Diary of a Zimbo Studying Abroad: Check In – Summer 2018

5 minute read

I auditioned for an accapella group on campus last week (I know, you can gasp out loud). If you’ve lived with me for an extended period of time, you might know that I like to sing, but I would have never dreamt of doing it in front of a group of amazing people sitting behind desks while noting everything I did in their notebooks.

Sadly, I did not perform as well as I had expected to. I find this funny because I thought accapella groups hardly reject people. The other thing is that the only accapella group I auditioned for is one of the best on campus so maybe I was way over my head.

During the audition, I knew that I had not done as well as I had been expecting and I remember feeling dejected for a couple of hours after the audition. I think I was daunted by the fact that the person who auditioned right before me had been so good and sang Stone Cold by Demi Lovato.

Now, I have huge respect for anyone who sings any Demi Lovato song and still sounds good, but that also intimidated me. The other thing might be that I am a decent singer but I am not amazing.

I know that and I have made peace with it. But, the experience revealed to me a few things I had neglected to take note of over the summer/winter break. Here they are, in no particular order.

Take it as it comes
I am one year closer to twenty-one this year, which makes me happy. What makes me happier, however, is the growth I’ve seen in the way I handle disappointment. I am able to be kind to myself and to forgive myself for what I deem to be my failures.

Being able to objectively figure out causes and effects without getting too emotional over them has been another area of growth for me. Understanding that the effort I put in is as important as the outcome has opened up my mind to the possibility of enjoying the ride while I work towards the end goal. The goal was to get into the accapella group.

I spent a lot of time practicing and I enjoyed every moment of going over which song to sing with my friends. I might not have made it into the group, but the process of getting ready for the auditions made me challenge myself and fall back on a support system I had not taken the time to acknowledge last year.

“But if you never try, you’ll never know.”
I love this T-shirt I got two years ago which has a motto on it which I have come to live by without realizing it. I’ve realized that I would rather try, despite going against my defaults, than have questions beginning with the words “What if?” weighing me down. I’ll be honest, I almost did not audition. Just like I almost did not go for the first day of my internship with Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) through the Zimbabwe Career Connect (ZCC) back in June. I have a very deep-seated fear of the unknown.

I lie planning for the future, but when the future becomes reality and I have to get down to doing what it is I set out to do in the first place, I suddenly have trouble breathing or thinking straight.

In both instances, I had to put one foot of the other and keep walking to the place I wanted to go to. Last week while I sat outside listening to the amazing person who sang before me, I almost stood up and left.

In June, during our initial meeting at Education Matters, I sat in a circle with people I did not know and wondered why I would want to be taking a four-hour commute, including time spent in traffic, to and from the WCoZ offices during the Zimbabwean winter. In both cases, I realized that the regret of not knowing what might have been would weigh me down for the longest time.

Book of Gratitude
I began keeping a book of gratitude over my break as an effort to find the little things I enjoyed about my time back at home instead of concentrating on all the negatives that were pervasive to my experience. Writing the three things I was grateful for at the end of each day became my favorite daily ritual and I have promised myself to continue doing it at Wellesley.

My book of gratitude helps me to slow down and appreciate a little bit of the abundant good in my life every day. Without that book of gratitude, I know I would have focused more on the cold weather and my long commute.

Instead, I was grateful for my supervisor’s guidance at WCoZ and the conversations I had with strangers in the combis. Last week, after I got rejected, I know I would have focused more on how I failed to impress and how it made me feel inadequate.

Instead, I was grateful for the support I received and the realization that while the goal matters, the experience is important too. Outside of these two events, I am filled with gratitude for the chance to experience a liberal arts education, the support my family gives me, the people I am coming into contact with and the connections I am making on a daily basis.

Not that I did not appreciate all of this before, but having ten minutes of the day where all I am concentrating on is gratitude has helped me to see this clearly.

Which is to say that..
My summer/winter break was not the best out there; In fact, it was filled with disappointment. My first week of classes has been a whirlwind of excitement, anger, confusion and laughter.

I, however, refuse to police the happiness derived from the experiences which come with seeing one’s family after a while and seeing one’s friends after three months and from simply being home. I have resolved to enjoy the experiences that come my way, walking undaunted and pursuing my goals fearlessly while nurturing the values I cultivate along the journey.

Curated from USAP Perspectives:

Diary of a Zimbo Studying Abroad:Fitting in New Shoes

One minute read

The world has developed an addiction to social media. There is a constant need to check the notifications panel, check your likes and be responding to a text every two minutes.

My fellow Zimbabwean friends and family are helping out to credit the first two sentences, ever online or updating their status on Whatsapp.

Family and friends are two of the greatest assets life can ever present. They are the gifts we value in a way that we would like to chat with them all day. My school work here at university has barred most of the surface level fun and deep social media conversations, but I respond quickly to their critical texts.

Immersing myself into life at Ashesi University has created a new vista in me. I have found myself ever occupied by academia and clubs. I have little or no time to have strings of long conversations for hours on end on social media anymore. I have utilized most of the short time I get to be present and soak up the Ashesi diversity.

My friends and family back home in Zimbabwe see the need for constant communication, same as me.

However, a few now understand the reasons for my recent slow text backs and stagnant profile and believe I am trying my best. It is easy for many to think that I’ve shunned them since I have left the country, but really I am trying to live.

Our humor is different right now. I am in my shoes. They are in their shoes. It’s difficult for them to fit in my shoes. They are now trying to fit in. I wrote chapters with them. I am grateful they are now coping with me being away in my new environment. They will learn that it is time for me to write more chapters here at Ashesi.

Curated from USAP Perspectives:

Diary of a Zimbo Studying Abroad: Finding the Good

4 minute read

It seems like I have been here in North Carolina for only a few days but apparently two months have passed since I left home in Zimbabwe.

People ask me how my first entrance into the USA was and I always burst into laughter first before I tell them the ordeal –  that my flight got cancelled after waiting for it for 6 hours, that I could not contact anyone because my sister accidentally locked me out of my WhatsApp account as soon as I left home, how I almost spent the night on the floor of the Newark airport, eyes red from crying.

It has been a hard transition right from the starting point, but as you will notice, I have learned to laugh it out, and then to go on. 

I would be lying if I said I haven’t reached a moment when I felt I couldn’t go on. There have been times when I felt like going crazy because people couldn’t decipher my Zimbabwean accent and kept on telling me to repeat my words more than twice.

I got to the point where I decided not to say anything unless asked.  Then one day in the biology laboratory, an American girl walked up to me and said, “Are you French?  You have a cute French accent.” I laughed so hard before telling her that I was Zimbabwean.

She is the first real friend I made, one who became so eager to learn about Zimbabwe and about me as a person. I never thought I was going to make friends, but I finally found my kind of people, right in the almost all-white crowds of students.  It feels so better to have just a few people really eager to get to know me than to have crowds pretending to like me.   

On the tenth of October, I met Carlos Alvarez and his family, a multimillionaire businessman, originally from Mexico; I learned that it is he who pays my and my big USAP sister Kim Bako’s tuition and fees. His daughter is a Davidson alumni, Class of 2002 and his vision, inspired by the solid education she received from Davidson, has always been to improve the diversity at Davidson by bringing in high-achieving, low-income international students like myself from all over the world. Mr. Alvarez and his family are not only generous, but also very kind. He also grew up in a family that was struggling to survive on a small business and in our conversation, he constantly he reminded me of how special I was and how I motivated him.

As he introduced me as the most recent Alvarez scholar, I found myself thinking that it does not matter how many people do not understand me because I am African, or how my job in the dining services can be so tiring or the drop in grades that welcomed me to college as I try to learn the differences in the U.S. academic system.

What matters is that there is a lot of good in the world if people can still show this much love to someone they do not even know, someone who will not necessarily bring any benefit to them. There is so much good in me too, and I can make a difference in the world. 

I have fallen in love with Davidson College. After these two short months in North Carolina, I cannot imagine myself anywhere else. I love the small town of Davidson too, the soft music I hear in the shop nearby when I take a walk in the evening, the old African-American couple from a local church who said they wished they could adopt me, and my host family who always find time in their busy schedules to make my transition to Davidson smoother. I will forever be grateful to USAP and Education Matters, to Davidson and the Alvarez family, for the incredible gift to see life from this perspective.  

Curated from USAP Perspective:

Diary of a Zimbo studying abroad: The Changing Me

by Nyasha Zimhunhu | University of Pennsylvania
3 minute read. 

7.30am! I place my phone back onto the table, a bit frustrated by the fact that I am up 45 minutes too early. I also know it won’t help trying to force myself back to sleep because my mind’s whispering all the mandatory tasks on my planner. I try forcing myself to sleep anyway. As you may have guessed, my mind’s voice grows louder, so eventually I get up.

On my way to class, one squirrel stops momentarily, eyeing me, as if to bid me luck and then disappears from the path. It’s one of the “squirrel-amusement” episodes I get every day. After all, squirrels, who don’t exist in my home country of Zimbabwe, own their share of Penn and Philly. A share that my 17 year old self could not have. And I know if I had the time, I’d set an appointment (because that’s how it works here) with my 17 year old self to reflect on how unlike her, the current me is not a morning person. How she is amazing at Physics and the current me… could improve. How she didn’t need a planner to stay organized during A level studies and the current me clearly does.

Coming here to UPenn, the way I relate to people has changed significantly. For four years, I’d lived, survived and to an extent thrived at Regina Mundi Girls High School where virtually everyone meant something to me. Mostly just “for the record”. I had a bunkee, deskee, dushkee, sidee, closie, bestie, homie, twinnie, schoolie and even enemie, just to name a few. Of course, I knew that would not be the case here. From what I had heard about American culture, I did expect people to be somewhat shallow or seemingly distant. Even so, it still is so much pressure for me to really pretend I don’t know someone when we cross paths on Locust Walk.

But not everyone is distant. “I know Zimbabweans at Penn – you are this unbreakable community!” a Hispanic sophomore told me. Alongside the Africans who are close, there are also Americans who actually have concern, but often it is only because it is their job to ensure we are all okay. There are also people who really want to help. You’ll often hear, I got you! from a random Penn student or staff member when they offer that help. And I’ve been in the habit of saying it too when I give people directions or show them how to operate certain things. Apparently, not everyone has everything figured out here too – race or gender doesn’t always determine how much you struggle. Also, actions that would have normally called for a disciplinary action in Zimbabwe, I’m only told no you’re good or you’re fine. Really? Really. It’s more complicated though if it’s a deadline you missed. You missed it, therefore you’ll face the consequences. “Ideally”, since I came to the US, almost every day is a deadline.

On a different note, I was surprised by how more often than not Americans prefer to sit crossing their legs, the yoga way. Most people at Penn love coffee and they love it very strong. You will see adults eating cookies and donuts, food seen as made for kids in Zimbabwe. What I find particularly humbling is how it is considered very normal for adults to sit on the floor at an event where there is an unforeseen large turn up of people. In addition, being in America doesn’t mean everything automatically becomes convenient for you. People work extremely hard in order to earn a good living.

In this incredibly fast-paced life, it is easy to get overwhelmed. Today I literally feel myself walk while leaning forward from a burdened heart. But I know, I’m just beginning. And when I do meet with my 17 year old self again, I want her not worry about the fact that I have not decided yet on the engineering degree, job, or place to work in mind for 22 year old me. What I want her to find reassuring is how much I am fortunate enough to be growing in character with each new experience and each new day.

Nyasha Zimunhu attended Goromonzi High School and is now a first year Engineering student at the University of Pennsylvania. 

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: