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By Joan Killough-Miller

While international enrollments at many colleges and universities are still lagging in the wake of 9-11, WPI is recruiting and enrolling more international students than before the terrorist attacks. Inquiries from prospective undergraduates overseas increased by 600 between 2002 and 2004 and the number of international students accepted and confirmed was up by 94 percent in the same period.

Biochemistry major Batsirai “Batz” Tafadzwa Mutetwa ’07, a native of Zimbabwe, chose WPI for the personal attention it gives to students and its innovative educational system. Batz was educated in several countries before coming to WPI. She has since added another to her list, having completed her Humanities Sufficiency in London. Next year, she’ll travel to the Bangkok Project Center to work on her science, technology, and society project. She’s a resident advisor for Sanford Riley Hall, a member of the International Student Council and the Black Student Union, and a first responder for WPI’s Emergency Medical Services. She swims, is on the varsity track team, and, in her spare time, is involved in a variety of student groups. Although she’s traveled a long way to be at WPI, she says, “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.”

Where are you from?

For me, such a simple question can become a long conversation. I was born in Zimbabwe and lived there until I was 11. My mother is a diplomat, so the family moved around a lot. I went to high school in Switzerland, but before that my family lived in Belgium for three years.

To some people, “Where are you from?” means “Where were you born?” In Zimbabwe, it’s defined by what area of the country your parents come from, no matter where you were born. In America, people often want to know where you lived last before you came here, or where you grew up the longest, or where you had the most cultural influences. It depends on how you define “from.”

Your English is almost flawless.

My first language is Shona, which we speak in Zimbabwe. Once, when I was doing physics homework with some classmates, my dad called. While I was talking with him, I broke into Shona. I saw my friends’ faces drop; they were like, What was that? I learned English in first grade. I can converse in French, which I learned when my family was in Belgium. There, I also learned Dutch and German, which I haven’t used in quite a while. I also understand Italian and Spanish.

Why did you choose WPI?

It was quite a debate in my family. My parents were educated in Zimbabwe, then went to school in England for their degrees. My mom wanted me to study in England; my dad said, “How about somewhere else—maybe the States.” At a college fair in Switzerland, I met Ed Connor [WPI’s associate director of admissions and coordinator of inter-national admissions]. We talked and then followed up with phone calls and e-mails. I applied to seven schools; WPI was the only one that gave me personal attention. I always got a response from a real person, not just a general message to the masses. I can definitely say that is one of the reasons I came here.

I also liked the projects. The theme of my London Sufficiency was Shakespearean and Dickensian London. I haven’t been to Asia yet, but I’ll be doing project work there next year.

What would you like to do after you graduate?

I want to be a pediatrician. I love medicine: it’s challenging, like a puzzle, and I love puzzles. People tell you their symptoms, and then you have to systemically go through those clues to figure out what’s going on. My dad’s a doctor. When I was a child in Zimbabwe, I’d visit his practice and see that people absolutely loved him. They always came back to thank him or just to say hello. You can really make a difference in people’s lives. After I earn my bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, my goal is to study at a medical school in the United States. But before I start my medical practice, I’d like to work for the United Nations or a humanitarian organization.

Was it hard for you to feel at home at WPI?

My mom brought me to campus my freshman year for orientation at the International House. She saw me adjusting well and decided to leave a day early for an upcoming business trip. I told her, “Sure. It’s okay. You can go.” When she arrived back home, she was told, “Batz just called, and she was cryyyyying….” I’d gotten lost on the way to an orientation event, and the only route I knew was the way back to my dorm room in Institute Hall. The moment I got there, I called home. I said, “Mom, why did you leave me?

I don’t know what I’m doing here. I’m only 17—take me back!” But it didn’t take long after that to feel settled here and start making friends. I never thought about transferring because I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. WPI has become so much a part of the person I’m becoming.

What advice would you give to other international students, to help them adjust to campus?

You have to find people who know you, who you’re comfortable with, and who you can talk to. That’s what makes it home for me. WPI’s my home away from wherever home is. I’ve made really strong connections with the people here; every day I’m amazed at the kinds of people I meet. You never know: the person who sits next to you in class who you never talk to could be someone who has an interest outside of their major that’s out of this world.
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Last modified: Apr 12, 2005, 10:03 EDT
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