Immigrants who arrive in the United States on a diversity visa, randomly selected from among their county’s applicants, often come to the country the promise of a job and without being assigned a place to live, as refugees often are. With all of the U.S. to choose from, many recent immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo have chosen to make their home in Kirksville, Missouri.
Truman State University education students had a chance to hear the perspectives of students who are travelled a particularly long distance to Kirksville in an event at Violette Hall.
The event began with a screening of the documentary “I Learn America,” which focuses on the experiences of immigrant students at the International High School in New York City. The school exclusively serves students who are still learning English and have been in the U.S. for less than four years, bringing together students from countries all over the world. Afterwards, Congolese students at the local high school spoke about their own experiences.
Amy Brazier, the English language learning coordinator for Kirksville R-III Schools, said her student population at the high school is unique: all are recent immigrants from the Democratic Republic of Congo who came to the United States on the diversity visa lottery. The program awards visas by random selection in countries with low levels of immigration to the U.S.
“Even in little Kirksville, we have immigrant students now,” Brazier said. “They’re a very special group, and everyone needs to be prepared to support so that they can all have the kinds of opportunities that the kids from this film wanted to have.”
Eight Kirksville High School students who are English language learners spoke about their immigration experiences, from leaving the DRC to adjusting to life as a student at KHS. They told their immigration stories in English and answered questions from the audience with help from Brazier, who translated to their native French.
In many ways, the Congolese students echoed the sentiments of the students profiled in the film who hailed from countries like Guatemala, Myanmar and Poland — they spoke about the difficulty of succeeding in school and making friends while speaking limited English, and about adjusting to America while missing the home they have left behind.
Divine Kamukanda has been in the U.S. the longest of Brazier’s students, arriving in 2016. She was born in Kinshasa, the DRC’s capitol city.
“In Africa, it’s easy to finish high school and university but it’s difficult to find jobs,” Kamukanda said. “In high school, I never liked the idea of learning English because I never thought one day we would come to the United States.”