Reflections from a Zimbabwean Grace Scholar: Primrose Evelyne Nyahwai
Now in its 8th year, 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.
This year, 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 third interview with Primrose Evelyne Nyahwai, a junior studying Accounting and International Business at Keuka College in New York.
PVF: Tell us about your decision to study outside of your home country:
PN: Coming to America had always been a reoccurring dream I had since I was a child, but I just never knew why America in particular was a place I wanted to go when I grew up. Later on, challenges I faced after I lost my father, and those posed by a malfunctioning economy, made that obscure American dream vivid. I just knew that I had to leave the country and search for greener pastures, but I just didn’t know when and how the opportunity would knock on my door. I never gave up on my dream; instead, I embarked on the search for opportunities to study abroad because that was the only weapon I possessed to win my battle. I enrolled into the USAP program which helps economically challenged young leaders, who are academically talented, and who possess the ethic of giving back, secure college places and funding at US institutions. This program gave me the chance to study in the US. However, other than economic entitlement, my heart always burned to be in a society where hard work and effort is rewarded, to be in a place where good ethics make sense and are encouraged, as well as to be in a place that challenges my critical thinking and leadership skills. Leaving my family behind, especially when I did not know when I was to be reunited with them was very hard, but I had an obligation to myself and to them I had to fulfill. I wanted to make my life and my family’s life better; hence, I had to face the consequences of that choice. I am loving it here and the liberal arts education I am receiving here at Keuka College has already started showing great effect.
PVF: Was it difficult transitioning to a different culture?
PN: I longed to be in America, so my fears of being in a different culture mattered less than what I anticipated getting from America. I was ready to survive through every situation because I knew it would be a whole lot better in most dimensions. The Zimbabwean culture has also become so westernized, and it is funny how my friends home tell me about Beyonce’s new album before I get to know about it; it is even more surprising how they use swear words which I sometimes do not use. However; though I was aware of everything I am experiencing here, it took me a long time to understand why some things are done the way they are done, and it was also hard to fit into the system because not in any way did some of my beliefs match the culture’s way of thinking and behaving. The academic culture, especially the writing style, was even more different and very challenging to me. It was quite hard to accept lower grades, but nurturing determination took me to a different level and I am glad to say that I am now a tutor in that very same subject with which I struggled before. Keuka’s homey and accepting environment has instilled those values in me, and I have become more open minded and have embraced diversity as it is. Further, having a unique name which almost everyone thinks is beautiful has gained me so many friendships and recognition.
PVF: What types of activities are you involved in at school?
PN: I’m in my second term of mentoring and I believe that mentoring is my super power. I assume that role, both in and outside of Keuka. I help new students transition to college life, influence their decision to stay at Keuka for their full four years, organize programs for their interest, as well as explain procedures and policies. I am also a Mentor Support Lead for Emergination Africa and Education USA. I help African high school students apply for college places in America and beyond. I know it may sound so cliché when I say that I am people person and that I love to give back to society, but mentoring has opened doors for me to explore that which I enjoy doing most. To me a simple thank you goes a very long way, especially when it comes from one of my Zambian mentees whom I helped apply to NYU Abu Dhabi, and secure a full scholarship. I have impacted his life once, but I have lived with much gratitude from him ever since. Reflecting back into my life, as a growing little girl, I always looked for help from those people I thought would help, and I understand the power of being disappointed by those people in whom you invest trust. I have taken an oath to myself that I am obligated to help those who need my help; though in small ways, I believe it does make a difference. In addition to mentoring, I tutor several subjects here at Keuka, simply because I love to take the “backbone” role to my peer’s success. This also helps me make stronger networks with students and faculty. Furthermore, I am a women’s advocate. Being a Liaison for the Women’s Center helped me become even more supportive to both women and other minority groups on campus through designing programs of interest and through working very closely with the Multicultural Department. Moreover, I am a member of the Sigma Alpha Pi Honors Society and Enactus. I take these opportunities as platforms to grow personally and improve my leadership skills.
As part of living the oath I have taken to myself, I went to China over last summer for my hands-on learning experience and I got the chance to do service learning; I volunteered to teach English at an orphanage elementary school. It was this experience that brought to me an important revelation. Before China, I used to think that each time I volunteer, it was more of me giving to society, than what I take from it; actually, my thinking was biased. I got more from that experience than what I gave to these impoverished children. They did not have any toys or food in their lunch boxes, but they were probably the happiest children I have ever seen in my life. It reminded me of the life I lived as a child and gave me more focus towards the life to come. That adage “It is neither wealth nor splendor; but tranquility and occupation which gives happiness,” came true.
PVF: What is your greatest accomplishment at school thus far?
PN: Academics are becoming challenging each day I wake up, but I am glad that I am still able to strongly stand on my feet and do quite remarkable things. I was one of the two inaugural winners of the Anne Guthrie Memorial Scholarship for field periods in China. I got the opportunity be an exchange student at Keuka’s partner universities in China, the chance to conduct a waste management and sustainability project which I named Pathfinder, the privilege to explore the local culture and places, as well as the honor to identify business opportunities in China. Being in China made me realize how different I was (in a nice way) and made me feel comfortable in my own skin. It made me grow in patience and to fully appreciate diversity: one day in my future career as a manager, I will stand in a position where I will have to pass judgment or make a decision on someone who is from a particular culture, other than my own; so, understanding why people are who they are and why they do what they do is just priceless. I have learned to interact closely with people, even though most of them could not speak English, as well as to be able maneuver my own way through uncertain and unfamiliar circumstances.
In addition to this, I have managed to help my Zambian mentee (Rogers) secure a college place and full funding at NYU Abu Dhabi. It had been a bumpy road, but support and encouragement got him at the school of his dreams. I have also risen up the rank and become a mentor support lead for Emergination Africa so that I could help even more students realize their dreams to study abroad.
PVF: What do you plan to do post-graduation?
PN: My plan is to secure a job in the financial services industry for a year or two, to gain experience and finances before I enroll into a finance masters program; I hope at one of the big schools, if not an ivy league. I hope to become a CPA and get several other certifications, like fraud examining. I dream about being a manager of a large corporation, and if not, I will run my own company. I plan on getting financially independent before moving back home; but, this is not to say that I have to wait till I get back to impact my own family and society. It would have more impact if I accumulate resources first.
PVF: How has the Grace Scholarship helped you pursue your goals?
PN: The truth is that I could not have made it to the US if it were not for the Grace Scholarship; the funds I received from my school left a significant gap that was too large for my family to cover. I still remember myself bitterly crying after I was denied the American visa because Grace had not confirmed yet. I just thought that my life was crumbled and that the dream I always had as a child had been shattered. The scholarship has helped me realize my dream of gaining a liberal arts college education, and be at a place I always dreamt of being at. I longed for a time and opportunity where I would be part of a society in which I could raise my concerns and be heard; my heart ached for an opportunity in which effort and hard work would be rewarded, and in my heart I desired to live a “normal” life and for, once in my life, say goodbye to the poverty in which I was mired. I owe what I am and what I am yet to become to this program, because the story I am telling now could never have been the same. Though my family could never have afforded me an American education, they can now see me growing into a person they have always wanted me to become, more than words can ever express how thankful I am.