Diary of a Zimbo Studying Abroad: Surround Yourself With People Who Are Good For You

Angela Kumirai | University of Pennsylvania
5 minute read

My first semester at Penn has been enriched with wonderful experiences that I have been blessed to enjoy. I am grateful for having gone through this first semester and made it out alive! There are tonnes of things that I have learned but the lesson that comes close to my heart is:  Surround yourself with people who are good for you!

I had a horrible experience in my Chemistry Recitation. Chemistry is my major, and I expected to do well in that class. Three weeks into the class made me think that I was downright stupid. I felt like an imposter. “I do not belong here,” I thought to myself. Questions like these started to fill my head, “How did I get into this Ivy League school- 9.4% acceptance rate? Did admissions make a mistake?” I was performing horribly in that class. I realized it later than I should have that the group that I had been placed in for in-class discussions was not good for me. My contribution to the discussion was not regarded as worthy. When I did not understand how a problem was solved, the group would not wait to make sure that I understood what they had just done. I spoke out and I was literally ignored. Plenty of times I squeezed back tears in the classroom. This led to a bad first midterm.

My fate turned when one of the other groups had a shortage of members. The teaching assistant asked the class if anyone wanted to join that group. I stood up as the words came from the TA’s mouth and I packed my things quickly and unapologetically walked away from my group.

I was amazed! That was the first time I felt like I was in a group. I sat down with my new group members and they asked me for my opinion on every single problem. Even though I did not know answers to some of the problems, I felt very important and wanted. That class session went by faster than I wanted it to. I learned a lot from those students and I knew that is where I belonged. I realized that I had wasted half a semester by sticking to the first group which had treated me like trash. However, I am glad that it only took me half of my first semester to realize that. The worst case would have been to learn this valuable lesson in my last semester of senior year. I am happy to say that after I changed groups, all the midterms and exams after that had better results.

“…I knew beforehand that people would judge me because of the way I looked and the way I talked. I had prepared myself for this scenario. My plan was to prove that I was just as intelligent as all of them and in my mind,…”

I knew beforehand that people would judge me because of the way I looked and the way I talked. I had prepared myself for this scenario. My plan was to prove that I was just as intelligent as all of them and in my mind, I had imagined that after solving a complex problem, then they would realize that I was worth listening to, and I would earn their respect. However, it did not go as I had imagined. That complex problem never came and I was the one who did not know how to solve any of the tough problems. I was always behind and I missed a lot of announcements and important pieces of information. This only magnified my uniqueness but in a negative way. For awhile I felt like a charity case from Africa who was there for improving statistical purposes.

But when I was courageous enough to stand up and walk away, I realized that a student can only be as strong as the extent to which the environment in which she/he is in empowers.
So again I will emphasize the lesson I learned – Surround yourself with people who are good for you!

Author Angela Kumirai is a first year USAP student at the University of Pennsylvania who hails from Fletcher High in Gweru. 

Disclaimer: This article was originally published on Education Matters-USAP Perspectives:



Diary of a Zimbo Studying Abroad: The Trivial First Step That Shapes The Future

Brandon Bwanakocha | University of British Columbia
4 minute read

A significant transition surely takes long to be fully executed,but the decision to stay captive to the desire for positive change is made in the flicker of a single heartbeat. It only takes that trivial first step from one mind state to another to ignite the whole person to move towards positive change.

My coming to the University of British Columbia in Canada from Zimbabwe was the most terrifying experience of my life. It meant giving up a life that took me 20 years to learn how to live, to start a new life in a new country, new culture, new climate. What made it worse was that the abrupt change between these two lives only took place in just two days. Since the change was this abrupt, my mind was still back in the life I had in Zimbabwe. I needed that trivial first step to start accepting that I now needed to adjust and adapt to my new environment.

“…My first few weeks in Canada were characterized by trying to adjust to the new life, trying to understand how the academics at UBC work, and trying to keep up with everyone around me who seemed to speak English faster than my brain could translate…”

Yes! TRYING. Everything was either new or simply different from its equivalent in Zimbabwe, and I had to TRY to adjust. I remember sleeping with the blinds half way up my first night here because I could not figure out how to bring them all the way down, and how my first morning I had a cold shower not because I wanted to, but I did not know how to turn on the hot water.

I am not sure if I was just jet-lagged or  overwhelmed by the abrupt change from 20 years of my life to the next four. I was terrified to face the reality that I was not going to see my family in a long time. It was a nightmare that I needed to wake up from. Luckily, before coming here, a USAP friend told me that the best way to survive is to accept that you have a lot to learn and ask for help every time you need it. I followed this valuable piece of advice the following morning. I asked one of my Canadian floormates to show me how to make the shower hot.

That was how I took my first trivial step into life at UBC. I learnt how to speak. Speak as in ask and ask not as in ask for help, but as in ask for more knowledge. It was as though some flame of curiosity was ignited inside of me. A curiosity that had me initially ask questions as silly as “How do you eat this?” later matured to “Where did the Musqueam people get their name?”. I became confident enough to stop literally anyone and start a conversation with them, which explains why people frequently ask me how I got to know all 50 000+  people on campus whenever I walk with them from one end of campus to another. (NB: I actually don’t know all 50 000 + people on campus). I even became confident enough to approach professors to ask about something I did not understand in class. My transition to UBC was sped up as a result of one step: losing the fear to ask.

As I look at how I manage to balance being a member of an Engineering Design Team, an executive member of the International Students Association, a member of the Table Tennis Club and a member of Rappers Without Borders, with a challenging academic schedule and all in the snow,  I realize that it all started with that trivial first step to get me going.  Lose the fear – just smile and ask.

Brandon Bwanakocha is a MasterCard Foundation Scholar first year student at the University of British Columbia. A USAP alum, he hails from Mufakose 1 High School. 

Disclaimer: This article was originally published on Education Matters-USAP Perspectives: