Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Simbarashe Chakanyuka
The Grace Scholarship Program is the result of a partnership between PVF and a donor to provide the critical gap funding necessary for bright, low-income Zimbabwean students who are a part of the US Achievers Program (USAP) to study at US and European universities.
We interviewed a few of the Grace Scholars to learn more about their background, experiences in college, and plans for the future. Below is our interview with Simba Chakanyuka, a fourth-year student studying Economics at Sewanee: The University of the South, in Tennessee.
Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country.
By the time I finished high school, I knew that going to college outside Zimbabwe would be a huge opportunity that I should grab at all costs. At the time, the Zimbabwean economy had barely recovered from its 2008 hyperinflation troubles, and unemployment was still at high levels with the standard of living generally low across the population. So once I got accepted into the United States Achievers Program (USAP), I knew there was no turning back. USAP opened my eyes to a whole new world, and for that I’m eternally grateful. The years-long application process was grueling, but my aspirations kept me going. My admissions counselor and USAP mother, Amai Mano introduced me to Sewanee University, and I fell in love at once. Of course, the fact that I was leaving all I ever knew made me question this decision, but as I mentioned above, my aspirations kept me motivated. Once I got the financial aid, I was ready to begin this new journey.
Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?
To be honest, I had very low expectations for a good transition because I felt that high hopes often lead to bitter disappointments and difficulties, so if I had low expectations, the whole transition wouldn’t be that bad. There were things I expected to happen, which I was ready for, such as missing my family, different or weird foods, etc. What I did not anticipate, however, was how difficult it would be for people to understand me in conversations. I knew my English was great, but I often repeated myself which, naturally, grew tiring and led me to shut down in group conversations, which are a college staple. I began to pick up some of the linguistic quirks of American English, and it made communication way easier.
What types of activities are you involved in at school?
My school is very small (approximately 1800 students), but there is a wide array of activities to take part in. Academically, I am part of the Carey Fellowship, Sewanee’s Business Honors Program, which helped me receive a semester-long internship in Chicago, and I’m on the board of the Sewanee Angel Capital Fund, which provides capital to startups. I have been heavily involved with the O.C.C.U., a club started by international students to promote cross-cultural awareness in the Sewanee community. I’m also part of a fraternity, Gamma Sigma Phi, which prides itself in serving the community through excellence, courage, and pride.
What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?
Thus far, the hallmark of my Sewanee education has been getting accepted into the very competitive Carey Fellowship, a program for students interested in international business, finance, consultancy, and management. Being part of this Business Honors program has opened several opportunities that I would otherwise have never found out about—I received two internships and learned immeasurable skills.
What do you plan to do post-graduation?
Over the summer, I interned at an asset management firm in New York City. I enjoyed my time there, and they offered me the chance to come back after graduation. I accepted the full-time offer and will be moving to NYC after graduation.
How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals?
Moving to a new country is hard on the pocket for most folks. In my case, my journey from Zimbabwe to Sewanee would have been impossible if I hadn’t have received financial assistance. Hence, I’m forever grateful to the Grace Scholarship for paying for my health insurance these past four years. This freed up the little income I had for other activities such as purchasing textbooks, buying interview clothes, etc. It also goes without saying that having health insurance is a huge benefit, as it ensured my health was taken care of, always. In essence, the Grace Scholarship has played a significant role in helping me pursue my goals.