Cross Culture, Cross Benefit

Posted by Paula Paine on December 2, 2013 in "Academic Programs", Athletics, Faculty/Staff, "School of Business", "The College", "Your OU" Keith on sidelinesZimbabwe is not an African country that many Americans are familiar with, which is all the more reason that new graduate assistant (GA) Keith Dangarembwa is proving to be an asset to Ottawa University. He brings unique perspectives and life experiences to bear on the students and athletes he assists every day, broadening their worldview and their appreciation for other cultures.

On the other hand, the opportunity for Dangarembwa to continue his academic and cultural education, as well as his athletic career in a small town in the U.S. makes Ottawa University an asset to him. As an assistant for the men’s soccer team, Dangarembwa helps new Head Soccer Coach Jon DeSha with improving the skills and mental capabilities of the players.

Before coming to OU, Dangarembwa attended Kenyon College, a NCAA Division III school in Gambier, Ohio, where he was a center midfielder. “I had always wanted to come and study and play football (soccer) here,” says Dangarembwa. “The academic and athletic environment is world class and is perfect for anyone looking to advance in both fields. Also, the U.S. is an estimable place for many Zimbabweans, and this was an amazing, prestigious opportunity for me.”

At Kenyon, Dangarembwa earned All-NCAC honors all four seasons, First Team honors twice, was named to the All-Region team in 2009, and was named to All-Ohio three times. He helped the Lords to the 2010 NCAA Division III National Tournament and finished his career with six goals and three assists. He was also a captain his junior and senior years.

Dangarembwa graduated from Kenyon in the spring of 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and a minor in Religious Studies. He came to Ottawa University in July as a graduate assistant and is earning his Master’s in Business Administration. “Having thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Kenyon, Ottawa promised to be a good mix between something new and an extension of an environment I was already familiar with,” says Dangarembwa.

“The people here have been very nice and welcoming, which is great for assimilating to a new place. I consider myself a driven person, and enjoy studying and training. So I like that Ottawa is relatively small and I can concentrate on my work.”

Of course, the greater transition for Dangarembwa came when he moved to the U.S. in 2008, and, “I’m still transitioning!” he says. “Early on I used to struggle with small things such as greeting people on the strMS_CMU_091813_0146eet and having most of them keep walking away. But I’ve picked up on some of the subtleties of conversation here, so it doesn’t bother me anymore. On a related note, people seemed to be in a greater rush than I was used to. Another big thing during the holidays when I was off campus visiting friends was that I never saw anyone on the street. Most people don’t walk to places and kids don’t seem to play football or games outside the house like I was accustomed to. In Zimbabwe, although everyone went about their business, there always seemed to be something going on in society; you felt like you were part of something.

“That being says, I’ve met amazing, caring people from the first day I arrived. I’ve never really been overly lonely; this has helped me to feel comfortable here. I am grateful to God for that. And I think I started feeling even more at home when I picked up on heavy use of pop-culture references and could understand and also contribute to conversation!”

Dangarembwa contributes a great deal to the coaching conversation when working with OU’s student-athletes. “I got my first taste at this kind of mentoring at SportsChallenge Leadership Academy and it certainly whet my appetite,” he says. “I have a fair amount to share having played football at different levels and in different cultures. It’s a great credit to the boys on the soccer team because most of them are willing to listen, share ideas and implement them. That’s the most gratifying thing for me, because it is pleasing to see improvement in their performance or demeanor on and off the field. Although I can’t compete anymore, this gives me a chance to prolong my own career in another way.”

Recruited by former head coach Bob Casper, Dangarembwa says, “Jon DeSha has been excellent to work with, as has Marc Gordon on the ladies team. I think I speak for all three soccer GAs in saying they value and respect our opinions and are very encouraging in allowing us to share our ideas with the teams. But this camaraderie is not confined to the soccer teams, since I have found that most of the athletic teams here proudly identify with Ottawa and support each other.

“In a nutshell, the GA position has been an amazing vantage point from which I continue to learn and share the knowledge I have academically, athletically and professionally. Whether I later pursue coaching or public health, or a fusion of both, I think the experience from here will prove priceless.”

Says Coach DeSha, "I believe his collegiate experiences and his life experiences have given Keith the ability to transcend the game, through the sharing of experiences and thoughts, in such a way that the players can comprehend and apply the material on or off the field.”

Aside from his athletic interMen's Soccer Teamests, Dangarembwa has been inspired by the positive work that non-profits such as World Vision and USAID do in developing regions. Before coming to Ottawa, he worked at the AIDS Resource Center Ohio and found it extremely humbling and gratifying. “I am inspired to work in some capacity to do similar work, helping in the fight against HIV/AIDS and improving health care provision systems,” he says. “Not only is access to health care a basic human right, I believe it is critical for global development.”

Dangarembwa is not the only international influence among the graduate assistants at Ottawa University. Three others offer and benefit from a cross-cultural background, as well: Ericka Dolezelova from the Czech Republic, Ekaterina Zapadalova (Katya) from Russia, and Gustavo Sanchez from Venezuela.