My first semester was hard, but it was during this semester that I grew mentally and emotionally.
When I got my scholarship to study at the American University of Beirut, I could not wait to experience this new chapter of my life. When I met people, I approached them with optimism and a huge smile on my face. However, sadly, I did not get the response I was expecting. I was met with hostile stares, isolation and discrimination from my classmates, some AUB staff and people on the streets of Beirut. Despite all these issues I was still optimistic, and I tried fitting in, but my environment would not let me. My classes were also hard and in some of them I had to teach myself some of the content because my professor and peers would only speak Arabic.
All these factors started growing feelings that I had never experienced in my home country. I found myself in a constant state of anger and anxiety. I didn’t feel safe anywhere except my room and I was angry at almost everything. I was angry at my professors, my classmates, the AUB staff, and Lebanese people. I was even angry at myself for not being able to deal with issues that came my way. I had never had to deal with this much anger and hate and did not trust anyone enough to open up and ask how to deal with it.
I remember there was a time where I was just waiting for someone to give me a reason to fight just so I could get rid of this anger. Luckily because I spent most of my time in my room, this never happened. Even when I was walking on the streets and someone tapped my shoulder or called me, I would turn with a clenched fist ready to fight, then cool down when I saw the person was not a threat.
I then thought of joining the rugby team just to let off some steam in a controlled environment. Every time I played rugby, I projected everything I hated on my opponents and at the end of the game I would feel so calm and relaxed because I would have let out my repressed rage on them. For a short while playing rugby helped but after some time it was not enough. I still felt anxious and angry and playing a contact sport like rugby with those emotions, and you are a small guy like me, is dangerous. I nearly got into a fight with a guy three times my size and at that moment I knew I had a problem.
At around the same time, we had started having these small meetings where the African students in my cohort talked about how they were coping and the good and bad experiences they were going through. In the first couple of sessions, I would lie with a huge smile and say everything was okay. I slowly started opening up and talking about my issues and I felt relieved. It felt good saying out loud what I was going through to people who understood and listened.
One of my friends, who I shared some classes with, started checking up on my anger and my mental health in general. She would notice when I started swearing a lot or hitting my desk in class if I got angry that someone was making noise or because I did not understand something in class. She would tell me to relax, to call a loved one or seek counselling when the going got tough. The meetings with Miss Maha, advice from my friend, talking to my best friends from home and playing rugby started improving my mental well-being. My rugby team gave me the acceptance and team bonding I needed and talking to people prevented me from holding toxic feelings inside and exposed me to different ways of coping with mental health issues.
Currently I am all well-settled into Lebanon and my university as well. I am the vice president of the African club on campus, I am in the rugby team, part of the feminist club and I am also learning Arabic.
I have almost mastered my mental health and am continuously learning new things about myself and the people around me. I am always working to help my friends and other students to settle in well and teaching them how to deal with the various troubles that may come their way. I am anxiously waiting to see the next stage in my life, and I am ready to tackle it and ultimately achieve all my goals.
By Tadiwanashe Matambanadzo
Tadiwanashe Matambanadzo was part of Makomborero’s 2015 Intake and attended Hellenic Academy. He is studying Mechanical Engineering at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.