Global Heels: Chifundo Colleta Zimba, Malawi

October 18, 2013
Chifundo Colleta Zimba

Chifundo Colleta Zimba

Area of study:

Doctorate in nursing, focusing on health care systems.

Where are you from?

I am from Malawi, a small landlocked country in the sub-Saharan region of southeast Africa, bordering Mozambique to the east and south, Tanzania to the north and Zambia to the west. Known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” because of the peaceful nature of Malawians, the country has not had a war since gaining independence in 1964. As Malawians, we are proud of our beautiful “Lake Malawi,” which has unique and delicious species of Chambo fish, believed to be found exclusively in Lake Malawi. Apart from the lakes, Malawi has many natural resources such as parks and mountains where one can go and admire nature.

What languages do you speak?

I fluently speak three languages: Chichewa, a national language of Malawi; Chitumbuka, mostly spoken in the northern part of Malawi; and English, an official language of Malawi.

Why did you choose to study in the United States? And why at UNC?

While in Malawi, I worked for more than eight years with UNC Project- Malawi. I fell in love with Chapel Hill when I first visited in 2005 for a breastfeeding, antiretroviral and nutrition study sponsored by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention and led by Charles van Der Horst,  a professor at the UNC School of Medicine, division of infectious diseases. In 2008, I was sponsored by UNC Project- Malawi to do a heath assessment short course at the UNC School of Nursing. Then in 2010, I was awarded a “University of North Carolina AIDS International Training and Research Program grant award (AITRP),” inspiring me to apply to the UNC nursing PhD program.

What unique perspectives do you feel you bring to your classrooms as an international student?

As an international student, I have contributed to making my classmates aware of the health issues affecting Malawi and Africa, and how the country and the continent as a whole are managing these issues. For example, our health care system is mostly managed by nurses, opposed to the U.S. health care system, which is mostly managed by physicians.

As an international and African student, I have contributed to awareness that Africa is a continent diverse in politics, education, languages and culture.  I am able to teach Chichewa to students and faculty who are interested to learn about Malawian language and culture.

Which professor has motivated you or helped you the most and how?

There are many. Irving Hoffman, research professor at the UNC School of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, used to be my boss in Malawi and motivated me to apply to UNC. Prior to my doctorate application, I took a health assessment course at the UNC School of Nursing and happened to meet Gwen Sherwood, associate dean for academic affairs. Her advice inspired me to further my education at UNC. After I was admitted into the program, Cathie Fogel oriented me to many academic issues, which contributed to my success in my course work. My dissertation chair, Jennifer Leeman, is currently doing a wonderful job teaching me to be a researcher. I value all the contributions my professors have rendered to me.

What do you like best about UNC, and how is it different from universities in your home country?

UNC has many resources such as the libraries, the Writing Center, and the Odum Institute, all available to students, which is not the same compared to my home universities. The teacher-student relationship is also stronger at UNC. UNC treats each student as an individual, which has helped me focus on what I am learning. Back home, there is a vertical teacher-student relationship, which can create fear and act as a barrier for students to ask more information from the teachers.

What do you like best about living in Chapel Hill, and how is it different from your hometown?

Free buses! In my home country, one is expected to pay for all types of transportation.

What has been the biggest challenge in adjusting to life in Chapel Hill and as a student at UNC?

Technology. Most of teaching/learning is done via technology which is different from how it is delivered in my country. This was a challenge during my first year. However, due to the wonderful resources UNC has, I was able to learn and adjust.

If you could introduce student activities from your hometown to UNC students, what would they be?

Sporting (mostly soccer, netball, volleyball and basketball) and dancing activities.

Why should international students consider attending UNC? What advice would you offer an incoming international student?

UNC is home to many international students. Professors teaching at UNC are globally oriented when engaging with their students.  UNC has resources that will make every student succeed with her or his education. If English language is a problem, UNC has several activities and resources that will improve one’s language skills. People in Chapel Hill are friendly; they will make you feel at home.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading books and articles assigned for the two courses I am enrolled in, grant writing and health economics.