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:

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