Episode 85 │ Blame Bleresa Blay (SCOTLAND/GERMANY)
Updated: Oct 21, 2021
"Come [to Germany] with an open mind. I mean, look, this is my third time here. The second time I hated it, but now I love it! So just have an open mind." (Tendiso, Episode 85)
I have my good friend Nyasha (also the guest of episode 3) to thank for putting me in touch with this week's guest! Tendiso "Tendie" Mashonganyika has been friends with Nyasha since they were 13 years old, and they currently co-host a podcast called Shake The Table (which is how I first became familiar with Tendiso). Both young women left their home country of Zimbabwe to further their educations and start their careers abroad, and Tendiso in particular earned her bachelor's degree in Scotland and her master's in Germany, where she currently resides. Once Nyasha introduced us on WhatsApp late this summer and asked Tendiso on my behalf about being a guest on Young, Gifted and Abroad, I was delighted to have this interview to look forward to. Especially since Tendiso had a lot to share, "I have the longest story about how I ended up here! It's a testament that all roads lead to Rome."
Upon completing high school, Tendiso was prepared to leave her hometown of Harare and move to Canada for university. Everything was taken care of and paid for, including tuition and her plane ticket—except for her student visa. And for complicated reasons that she and her family still don't understand, Tendiso's visa request was denied. She and her parents went to the consulate in Pretoria, South Africa to try and appeal the decision, but to no avail. It was spring, and by this time it seemed that all other universities had closed their applications already. But then Tendiso sought the assistance of a company called Global Education, which recruits and places Southern African students in universities around the world. They assured her that all was not lost, and through working with them she applied and was accepted to Edinburgh International College (EIC), a one-year college program that funneled students into Edinburgh Napier University. With her alternative plans now set, she moved to Edinburgh, Scotland at age 19.
Tendiso studied management and economics at EIC, and when she transferred to Napier in 2014 she shifted her focus to economics because she liked that subject more. The goal was to use her economics degree to work in finance somehow. Her three years as a Napier student actually included a year in Frankfurt, Germany thanks to a dual-degree program that Napier offered. She spent a year at Napier, then a year at Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences earning credits toward an international business administration degree, and then returned to Edinburgh for her final year of undergrad. She absolutely loved her life in this capital city, so much so that she didn't feel compelled to visit too many other parts of Scotland. In Edinburgh she enjoyed nightlife escapades with the friends she'd made, witnessed Scottish pride (there's always someone playing bagpipes in their full kilt on Princes Street, Edinburgh's major shopping street), and even her early frustrations with comprehending Scottish accents and slang were part of the fun. (She got the hang of it after two months.) Of course, being one of few Zimbabweans around did get awkward at times—Tendiso recalled an instance where her classmates turned and looked at her when the topic of hyper-inflation, which Zimbabwe is known for, came up in class—she took advantage of opportunities to inform people about herself and where she comes from.
As much as she loved Edinburgh, however, she unfortunately couldn't say the same for Frankfurt. Tendiso went there previously when her high school marimba band toured Germany for three weeks, and she'd been looking forward to returning specifically to Frankfurt ever since. In fact, part of the reason why she chose the dual-degree program was because she knew it would take her to Frankfurt. But Frankfurt, along with German life in general, was "a bigger culture shock than I expected." Germany tends to be known for its efficiency, but the bureaucracy seemed to make Tendiso's life and studies anything but efficient.
She went from being able to call professors by their first names and drop by their office hours any time (even invite them for coffee) to discuss concepts further in Scotland, to having to make office hour appointments through her professors' secretaries in Germany. Her course load went from three courses per semester (in Scotland) to six, and students had to register for their exams by a certain deadline (something she hadn't had to do in Scotland), or else risk missing out altogether. Furthermore, it was difficult for her to make German friends at first, due to the language barrier and Germans' tendency to be slow to assume closeness. Overall, Tendiso felt Germany was actually less orderly and less courteous than what she'd become accustomed to in the United Kingdom. In hindsight, she admitted in our conversation that perhaps being in Frankfurt was the problem, since it's the finance capital of Germany with lots of people in suits being super serious. And she does remain grateful for the fellow international friends she made, who helped her find positive experiences (such as food festivals and multicultural spaces) and eventually acquainted her with German friends as well. Nonetheless, once her year in Frankfurt was up, she was ready to leave and never look back, "I told myself, 'I am never going back to Germany.' And here I am." More on that shortly.
