What’s Your Story?

Zach Mills

Many students have the illusion that life after graduation will be similar to the Biblical analogy of “a land of milk and honey.” For some, this analogy becomes reality.

But for people like Western alumnus Tawanda Chitapa of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, life after graduation hasn’t quite been as sweet and soothing as milk or honey.

Chitapa has had to patiently endure phone conversations where the stinging words of potential employers have repeatedly reverberated through his phone’s receiver — words like, “Oh, you’re an international student? Well, we don’t sponsor work permits.”

Several months before his December 2002 graduation, Chitapa, a computer science major, sent out several applications to different companies and businesses. He soon learned that being an international student can sometimes be a disadvantage when trying to find work in America.

“It’s frustrating when you’re an international student,” Chitapa said. “Work permits are something that some companies prefer not to sponsor because it’s a rigorous process to do it.”

In order to work legally in the United States, Chitapa must obtain a work permit from the company that chooses to employ him. This permit must be renewed every three years. Companies are partially reluctant to hire international students because the U.S. government has tightened its requirements on obtaining work permits.

“It’s understandable because it’s all in the name of security,” Chitapa said. “But sometimes dealing with it is a pain.”

Like other students, he also had to deal with a decline of available job opportunities in computer science.

As a result, he’s had to alter his post-graduate plans.

“I started looking to other options, like graduate school… buying time while I enhance myself personally,” he said.

Chitapa believes that obtaining a graduate degree will increase his chances of getting a job since he will be more marketable to a potential employer than an American with a bachelor’s degree would be.

There’s another incentive in attending graduate school at Western that is waving itself in front of Chitapa’s face. All graduate students pay in-state tuition.

Chitapa said he hopes the job market will be better when he completes his graduate work. He plans to pursue a graduate degree at Western in either health care administration or computer science.

“What I’m really looking forward to now is going to graduate school, and the job I am looking for now is a job that will allow me to pursue my academics,” he said.

Having a part-time job on campus while he gets his master’s would be an ideal situation for Chitapa.

“As I look into graduate school, it would be a great advantage if I could get a job on campus, because you could work around your schedule,” he said. “Getting a job on campus will be so much better because it’s not like your coming into a new environment. It’s familiar territory.”

And should things go as he plans — graduate school, a part-time job on campus and, eventually, a master’s — Chitapa will be in a position to help himself financially and live a life of his own.

“Maybe I could have a life,” he said smiling. “Maybe I could drive my own car and go to the places I want to go, maybe the movies.”