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Sindiso Nyathi ’16Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
In Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, where Sindiso Nyathi grew up, he could run only 10 minutes beyond the city’s industrial center and find himself in a rich savannah.
“You have these areas with no buildings or people, just vast carpets of tall golden grass,” he says. “Every few meters there is an Acacia tree, tall, with a thorny umbrella. It is a very nice panorama, especially in the early morning and the evening, as the sun rises or sets.”
He says the night sky in Zimbabwe is very impressive, too. With no city lights or smog to obscure the view, the sky is completely illuminated with stars. In the winter, one can see the entire Milky Way. “And home is quiet compared with the hustle and bustle of Princeton. I live in an area that is mostly rows of houses, and frequently run into kids playing and riding bicycles in the street, or kicking plastic soccer balls.”
Nyathi beams when he paints these verbal pictures. At times he misses home: With funding provided by Princeton, he can afford to fly back once a year. But he also speaks with the same fervor about Princeton.
He initially heard about the University from a family friend, who one day handed Nyathi a financial aid brochure and told him Princeton was affordable. Throughout high school Nyathi kept the brochure and began gathering pictures and information about the school.
Nyathi remembers not only the precise moment he was admitted to Princeton, but also the first time he arrived on campus, which was about eight months later. The first building he saw as his taxi drove him through the campus gates was Alexander Hall. He recognized it from a photo he had collected.
“I won’t forget the feeling,” he says. “It's a very distinctive building because of its iconic towers and architecture. I remember how the gentleman driving the taxi laughed when he noticed me gaping at it.”
Nyathi was so excited during his first few days at Princeton that he forgot to call home. He says taking a 16-hour flight and not calling his parents for three days to tell them he had arrived safely was his first college mistake.
His longtime passion was to study marine biology, which, he notes with a smile, is odd considering Zimbabwe is landlocked. But he followed his dream, and declared ecology and evolutionary biology his major.
As part of the curriculum, Nyathi went to Panama where he spent 12 weeks studying tropical ecology, disease ecology, anthropology and coral reef ecology. For each of the courses, he spent most of his time outside of class, hiking through forests, visiting researchers and snorkeling. For his senior thesis, he returned to Central America to study coral reefs in Honduras.
Nyathi also had time to feed his other passion, which is language. In addition to his mother tongue, Ndebele, which is characterized by clicking sounds, he also speaks Shona, the language spoken by most Zimbabweans, and English. At Princeton he added a fourth language, Chinese. After studying the language in class, he participated in the Princeton in Beijing summer program, which is an intensive two-month immersion in Chinese language and culture.
He says Princeton has challenged him, but has been well worth the academic investment. “I did come in thinking it would be easy, which speaks to how highly I thought of myself at the time. But it has been a lot of fun.”
Since graduation, Nyathi has been working at The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University with the Global Obesity Prevention Center as systems modeler. He intends to pursue a master's degree in epidemiology in the near future.