One of the highlights of the Northwest Community College Initiative (NWCCI) program is the opportunity students and staff have to engage with the local community. There are many organizations we have worked with since the program first began more than five years ago, including the Creative Retirement Institute (CRI) at Edmonds Community College. Here NWCCI Associate Director Amanda Fletcher shares her experience of working with this local community partner.
It’s no secret that I love my job. Of course, the reason I love what I do is that NWCCI students and alumni are amazing. I find myself rambling at dinner parties about the impressive ways our students challenge themselves, the questions they ask that make me see my own country in new ways and the way they continuously make me laugh.
The event that epitomizes all of the reasons I love working with CCI students is the CRI class every spring. For the past five years, NWCCI students have participated in panel presentations for members of the CRI, a group of retired community members who aspire to lifelong learning. They are intense, self-motivated learners eager to accept the challenge offered by college-level courses.
In March, students from Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia and Panama participated in a panel about their countries and their experiences in the United States. The next week five students from Egypt, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya and South Africa gave a presentation on modern Africa and discussed the similarities and differences between their countries. Mohamed Zin, a NWCCI student from Egypt, explained that he tried to “transfer a real image about my country… to give a clear image about what is happening in Egypt nowadays as some information [participants] got through the media were wrong, and I tried to clarify that information.”
The NWCCI presentations at the Creative Retirement Institute are among my favorite activities, because of the personal interactions and culture sharing that take place between participants.
After the formal presentations, class participants and panelists spent over an hour asking each other questions. CRI participants asked questions like “What are your thoughts on foreign aid?”, “How important is social media?”, “What is your country’s relationship with its neighbors?” and “How are women and children treated in your countries?” In turn, NWCCI students asked the audience for their perspectives. They asked questions like “What do you think of when you hear the name of my country?” and “What are your thoughts on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?”
A common theme in this conversation was that true diplomacy comes from getting to know the people we perceive as different from us and that the media does not give us accurate views of each other. When asked what he appreciated about the CRI experience, Tshepo Mboni, a NWCCI student from South Africa, said “I personally was deeply motivated by knowing that I was playing a very important role when it came to eliminating most stereotypes that people have about Africa through telling them what is really happening as opposed to what the media says. I was excited as well about the fact that I knew I was going to make a presentation to people who are really interested in how Africa is and how it is making its way to grow.”
A CRI class member appreciated the class because it provided an “interesting snapshot of lives that we cannot get from the media or movies.” At the end of the class, another CRI member challenged NWCCI students to “take a good look at what passes before you and consider what you can do to contribute to peace.”
Giving presentations for groups like the CRI is just one way that our students contribute to peace. I am confident that all NWCCI students can be proud of the ambassador roles they play in our communities daily by making people aware of the human element of the places they come from.
The NWCCI program is part of the Community College Initiative, an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs.