Our AFFIRM Shero series continues with Dr. Getrude Gwenzi (popularly known as “GG”) as she narrates her JOURNEY OF TWISTS AND TURNS. Enjoy her story, engage with it and add your thoughts in the comments below.
I remember the first feeling I got when I submitted my Ph.D. thesis – an intense craving for a bed so that I could catch up on some sleep. I had spent several sleepless nights completing the document that would see me graduating. I felt relieved as if a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. However, a few weeks post-PhD I started to feel weird. I had so much time on my hands all of a sudden and I had no idea what to do with it. I felt like I had to redefine myself because I had become my Ph.D. and started to identify myself with it. A bit of background context before I proceed.
Zimbabwe to Hong Kong
I started my Ph.D. in September 2016. It was a surreal experience because not only had I gotten a prestigious scholarship that allowed me to move from my home country, Zimbabwe to Hong Kong, but I was also finally living what had been a long-term dream of mine. I was finally going to get the Dr. title added to my name. and do the research I wanted to do.
Growing up in the dusty small town of Mvurwi, I always knew I wanted to be an academic. I loved books with a passion and loved writing too. So an academic career suited me just fine. I was super excited and ready for it. This was until the reality of how difficult it is to be an international student hit me.
Arriving in Asia for the first time in my life, it soon dawned on me that I had moved to a country where, although I was being taught in English, my blackness and foreignness were not always welcome.
The society was, to a large extent, closed to me and my kind, and that was a sad and shocking realisation. Coupled with the challenges of doing a Ph.D., I really was not ready for the discrimination I experienced. But the story ended with victory as I soldiered on for three years and passed my Ph.D. in 2019.
A brutal job market
I expected to feel…accomplished, happy, and elated. However, none of these feelings came. Instead, I was gripped with a wave of uncertainty and fear of the unknown. The post-PhD job market was brutal. I had thoughts of getting a job in Hong Kong but soon realised that it was not going to happen. The possibility of unemployment was becoming more and more real to me.
I taught English in a Hong Kong primary school for six months, yes, with a doctoral degree! That is how dire my chances were, but I had bills to pay and a mouth to feed. During this time, I questioned why I had gone through this journey and if it was going to end like this.
Reaching out to Networks
I will always thank God for the networks I had built over the years which came through for me. One of my research group mentors, an esteemed Professor in Johannesburg told me about a postdoctoral opportunity in his Department. I did not think twice because teaching English at primary level was not what I wanted to do at this stage of my life. I felt I could do better with my skillset. I had lived in South Africa for almost a decade so it was a no-brainer that I would be excited to go back. So I took the offer and moved to South Africa in 2020.
As luck would have it, the South African government was just changing their immigration laws and in order to do a postdoc, one had to get a critical skills permit. I applied for one and if I tell you that up to now it has not come out, you will not believe me. So I never got to start my postdoctoral fellowship in Johannesburg and had to go back to my home country while I waited for the permit to be processed. It didn’t help that it was during the COVID-19 pandemic so literally nothing was moving. Looking back, I am grateful for the offer because it made me move from Hong Kong where I was no longer happy.
Twists and turns to SUCCESS
I keep myself busy with personal development and sharing my personal story, which I believe is one of hope and victory. I actively look for opportunities to better myself and those around me. I keep myself involved in many projects where I meet amazing people and mentor others who look up to me. I also have the opportunity to teach and do research at a local university here in Zimbabwe and I could not ask for more. Mine is a success story, although it is full of twists and turns.
There is no limit to your potential even though you may be in a situation like mine where you find yourself in the “wrong” place. I believe there are lessons in every experience.
Thank you for reading,
Dr. Getrude Dadirai Gwenzi is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Work at the University of Zimbabwe and a Research Associate at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. She is passionate about the mentorship and personal development particularly of young women in Africa.