I got to Junior year in college with very high morale. Classes were going great. I had made a lot of friends; it really helped that Amherst is a small liberal arts college with one dining hall. Everything did look pretty put together, but something was off. The feelings of guilt and general unease about the situation at home in Zimbabwe crept up on me. Even when at the back of my mind I knew everything was ok, I always felt like something was amiss.
As my Junior year of college began, I started experiencing increasing bouts of anxiety about my future given the uncertainty and state of affairs in Zimbabwe. There’s something about being surrounded by all the basics in abundance that is both amazing and equally depressing at the same time.
I remember telling myself, “You got into Amherst College! Your future is set!” Intellectually, I thought that, but I didn’t feel it. I felt guilty. I had worked so hard to become a student of the caliber that Amherst would consider for admission. I had killed it in the SATs. So then where did the guilt and unease stem from? Why did I feel like going to the USA was indirectly choosing to ignore home, ignore what had been my struggle? Ignore the struggle that my peers and family had come to know as an every day event?
As Junior year came to an end, I was just intellectually tired and emotionally off balance. I wouldn’t be able to take another year of this. So I did what seemed natural when I needed to make a big decision. I picked up the phone and called my mother: “Mum, I am taking the year off!”
Three months after that call I was on a flight to South Africa. It was August and my classmates were starting Senior year. I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was a Political Science Major, and no, I did not see a political career in my future. I was filled with questions about why the status quo was the way it was. I was even more frustrated that I seemed to have no role to play to change it.
With no plan, I went to Harare. Two days later, I walked into the EducationUSA Advising Center and offered to volunteer. I lost myself in helping students complete their college applications. I felt strangely at home, and it was there that I birthed the idea to start Tutors, a uniquely Zimbabwean test prep company.
I then took on a role as the student coordinator for the then new Zimbabwe Career Connect Internship Program. ZCC represented a resource I would have loved to have had in college. It meant one could build a network in Zimbabwe with both students in the local universities and professionals. It meant I could try and contextualize my education to fit a mold that could be useful in Zimbabwe. I could use the skills I had acquired in internships abroad at home. Most importantly, I now had the gift of being home. I could make up my own mind about what was happening in Zimbabwe.
So what is the point of my letter to you, the Zimbabwean student in the U.S.? Well, for one, if you’re in college and feel disconnected from what’s happening at home ask yourself… Do you want to be home? For how long? Do you want to spend just a summer or the whole year? If you can, I encourage you to consider taking time away from school to re-calibrate. I took that time, and it did both my mental and physical self a well of good. I have made friends who share my fears and hopes about home. I know that I can return home and still have a network that is invested in my success.
Secondly, take care of yourselves emotionally and mentally. The pressures of being a Zimbabwean student are real and often times ignored. Being a first generation student has its pressures. Living in a different culture has its pressures. Going to college with some of the world’s brightest minds has pressures. Navigating college while navigating life has pressures. So do not forget to take care of yourself.
Liberty Chigova graduated from Amherst College in May 2016 with a BA in Political Science. The founder of TutorsZW, he currently works for Apex Ivy Consulting in China and plans a return home to Zimbabwe in the near future.