In honor of Women's History Month, we invited guest blogger Nancy Kasvosve from Zimbabwe to tell us what her experience has been as an international student at the University of Chicago.
By Nancy Kasvosve
Flipping Through My Clean Passport,
“Are you sure you have not been to America yet?”
“Yes I am sure…why??”
“Well I have lived there for ten years and I do not speak like you.”
This was a line of conversation I had through all the immigration points on my way to America. I became the girl with the pretty accent from a country that nobody knew unless they watched a lot of news or were an Econ major. Then at some point I was not only the girl with a pretty accent, I was a colour; black. This is where my real struggle has been.
This country seemed to have endless turns of labeling and one of the labels applied to me was one that I was not familiar with at all but I was supposed to know. Suddenly I was expected to know certain songs, to identify with certain things, to react in a certain way to certain situations, and to hang out with certain people; all measures that I totally failed at. There was pressure from everywhere for me to speak up to the question of who I am.
“Honey eat your food now, there are starving kids in Africa.”
I twitched when my American friend, from Atlanta, randomly dropped this comment from her upbringing. Not that there aren’t starving kids in Africa, but they are also really smart kids with dreams and ambitions in their personality beyond just hungry faces. I was one of those kids and I got lucky. I got the unique opportunity to be here, in America. I have thus made it my responsibility to tell this missing part of our story. I gave a presentation to my baffled SOSC class about what Durkheim meant when he said personality traits of the Australian tribes was determined by their totem that I happen to have as well.
I came from a place where everything was homogenous around me, and I never had to assert my identity. In my country I am a “born-free,”. I never have seen the cruel hand of apartheid that told my parents where they belonged, working in a lighter skinned person’s land, and having to be back in their house as soon as sundown. Not wanting me to ever feel this way my parents raised me with different values. They told me only I can stop myself from succeeding and never to feel less of a person because of what I look like.
I have continued to shape my learning and my activities in the context of my culture and I seek out their relevance to my experiences. I found my niche in Biology and Public Policy where I have vested interests in global health. I am mentored by an inspiring African woman, Dr. Funmi Olopade, who continually pushes me to excellence in the face of all negativity about my capabilities as an African woman because she has done exactly the same. I aspire to sit in a governing board managing health policy in sub Saharan Africa with a practice in pediatric medicine.
This speaking to my identity that was forced out of me has become a welcome challenge that has inspired me to chart my course on this campus. Black describes but a small part of who I am and the biggest lesson has been…
“You are what you answer to.”