I moved to Vanderbilt from Zimbabwe
Coming to college meant moving 8443 miles away from home
On the 15th of December 2013, 8443 miles away from here, a usually loud girl was making even more noise than usual.
I had just received my acceptance letter from Vanderbilt and my life changed.
Coming to Vanderbilt is inarguably the biggest change that has ever happened in my life. It was my first time out of Zimbabwe, my first time on a plane, and my first time traveling so far away from home by myself.
I have been in the States for about nineteen months now and a huge amount has changed for me.
I’ve gained ‘name bragging’ rights
My name has generated a lot of confusion and distress over the last nineteen months. This was a completely new phenomenon that I did not foresee when I came to Vanderbilt.
Pronounced ‘chee-ay-dzuh’, most people have a hard time combining the ‘d’ and the ‘z’ to make the ‘-dza’ sound, which does not exist in English.
The name thing has actually been one of my favorite things. Back home, I am just the equivalent of an Elizabeth or a Mark. Here, the name Chiedza is unique.
To all the people I meet in the future, remember, I’m really just another Elizabeth. My name is not that hard to say once you get over the initial introduction.
I like tofu now
Since being in America, I’ve definitely expanded my palette. I wish someone had been there to record my reaction the first time I tried tofu. I thought it was tasteless and had a weird texture. Now I laugh, thinking about what an interesting time I am going to have explaining to people back home what tofu even is.
In Zimbabwe being vegetarian, vegan, following a gluten-free diet is not a thing. I think I only knew three girls who were non-Indian vegetarians, and I had never heard of a gluten-free diet until I came here. Now at a dinner table of twelve, half the table usually has varying dietary restrictions.
I’ve learnt to nonchalantly say ‘hi’ to people (and not really care how they are doing)
The first couple of weeks on campus, I thought Americans were surely a super-species of people. I had never felt so much positive energy before. The big smiles, everyone thought meeting me was ‘great’ and they ‘loved’ my accent.
As time went on, five-minute attempts to get to know each other dwindled to a cursory ‘hi’ or just silence. I am not saying all Zimbabweans care about every single person they meet but I can definitely say that, on campus I have been forced to pretend I don’t know someone even when I do.
I’ve still not figured out how to deal with meeting someone I sit next to in class three times a week, looking them straight in the eyes, and silently looking away.
I’ve met people from all over the world
Vanderbilt has given me the best friend group anyone could ever ask for. I try to hang out with my friends as much I can because I do not think I will ever have such a diverse group of friends again once I leave college.
I have friends from Honduras, Rwanda, Ghana, El Salvador, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia, England, China, Colombia, Taiwan, India, and Kenya and all over the USA. When I say friends, here I am not talking about people I casually meet once a week. I am talking about people I would not hesitate to call up for a favor.
I speak American now
Zimbabwe is a former British colony, so I have learnt about the Western world through the British lens. I went to my math professor in the lead-up to midterms and, because I was stressed out, I didn’t have time to keep with ‘speaking American’.
I kept switching between ‘zee’ and ‘zed’ when saying the last letter of the alphabet, until the professor felt it was necessary to stop me and tell me that it was okay for me to say whatever I was used to saying.
I’ve started talking about race
Coming to Vanderbilt has changed the way I look at the world, and I say this in the gravest manner. Zimbabwe is a homogenous country; we all for the most part look the same and share common fundamental values. Zimbabwe is 99% black, 62% Christian, 70% Shona. I am black, Christian and Shona so I have been part of the majority population all my life.
Here at Vanderbilt, I am the only international student from Zimbabwe. I have come to understand the struggles of being in the minority. Having to fight to be heard and seen is hard and tiring work. At Vanderbilt, I have learnt to talk about gender, gender identity and race.
Terms such as: LGBTQ, asexual, cisgender, intersex, pansexual, institutionalized racism, colorism, white privilege, biracial, multicultural, terrorism, did not exist in my vocabulary. Now I talk about these things all the time.
I have changed in so many other ways that I did not mention above. Some changes are little and some are quite substantial.
What I love most about the experiences I am having is that I do not think they are taking anything away from who I was before I came before I came here.
I feel as though I am expanding, becoming bigger and better, having my two different experiences exist side by side. I can’t wait to see what the next two years have in store for me.