International Students Learn Beyond the Classroom at COD Through CCI Program

CCI students

By Brian Kleemann

Fifteen international students are gaining an education that extends far beyond the classroom through the U.S. State Department’s Community College Initiative Program at College of DuPage.

Administered by Northern Virginia Community College, the CCI Program provides underserved and underrepresented students from around the world with full scholarships that cover housing, tuition and a monthly stipend for one academic year of study in community colleges. College of DuPage is part of a consortium that consists of nine community colleges across the country, with COD the only school located in the Midwest.

Now in its third year at COD, the CCI Program consists of academics, volunteer opportunities, professional development opportunities, and educational and cultural excursions. CCI students not only share their diverse cultures with people in the U.S. but also learn about American culture, societies and institutions.

 “The program combines higher education with multicultural exchange and international education,” said Nicole Spizzirri, CCI Program Coordinator at COD. “It resonates well with these students because they have a chance to really interact with our faculty and staff. Outside of the classroom, we have faculty, staff and administrators who volunteer as social hosts. This is an incredible cultural exchange. Stereotypes on both sides are taken away as we learn about each other.”

Spizzirri said they seek students who are underserved and underrepresented, and this year’s group comes from such countries as Indonesia, Pakistan, Egypt, South Africa, Ghana and Colombia.

“It’s a really unique and multi-faceted program, and I love to see how the students grow as persons,” she said.

Ntwanano “Wendy” Mabasa of South Africa, Anas Mohammed of Ghana and Liza Yulizar of Indonesia are three of this year’s students who are grateful for the opportunity provided at College of DuPage through the State Department’s CCI Program.

Mabasa learned about CCI through one of her best friends, who participated in a similar program in 2011.

“She’s brilliant but I wasn’t sure if I could do it,” said Mabasa, who is studying construction management. “I always wanted to study abroad but never thought about coming to America. I had thought of London and expected it would happen when I was in my 30s and had achieved so much more. It’s been a beautiful experience and the people are so friendly. What I love is that each professor has practical, on-the-job experience. They teach what they actually know.”

Mohammed is studying programming and networking. While he took the same subjects in Ghana, the COD curriculum makes him feel like he hadn’t studied anything before.

“The gap is so huge. In Ghana, you’re studying it all, while in America, you are training for one specific field, such as networking,” he said. “I love the hands-on learning. You have professors here who have worked in the field and are now in the classroom showing you how to do it.”

Yulizar worked for two years as an IT consultant in banking, creating applications for ATMs. While she would like to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees, CCI provided an opportunity to study IT abroad.

 “Everything is here – from Google to Facebook – so it makes sense to study technology in America,” she said. “My professors provide another way to look at the material, which is amazing.” 

Spizzirri said the students build skills that they then take back to their own communities, allowing them to pass along their expertise to others. For example, Mohammed plans to share his networking skills with colleagues and would like to start a partner program between his college and College of DuPage.

“The IT industry in Ghana is still growing and I want to help grow that industry,” he said. “The U.S. truly answered my prayers. I’ve learned about self-responsibility and giving back to society. I am so happy I have come to this place.”

Yulizar enjoyed taking advantage of the many volunteer opportunities, such as Feed My Starving Children and working at the Willowbrook Forest Preserve. Her goal is to return to Indonesia and find a job at a larger company, and she is now thinking about a return to America for her master’s degree.

“This experience has changed my point of view about American people,” she said. “I was told they were selfish, but that’s not the case. They say ‘hi’ to each other, and our social hosts have become our families here. I love American people!”  

Mabasa has many plans for when she returns home. They include helping students from her college find practical work experiences and continuing her own education in London.

“This is the turning point in my life. I won’t be the same when I go back home,” she said. “I will pass on information about this school because all deserve that turning point in their lives. I am very thankful to the Department of State and College of DuPage for this experience. They took what I thought was impossible and made it very possible for us.”

For more information about the Community College Initiative Program, contact Spizzirri at or by calling (630) 942-2356; contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at or by calling (202) 632-6452; or visit or

Pictured (left to right): Ntwanano “Wendy” Mabasa, Anas Mohammed and Liza Yulizar