I had no answer till October 2019. All of my peers were planning to travel during winter break and I kept thinking that I will join somebody’s trip. I never thought about travelling alone in the United States. Sometimes, I think it was that the real problem or I never wanted to be alone in my life. I kept checking places but could not decide to go anywhere. One day after the class, I was writing a
reflection and realized that I am in the United States. It was just a thought that wanted to realize that I am here to break my stereotypes and get out of my comfort zone.
My thoughts kept going but I did not get the courage to make a decision to go. One day Leeza Fernand came to our CSI class and when she was explaining about the Russian doll, something was happening with me. The last thing she said was to go to other places in the United States and experience the culture of different parts. Try to go to other CCI places and experience how their life
is different than you. It was like an encouragement for me and I started looking for places to visit.
One day one of my CCI friends asked me to join him for New Orleans. I did not know anything about the place but I wanted to go, so I accepted the offer. He had some more plans after New Orleans and I wanted to break my limits too so, I did not join him for the whole winter break. I made a plan for Houston to experience the warm weather in December with other CCI people. My travels did not end in Houston. I did plan for Denver, Colorado as I love mountains and snow.
Finally the day came we went together and then me and my CCI friend had different destinations. I went to Houston and everything was going well until I reached Colorado. I reached Colorado on Christmas eve and waited at the airport till morning. I went to a place where I booked my stay and unfortunately, they cancelled my stay on the spot and that made me panic. There was no signal in my mobile to call someone, transportation was less, and no people on the road or surrounding to get help. Finally, I got a room for a night but I panicked due to the stress of no stay for the next 4 days, high altitude, time and distance. All of these factors made me restless, panic. I kept finding the place to stay for the whole night and finally my winter break ended up by booking tickets for DC.
My traveling has not finished yet, I was demotivated after coming back but I kept reflecting back and made a plan to go to Philadelphia and Boston to get courage again to go alone. These both travel were
long journeys. Philadelphia took 4 hours to reach and Boston took 10 hours traveling but I made it. I have been to 12 states in the USA. If I would not get encouraged by Leeza Fernand or my CCI friend, I
wouldn’t be able to achieve my dreams to travel to my favorite places.
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.
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.
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.
Post written by Khairur Rijal Usman Abra, 2019-2020 CCI Participant from Indonesia.
I used to take public transportation to go to campus or other places when I was in college in my country. When I read one of the rules in CCI Program that participants were not allowed to drive a car or any vehicle, as someone who did not know how to drive at all, it’s not a big problem for me. Otherwise, I was so excited to experience US public transportation.
The first day I came to US, Sarah Yirenkyi, our program coordinator, gave us one folder with one Smartrip card inside. It is a rechargeable card that we can use to pay the bus or metro. We need to tap it on the machine on a bus or metro station. On the first day of orientation, Sarah picked us up with a van to go to campus. Then, she taught us how to use maps and trip planner for bus. In other words, that was the last time she picked us up to go to campus. We had to learn how to take bus by ourselves.
My first time to take bus was hilarious. I and my friends were still confused how to use the WMATA app. We had not known the direction to campus and which bus we should take. All buses looked the same for us. All eyes were on the apps trying to solve this confusing route.
As days go by, I finally figure out how to take bus by myself. Beside WMATA app, I also use Google Maps or Transit. They are probably the first apps I look up in every morning. These apps are very helpful. When you type your destination, it will show you the number of bus or the color of metro you should take, which bus stop you should wait at, and when it will arrive. I must be on the bus stop earlier or I will miss the bus. There were many times I had to run because I saw the bus was coming and I had not reached the bus stop yet. Thankfully, the bus drivers here are so nice. If they see you running, they would definitely wait for you.
During my first 2 months here in America, by using public transportation, I learn a lot the value of punctuality. If I cannot manage my time well, I will miss the bus, another 20 minutes will be wasted to wait another bus, and I will be late for following activities on my schedule. Leeza Fernand, the Associate Director of the Community College Consortium, once said, “In the US, if you are in time, you are on time. But if you are on time, it means you are late.” I remember this and take this as my principle to manage my time and be punctual on every occasion. Because I believe being punctual means respecting my commitment and people whom I will meet.
Post written by Aninda Nurul Hadijah – CCI 2019-2020 Participant from Indonesia.
Dhaka, capital city of Bangladesh, a crowded city where I grown up. After performing my prayer, I was checking my email. I saw my ticket from Dhaka to Virginia has arrived. My pleasure knowns no bound that finally I was moving into another city alone. Time to become independent had arrived. The place where I take birth, where I grew up, where I lived now there’s a chance to experience my dream city Virginia, America. Really my dream came to life, studying in America, foremost country in the world. By the grace of God, I got this opportunity. The opportunity of exploration different culture is a different aspect of life. Also, I have to broaden my mind. The local marketplace of food, childhood school, the mosque and melodious Azan, gettogether in Ramadan I am going to leave it all. The high tune of my mom, the sound of roadside vehicle, and rainy season of my country haunts me over and over again. The tall 18th building, my apartment, and some backbiter neighbor became monotonous in my life. The day before my flight, at 4:00 pm, after getting the ticket, my heart started beating fast, I started sweating, my mouth started becoming dry and my mind was not working. What happened to me? Yes, I was frightened. I was feeling loneliness so I called my mom and said “Please, come and seat beside me.” Yes, I remember my sister’s face when I left the house for airport, she didn’t cry but she covered a lot of pain and also happiness. My bed, my school, my shopping mall everything is making me sad. Almost 30 hours of journey, will I be able to make it. Yes, I did make it happen when I was shivering at Dulles airport in Virginia. Yes, the road, the shops, the traffic, the people, the weather everything has changed. I was scared and I wanted to go back. Suddenly, a sound from my heart came to mind and I heard – ‘Yes, Ayesha, You can do it. You are not moving into new city, you are moving into new life to learn and discover the new aspects of life’.
Post written by Ayesha Alam, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Bangladesh
New York City, a city that never sleeps, one of the major tourist spot in the world. It is also one of the most fundamental cultural center in United States of America. It’s natural beauty and night life charms everyone. It’s iconic sites such as Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, sprawling Central Park, Madame Tussauds adds an incredible scenario which makes eyes blink with sparkling star. Moreover, Rockefeller Center, Time Square, Coney Island, Grand Central Terminal and World Trade Center drives everyone insane. By the grace of God, I have got an opportunity to visit that phenomenal states “ New York” and it has added a golden page in my life.
Madame Tussauds is a well-known wax museum. Everyone knows about cinematic experience from the world that it offers. When I enter it takes me to the Hollywood world. There any one can your dream stars from Hollywood, Royal Family from United Kingdom, and the 1st president George Washington, Former president Abraham Lincoln and current president Donald Trump United States of America. You also don’t need to travel the world to meet Pope & Dalai Lama too.
The world’s biggest and famous Office Building, Empire State Building, on 86th and 102th floor offers panoramic views of New York City. When I climbed on the top of that building which is 102 floor I feel like you are walking on the cloud. The observation of illuminating night image from highest vantage point from Empire State Building of New York can take anyone’s breathe away.
The Statue of liberty is a national monument and an universal symbol of freedom, immigration and democracy to the millions. It’s everyone’s dream to see this beautiful lady even once in lifetime. The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the oldest bridge in United States of America. I feel like It is also an resemble a moon in the sky.
Time Square, a is well – organized to take me in a tour in every World’s famous fashion house and Junk food like from H&M to V&S, J.C Penny to American Eagle, Five guys to Burger king and so on. People can also test different food from different country in restaurants too and find the natural spirit of downtown.
New York, full of diversity, heart of America, known for night life is an enormous city for pleasure, hangout, fun and family vacation. It must make your every single moment memorable and golden age in your entire life. I am really blessed that I have an opportunity to visit the city that never sleeps before my death.
Post written by Ayesha Alam, 2017-2018 participant at NOVA-Annandale from Bangladesh
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
When my exchange program started I found myself blinded by the opportunity given to me. There are people to register me to classes, to tell the way to college, to transport me through the city. But the honeymoon did not last long and I learned my lesson. If I want to get the most of the experience, I should go out and take it by storm.
The best part of an exchange is seeing new places and culture, and there are great opportunities to do this for free. As a college student you have the chance to find sponsorship for conferences, trips, food, accommodation and discounts. Look for it in your college, and surf the web for conferences in your field. Also be ready to show why you deserve sponsorship.
Surf the web with the right guidelines. There are so many resources eclipsed by the tons of useless information that reside in the web. Search for free online teaching platforms, software discounts for students, use of your .edu email, register yourself in education related websites. Those tools are powerful and free so use them to your benefit.
Meeting people is a good way to find resources that will open many doors. To address this matter I started to attend meetings called Meet-Ups, defined by its creators as a tool that “brings people together to do, explore, teach and learn the things that help them come alive.”. There I met people in my field of study (Information Technology), learned a lot and acquired tools that I will use to improve myself.
Do not think that exchange is only about high grades, think outside the box and live adventures with the new people in your life, They are the best resource you can get. A great exchange experience is not achieved by sticking to what is given to you, furthermore is by finding the resources to boost your journey.
Bellow there are some of the resource I’ve acquired in my field of IT:
The Community College Initiative Program (CCI) is an awesome and unique educational program, and I am so honored to be part of this program. It has given me several experiences in academic achievement, language skill, and mutual culture understanding.
CCIP gives me an opportunity to study 2 semesters in the Information technology (IT) program in Northern Virginia Community College. This field of study is totally different to my educational background and experiences as a medical and public health service officer. I am a coding expert in classification of disease, but not in IT. I sometimes smile when I imagine how crazy I am in this decision. When people ask me about my major, and I say IT, they are so excited by saying “wow”. That makes me imagine how difficult it must be to be an IT student. It is my choice and I must face it. I have set my mind to be as positive as possible because my dream is bigger than the difficulty. I keep in my mind that I have a big dream to implement IT in the public health services in the rural areas of Indonesia. I tried to figure out my problem by talking to my professors and my classmates every after class. I seek help from my CCIP friends who take IT classes; Kay and Soma, as well as a very good friend, Aqsha, who is always there for me when I ask him to teach me. They are very kind and helpful and always ask me to call or send them a message if I need their assistance.
Another great experience that I got here is improving my English skills. I realized my English has improved after 6 months here, and I still have 4 months left to learn. It is a common situation for International students who do not speak English as their first language. In CCIP, we are from 12 different countries, all non-English speakers. We also have various English abilities, from excellent, good to poor, but we are here to learn. We support and motivate each other and never look down on one another. Diversity in language is a blessing, and it teaches us to learn other languages such as Bahasa Indonesia, France, Spanish, Portuguese, Indian, Urdu, and Turkish.
In addition, CCIP has taught me to accept other cultures, to be more open minded, to understand and respect others. Individualism and Islamophobia are among the stereotypes about Americans. Since I have been here, I have seen that Americans are very kind: they always give a hand when I need help and warmly greet me when we meet. I learnt from the way they appreciate and encourage to learn rather than blame someone who make mistakes. Their respect for me with my scarf and the meditation room at NOVA campus are evidence that Americans are tolerant to Muslims. The reason why I wear a scarf and do not eat non-halal foods are common questions not only from Americans but also from CCIP friends. I answer those questions carefully by using health approach that is easy to understand. I am a culinary lover, but I am really concerned about halal foods, and my friends are so respectful about it. My friends in my apartment always tell me when they cook or eat pork in our apartment. We have never had dinner together at the same dining table when they had eaten pork. They always apologize for the inconvenience. Americans and my friends also showed me their tolerance when we had Thanksgiving dinner with international friends in a church. American families served halal turkey and food for Muslim friends. At the time, I took a vegetable that I did not realize that was vegetable with pork until an American told me about it. I finally put it back and said, “Thanks”. Last month, I volunteered in a Christmas holiday workshop at the church near my apartment. I was the only Muslim there and it was so easy to recognize me because I wore a scarf. I came there to assist children for shopping and wrapping gifts for their families. We showed the beauty tolerance.
