Following the theme of highlighting international and culturally diverse experiences among us, this week we are hearing from Mwila Mubanga, an international student from Zambia. Mwila is in his first year of Chemical Engineering, and he shared with me his experience of coming from Africa to study at UNBSJ, along with some of his wishes for better understanding.
BR: What do you wish people knew about your country, religion, culture or traditions?
MM: First of all, we are the African Soccer champions! And, we have Victoria Falls separating us from Zimbabwe, a neighbouring country, and they are one of the natural wonders of the world. Third, the wildlife we have – lions, zebras, elephants, gazelles and some of the world’s most poisonous snakes. Here [in N.B.], I can take a walk in the dark woods, but not in Zambia. Mosquitos [there] carry malaria – here I can sleep with the windows open, no mosquito nets. [In Zambia], drinking water is not safe and doesn’t taste good; you cannot drink tap water, always bottled. You boil water for use at home.
BR: What kinds of things did others do that was most helpful to you, coming from your country, culture or tradition? Can you give me a few examples?
MM: 1) Other international students were more friendly than I heard they would be. 2) People being flexible – I arrived three days late, and missed some deadlines, but people worked to help me. 3) Despite being one of the very few blacks in this environment, I don’t feel left out. People come and sit with me, and learn about my culture.
BR: What are the biggest misconceptions or misunderstandings Canadians have about your country, traditions or culture?
MM: A lot of people say they don’t know where Zambia is, or that it’s a country. [Zambia is a representative democratic republic in southern Africa.] And Zambia is still not well known, even though it has been independent for 60 years. Zambian Independence Day is on Oct. 24. There was a history of political corruption in the last 20 years, but it’s stabilized by the recent party, the Patriotic Front, through fair elections facilitated by U.N. and E.U. observers. Despite efforts of the previous party to sway election results in their favour, they lost nonetheless. Some people hid their true voting preference under t-shirts of the former party, fooling them into thinking they were supportive. Then voters showed their true preference at the polls! And people from many backgrounds – white, tribal, Indian – are welcome to participate in government; the current democratic regime is more inclusive. Oh, and [another misconception is] thinking that Egypt is still the African soccer champion!
I asked Mwila how people who want to learn more about his country, culture, or traditions can ask, so they can learn and get to know him, without asking questions that might somehow be insulting. Mwila said he welcomes questions about his country, his government, and soccer – keep an eye on the Zambian soccer team!