With her return to Edinburgh, Tendiso finished her degree while working at a financial services company and faced her next hurdle: securing a working visa to remain in the UK. Due to a policy implemented by a certain home secretary in 2012, what was previously a two-year grace period for international students to seek suitable post-graduation employment was cut down to three months. (Tendiso was discrete enough not to name names, but she meant now-former prime minister Theresa May, or "Bleresa Blay", as I referred to her in our conversation.) This meant that the chances of finding the right job were quite slim. Tendiso's workplace was in the process of becoming licensed to sponsor her work visa, but they ran out of time. She had months to find a new job, which she did, but despite being on a manager track, the company ultimately refused to sponsor her to work there. Having done all she could, she left the UK and moved back to Zimbabwe the very same day that her student visa expired.
Back home in Zimbabwe, Tendiso was once again forced to find an alternative (and an affordable one at that), since her parents insisted there was nothing for her in Zimbabwe, and she already knew they were focused on paying for her little sister to attend university in America. After considering Canada ("They already rejected me once. Why would I go back?"), and the United States (not a great fit for her character or lifestyle), she reconsidered Germany. Even though she'd previously sworn Germany off, a friend recommended that she go to Marburg (a town in the same state as Frankfurt) for graduate school, saying that it was pretty there. Tendiso googled Marburg and saw a photo of a castle on a hill (Marburger Schloss/Landgrafenschloss Marburg) that reminded her of Edinburgh, so that's the town she chose. She was accepted to the Master of Economics & Institutions program at the Philipps University of Marburg (Philipps-Universität Marburg), and saw her outlook on Germany and German people change even before she relocated. She found an apartment online and became well-acquainted with her her soon-to-be roommate ahead of time, and both her new roommate and landlord showed her such a warm welcome upon arrival that she thought, "Oh yeah, Germany's not all bad. Maybe it's just Frankfurt."
Studying economics at a graduate level was undoubtedly challenging, especially given Tendiso's program's emphasis on in-depth debates. She and her fellows had to read constantly and be abreast of current events in order to articulate evidence-based arguments, applying advanced economic concepts to real-life political and economic concerns in a way that made sense. As rigorous as the program was, Tendiso maintains that she's better for it, not only for learning to express herself in a more surefooted way, but also because her university respected students' well-being and need for balance. While the master's was a two-year degree, students had four years to complete it if needed, reconfiguring their course and assignment schedule as they saw fit. This allowed Tendiso to take half a semester off to tend to her mental health ("do some self-care and healing") when she felt like her body was giving up on her and needed a break. Altogether, Tendiso completed her master's in about three years.
"Like a country within a country"
In the midst of her studies at Marburg, Tendiso also found romance. She met her German boyfriend (who lived in Frankfurt at the time) on Tinder, and after finding a job in Frankfurt thanks to a generous 18-month grace period for newly graduated international students, she got hired by her dream company and moved to Berlin, where she and her now-husband have been living for the past few months. When Zimbabwean people get married, it's customary to have a traditionally Zimbabwean ceremony as well as a religious ceremony, and Tendiso and her husband had their traditional ceremony in June 2021. While she admits that understanding each other's idiosyncrasies and finding middle ground between their cultures is an ongoing process, she's thrilled being married to her "sweetheart". And she has nothing but positive things to say so far about Berlin, which feels to her "like a country within a country", completely different from the rest of Germany with its massive size, international character, distinct rave scene, and occasionally "wacky" food culture.
Following their respective undergraduate years, Tendiso reconnected with her high school friend Nyasha, and in April 2020 they launched Shake The Table together to discuss topics that Zimbabwean women often don't feel comfortable discussing in public, applying the wisdom they've accumulated from growing into womanhood while abroad (in America and Europe, respectively). They hope to serve as big sisters and neighborhood aunties for their listeners, "Whatever it is, we will tell you the tea, the real deal as it is. And it's okay." The podcast is currently on hiatus, but they hope to return with new episodes once they've both settled into the major life changes they've each experienced recently. Nearly a decade in Europe has taught Tendiso to approach life there with an open mind, and possessing a Schengen visa (plus now living in continental Europe) has enabled her to go on memorable adventures to Portugual, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Italy, and France. She'd love to visit Thailand one day, and aspires to go on a food tour of America, tasting the staple dishes of each state. Tendiso can be found on Instagram (@misstendie) and TikTok (@mueradolphin). Shake the Table can be found on SoundCloud, Spotify, and via @shakethetablezw on Instagram and Twitter.
Be sure to listen to this episode, "Blame Bleresa Blay (SCOTLAND/GERMANY)" for more! And don't forget to check out the resource list below!
Navitas (parent company of Edinburgh International College)
Mindspace (co-working spaces mostly in Europe)
Tinder Germany (IG)
Danielle G. is the creator, host, and producer of Young, Gifted and Abroad. You can find her other writings at DeelaSees.com.