about culture!
We also had several field trips which helped us further understand American history.
And of course the most fun exposure to other cultures is those of my CCI colleagues, not only the ones who go to NOVA but also the ones in the other states through the “Pathways to Success Program” where we all met.
Since day one in the USA, I was determined to focus on all the areas of the program in order to succeed and fulfill the program requirements and I was honored to receive the academic achievement award in the mid-year program and I hope I can achieve more this semester.

The CCI is not only the pillars though, it’s the whole mesmerizing experience and the opportunity to leave a mark.

Post written by Sarah Awadallah from Egypt, a 2018-19 NOVA Alexandria CCI Participant

Mom Again…. My Experience as a Social Host in the Community College Initiative Program

My husband emailed me at work one day in early August of 2016 – he wanted to sign up to be a “social host” for the Community College Initiative Program.  I had no idea what that meant – and my first reaction was “absolutely not”.  Knowing that as “mom”, a full time lawyer, the “manager” of our family (and we had just adopted a 7 month old puppy!)– it would be one more thing added to my already full plate.

About a week later, my husband sent me a confirmation letter.  We were matched with a student from Ghana.  Reluctantly, I agreed to participate.

Our first meeting was at the NOVA Annandale campus.  We met Eben, our student from Ghana.  He is a tall young man, with a wide smile. Eager to meet his new family, share his culture and learn about ours.  The meeting went well. Our eleven year old daughter, Maya, was excited.  I remember feeling bad, because we were about to leave on vacation.  But we promised that we would connect upon our return and begin our duties as “social hosts.”

We quickly became Facebook friends with Eben.  I think he “liked” every photo on my page.  We went on vacation and upon our return, the whirlwind of back-to-school time began.  How do I have time for this student, I thought?

Well – sharing time with Eben became easy. I first invited him to one of Maya’s basketball games and dinner. I thought – “this is our life, he should see what we do.”

With Grandma in tow, we picked up Eben for our first outing.  Eben quickly became an active participant, bouncing the ball back and forth to Maya when she wasn’t playing.  Eben began teaching me words in his language.

Our first dinner outing made me realize how fortunate we are – and what little Eben knew about American life.  He wanted help deciding what to order, questioned why there were so many forks on the table and why the servers kept filling our water glass.  We guided him through it.  Maya took an active role in this, teaching Eben to place his napkin on his lap and to use the large sharp knife to cut his steak.  Eben savored every bite – and showed his appreciation to us.

And so it began: the relationship that would change my life.  We invited Eben to the pumpkin patch.  He was so amazed – this is not what a farm in Ghana looked like – there were pumpkins, hay rides, goats to feed, swings, and huge slides to go down.  By the end of the day, Eben was exclaiming to us that “America is great!”  At this time, we were about to go into an election, where our soon-to-be President wanted to make our country great again.  I thought, ‘Eben is right – America is already great.’

Soon after this trip, I became “mom” to Eben.  I was a bit taken aback, but decided to roll with it. I learned that his own mother was not currently part of his life. I felt awkward and honored that he would bestow that title on me.

We continued on with our journey.  We took Eben to a Mexican restaurant to celebrate his birthday.  As “mom”, I began looking out for him. He’s allergic to corn, so I would discuss that with the servers. We made sure he received lots of gifts and wore the Sombrero.  He invited his roommate, Mehedi.  Little did I know, I was about to be a “mom” to both students.

We invited Eben to Ohio for Thanksgiving. He met my family. He saw snow!  If you really want to get to know someone – take them on a road trip.  It was then that I began to realize that Eben is an amazing young man.  He soaked in every moment of the trip, thanking us profusely along the way.  We toured Cleveland with him, took him to the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, the waterfront, Dave & Busters, and a Hibachi restaurant. He met my high school friends, saw my grade school, my high school, my college and prayed in mother’s church.  I was moved beyond measure at how much this simple gesture – sharing my past – meant to him.

Inviting Eben and his roommate Mehedi to events with our family then became second nature.  They attended Maya’s piano recital, we went to Georgetown cupcake, we went to church.  They learned how crazy American’s are about their pets when I threw a 1st birthday party for our dog, Munchie.

We planned a trip to New York City, my husband’s parents live outside the city.  Eben and Mehedi met Ed’s family, toured NYC, and explored great restaurants.  They photographed EVERYTHING along the way!  It is amazing to know that even a subway sign is new and exciting to some.

As I said before, if you really want to get to know someone, take them on a road trip.  Because after this trip, I now had two sons. I was now “mom” to Eben and Mehedi. I didn’t mind one bit anymore. They were now part of me, my family and my heart.

Family birthday parties were to follow.  The Women’s March on Washington, roller skating, bowling, the Harlem Globetrotters, my birthday celebration, the movies.  They became family.  More church services.  We brought Mehedi to church services.  What an eye opener to see a Christian church experience through the eyes of a Muslim.  He soaked it all in – enjoying every minute.  We brought
them to Palm Sunday service, dyed Easter eggs, attended a vigil, they helped with lawn work at our home and even received a visit from the Easter Bunny and brought more friends to our Easter dinner and egg hunt!  Eben and Mehedi brought friends from the program and visited Maya’s school.  They shared a wealth of knowledge about their countries with Maya’s class.  And the class – they took up a donation of school supplies to send to Ghana.

Our time now is coming to an end. We are jamming in many more moments together before they leave to go home. I keep thinking that these are my boys and this is their home.  The students that I was so unsure of back in August will be leaving me, and it breaks my heart.  I am hoping they both return to the U.S as both hoping to come back and pursue more schooling here.  I am hoping to take Maya to Ghana and Bangladesh someday.  I want to meet both of their father’s that I have only spoken to on the phone.I know this experience has changed me.  I opened my heart and I learned so much about two young, amazing men and their cultures. My daughter has learned that she is very fortunate. And she has learned that if you work hard, you can overcome and succeed.

My advice to other families that consider being a social host – these students want to be a part of your life. Participate only if you have the time. Believe it or not, you probably do have the time – because all they really want is to experience the life you are already living.  And as I taught Eben and Mehedi, when you do something like this, you should “go big or go home.”  So take them along for the ride.

To my sons – forever – Eben and Mehedi.  Wherever life takes you, take me in your heart, as you will be in mine.

This experience was amazing and it went by way to fast. In fact, if I had blinked, I would have missed it….

Love,

Mom

Post written by Doreen Manchester, CCI Program Social Host 2016-2017