From surfing to safaris: Not in Cali anymore

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

Moss, a 19-year-old Emerson transfer student majoring in print journalism, planned on attending Dominican University close to home in Marin County, Calif.,His high school graduation was fast approaching, and Kabir Moss was unsure where he would go to college-that is until he had a conversation that would take him roughly 10,340 miles away from his native Chico, Calif. to Zimbabwe, Africa.

Moss, a 19-year-old Emerson transfer student majoring in print journalism, planned on attending Dominican University close to home in Marin County, Calif. While his family was prepared to take out loans to pay for it, Moss was hesitant about the large financial commitment. He decided to call his uncle, a professor at Fulbright University, for advice.

"He told me he was going to be a teacher at Africa University," Moss said. "He thought they were still accepting applications, so on a whim, I applied, wrote an essay and they accepted me."

A few months later, Moss was just outside the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe.

Moss said that he only had a few weeks to make his decision, but he wanted to get out of his hometown and experience the world.

"I worried," said Cedar Moss, Kabir's mother, in an e-mail, "but I was much more proud and excited. I always wanted him to stretch out beyond US soil. I felt thrilled to be able to offer him a truly transforming [experience] as he stepped into adult life."

According to Africa University's Web site, "The University welcomes persons regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, politics, gender, nationality or social background." However, out of the entire university, Moss said, "I was the only person from outside of Africa. I was the only white guy in the whole school."

Moss recalled his first introduction to the student body during matriculation, a tradition at the University that all new students participate in. When his name was announced by the Vice-Chancellor, he walked down the aisle standing six feet four inches, 190 lbs, with blonde hair and blue eyes.

"That was probably the most awkward part," Moss said. "At the beginning, I got a lot of stares, but eventually, it was nothing. By the end, I found really good friends."

Even though he moved across the world and was the only white student at the university, Moss explained that he never experienced culture shock.

"They have roads, they have food," Moss said. "I don't know what I was expecting, but [Africa] is just another piece of land."

Instead of focusing on the two countries' differences, Moss noticed social similarities between students in Zimbabwe and America, such as clothing trends. Moss went to class in clothes very much like what he wears to school now and most students wore western style clothes as well, usually well-worn but always neat.

The only time when Moss experienced significant change from the world he knew was when he went into Mutare to play in basketball games against neighboring schools. The sport was the same, but the concrete courts were outdoors, complete with potholes and hoops with bent rims. While in the city, Moss would navigate his way through throngs of people, some walking, others sitting, and many trying to wave down rides to other locations. Locals often approached, trying to sell him an item or to simply ask for money.

On a typical day on campus at Africa University, Moss would attend class at about 9:00 a.m. However, there was a 50 percent chance that the teacher would not show up. Many of the teachers were working part-time at the university and relied on public transportation to get them to school.

"There's really no guarantee that the teacher can actually make it to the class," he said.

While attending Africa University, Moss studied within the Humanities Department, taking classes such as Environmental Studies and Post-Colonial Literature taught in a lecture based method that he did not enjoy. Moss said he especially wanted to study African World Studies because he knew he would gain a unique perspective, but he grappled with the new teaching style.

"The education just wasn't very good," Moss said. "Some of the classes were just not very stimulating at all. I wanted better."

While he was certainly not used to numerous professor absences and lecture-based teaching, Moss said he learned a lot about international politics during his time in Zimbabwe. Moss and his friends would engage in political conversations until early morning over tea and possibly bread, if they were able to get some that day. Moss always hesitated to voice all of his opinions on the subject.

"I tried to hold my tongue as much as I could, for it is illegal to talk badly about the government in Zimbabwe," Moss said.

He especially became passionate about the plight of the impoverished people of Zimbabwe and concerned about their President Robert Mugabe, who has been the country's leader since its independence in 1980.

"He is throwing the country into an economic crisis," Moss said. "Mugabe does not depend on Zimbabwe to live well. He's never going to die of starvation, but the people are dying now."

While Kabir was in Africa, Zimbabwe's economy plummeted. During this time, his three roommates lost their college funding. Kabir saw how much they had already struggled and decided to take action. He wrote about his roommates' situation in a letter that was read at churches and sent through the Internet, raising over $12,000-enough money to send two of the boys through college. The Moss family is personally helping the third roommate pay for his education.

Because of the impact his letter had, Moss decided he wanted to pursue a career in writing, which brought him to Emerson College.

"Emerson seemed like it would give me the freedom I need," Moss said. "It seemed like [the college] was producing people for change in the world. Their program seemed most in-tune with myself, and I just knew I wanted to go here."

Moss admitted that before moving to Zimbabwe he did not know a lot about the genocide in Darfur. Even though the communication within Africa is limited, Moss said he was embarrassed to realize that the people there were more informed about the atrocity than he was.

When he came back from Africa, he began wearing a shirt that raised awareness about Darfur. Upon being questioned about the genocide, he did additional research to better explain the atrocity to people. In the future, Moss said he would like to get involved in any Darfur activism campaigns at Emerson.

Ultimately, Moss decided to transfer from Africa University to Emerson College because he did not feel the lecture-based, exam-driven teaching style was effective.

His mother agrees that the education in Africa was far from ideal, but they both know that the experience itself was enlightening.

"He learned things he could never have learned here," Cedar Moss said. "He grew up in ways I had hoped for; in caring and compassion for others and awareness of the problems of this world. It gave him a new appreciation for the value of education and how unequal education is around the world."

Overall, Moss explained that he valued the opportunity to step out of the life he always knew and see the world through a diffe

rent cultural lens.

"I left the other hemisphere to learn how humor, emotions and people are the same no matter where we come from or what we look like," Moss wrote in a college essay. "I came to try to understand struggles, hardship and survival beyond that of white, middle class America."