Being in America is also the way to promote my country to the world. As a CCIP grantee from Indonesia, I strongly realize that I have the high responsibility to represent Indonesia in the way I think, talk, and act, so I try to do my best. I am always excited to tell about my beautiful country, Indonesia, to people that I meet: my instructors, my classmates, and people that I meet when I am volunteering, on the train, bus or wherever I am. I sometimes send them pictures, videos, and links about Indonesia on email. One of my most memorable moments was when I attended the Young Leaders Assembly (IYLA) conference at the World Bank, Washington DC. Some friends warmly greeted me and they were so excited when they found out that I am from Indonesia. Most people thought that I was a Malaysian. Because of my small eyes, my Pakistani friend, Naveen, even thought that I was Japanese the first day we met. My Indonesian friend, Morten, was laughing when he heard it. Morten said that Naveen probably meant I was a Javanese instead of a Japanese because there is Java in Indonesia, and people who live in the area are called Javanese. Another funny moment was when two students were talking about me when I was walking down from CT to CG building of NOVA Annandale campus. I did not realize it until they called me when I passed them. They asked me if I was from Thailand, and I said that I was from Indonesia. They finally laughed because they had bet to guess where I am from.
Lastly, CCIP gives me the opportunities to visit some historical and beautiful places in the USA. I love travelling and this is the right way to explore this super powerful country. I love to spend my weekends in Washington DC. I have also been in other states of America, such as Maryland, Chicago, Michigan, Arizona and New York. In the next three months, I am going to other states.
Those experiences are unforgettable and will be a great asset in my bright future. It brings me to be better person, particularly in the way of thinking. My dream to study, learn, and travel in America has come true.
Post written by Martina, CCI Participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Indonesia
“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” Ibn Battuta. My name is Vanesa de la Cruz and I am a walker soul.
I feel amazed by meeting new people, finding new souls in the way, discovering beautiful -and not that beautiful- places, immersing in different cultures… I like to see the sky from a new land every day.
Although I have lived my whole life in the same house in one of the
humblest neighborhoods of the city, I never let the money to stop me from making my dreams come true. And my dream has always been to travel all around the world. Now, I can say that I am not a citizen of Medellin, Colombia, because today I have decided to be a citizen of the world.
And traveling is not only about going to new places every day. Traveling is about meeting new people in each occasion you have: talking with a new person in the bus, listening to someone’s ideas, reading somebody’s words… It is about going to some different place every day -it can be a new neighborhood in your city or another country in the other side of the world-.
For me, traveling is about learning. Because the world is so big and full of people living different realities. It is about understanding other people’s traditions, cultures and behaviors. It is about seeing the beauty in the diversity. It is about having an open mind (the larger it is, the most knowledge and experiences you can keep), because close minds do not allow the wonder of the world to come in.
I just started a new journey, the biggest in my life until this moment. The 18th of July I moved to Virginia, United States, to study during 10 months in a Community College.
This opportunity is bigger than studying. I am living away from home, without my family, with people from 11 different countries of the world. I am not only learning about United States culture, but also about Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh, Ghana, South Africa, Cote d’Ivore, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Yemen and Turkey.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the
religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James Michener. This is what I keep telling myself every day since I came here. Because I also came to learn about myself. I am discovering new version of me, new behaviors, passions and likes. And I am obtaining abilities and skills during this process. It is not only abou
t independence, it is about mutual understanding, about being in the other’s position, about respecting and accepting the difference and finding the beauty in the diversity. This is all about making a better world, full of love, understanding and colors.
Until today, I already ate rice with my hands (as Indians, Pakistanis, Indonesians and Africans do), I discovered that I like spices, I danced the typical dance of every country in the program, I celebrated 4 different independences, and day after day, I keep learning about my friends (who I can call today family), their traditions, behaviors and ways to live and love. It has been only two months, but I already feel complete and blessed for this opportunity that is changing our lives and our ways to see the world, forever. And, of course, sometimes it is really hard to understand why some of them act in a certain way and why the others do not; why they think like that; why they do not understand me and my culture. But we are all working together to make this work and it is actually working.
The Community College Initiative Program is incredibly hard, but it is totally worth it.
This post written by Vanesa de la Cruz, CCI participant at NOVA, 2016-17, Colombia