Durango is a long way to have come from Africa. But for Farai Taziwa (Engineering, '15), it's not nearly as far as his whole world has come.
Taziwa, a Zimbabwe native, accumulated many achievements during his time at Fort Lewis College, from earning his bachelor's degree in Engineering in just three and a half years, to landing his first job during his last semester.
But his greatest achievement just might be finding a home.
Home hasn't been easy for Taziwa. He lost his father when he was 2, and his mother at 13. After that, he was taken in by his aunt. And in that home, Taziwa found the path to what would become his new home in Durango.
“I met Tom and Judy Duke, from Durango, ten years ago. They run a foundation called Make All Children Smile, which sells African products in the States,” explains Taziwa. “They helped my aunt out while she was traveling in the U.S., and she invited them to come to Zimbabwe to go on safaris. My aunt owned a safari lodge and they would go there and I got to know them.”
During one of their stays, the topic of schools came up.
“When I was staying with my aunt, this family got to know me and they asked about what I was interested in. I told them that I liked engineering and would love to come to the States and study,” he says. “At that time I was in high school. They had mentioned to me that if I wanted to come to the States, there was a small college, Fort Lewis, in their town. They offered to help me out if I attended so I could go to college there.”
Durango's warmth was appreciated by Taziwa. Eager to accept the offer, he started working on making this dream a reality. His Durango benefactors helped, too, paying for his pre-college tests and helping him get a passport. But that process, too, was not without its challenges.
“It takes a while to come to the States — almost two years,” he says. “Finally I got my visa and that took quite a while, but getting accepted into Fort Lewis helped.”
Taziwa arrived in Durango in 2011, when he was 21 years old. To help his transition to his new country and culture, Taziwa spent his first semester living with the Dukes, who also helped with his tuition.
One of the biggest challenges he faced at first was culinary tastes. “You have Chinese food, burgers, Italian — the choices for you here are so diverse,” he says. “The first two months I had to challenge myself to eat things I’ve never eaten before.”
Even though he already spoke English, he also had to learn to communicate effectively. “At first, many people had a hard time understanding me,” he says. “I would pronounce things the British way, because Zimbabwe was once a British colony. Now my accent is way different from when I first came to the States.”
While he was becoming accustomed to the diet and dialect here, the Dukes were also encouraging him to get involved on campus. Taziwa applied and was hired as a resident assistant, a position that required him to live on campus.
“I was nervous to do it, because I was this kid coming from a different place, a different society with different rules and etiquette,” he says. “But it was a good challenge and it turned out to be one of the best things I could have done for myself. A lot happens on campus, and people were excited to know about me and that’s how I got to make friends.”
As an RA, Taziwa's social life flourished. Yet he still managed to excel academically. For this achievement Taziwa, thanks the support he found in FLC's Physics & Engineering Department.
“All of my engineering professors were awesome. They really helped me settle at the Fort. Classes are really small in the engineering program, so every professor ends up knowing each student personally," he says. "All the professors here know you by name, they know how you are performing in class. Once you start falling behind, they’ll pull you into the office and work with you to get you back on track.”
The last step in carving himself a home here in Durango began with Taziwa turning an interest in pipelines and mechanical engineering into an internship at Momentum Energy during his junior year. This experience helped position him for a job with a local energy company even before graduating.
Now, Taziwa works as a design engineer with Russell Planning & Engineering, based in Durango. “I like the design aspect of engineering,” he says. “It’s a lot of thinking and figuring out solutions, rather than knowing a set way. It’s nice and challenging.”
Grateful for his experiences at Fort Lewis College and in Durango, Taziwa says he now has no plans of going anywhere anytime soon.
“I really love Colorado. I like the culture and the fact that people are so friendly here,” he says. “Oh, and I love skiing.”
“Over the past four years, I’ve made so many connections, met so many people,” he adds. “And it’s nice to be in a place that feels like home,” he says. “Now when I go anywhere and I come back, I feel like, 'It’s nice to be back home!’”