From the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Burlington: Fabrice Kerozene tells his story


Fabrice Kerozene. Photo: Fabric Kerozene

Owen Jolly, Staff Writer

On November 5, BHS students attended a school-wide showing of the play “Cartography”, based on immigrants’ journeys to America. The school watched as the characters coped with grueling paperwork and cultural differences. The play was especially relevant, as BHS has a multitude of student immigrants speaking over 40 different languages. Fabrice Kerozene ‘24 is one of these students. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), he, his father and his mother immigrated to the United States from Burundi, Africa in 2019. 

“We came to the United States to find a better life and a better education,” Kerozene said. 

Kerozene left the DRC for Burundi due to fighting caused by the conflict between the DRC and Rwanda. 

“Nearly 8.3 million kids died from the fight, so we decided to move before we die,” Kerozene said. 

When Kerozene’s family touched down in Washington D.C, they were immediately approached by immigration officials. Kerozene recounted the difficulties of his arrival and his first few days within the United States. 

“The hardest part was the language,” Kerozene said. “Because the first time I came to America, the [immigration officers] were asking us at the airport, ‘Where are you coming from?’”

The immigration officers almost immediately sent Kerozene and his family to Tallahassee Florida.

“We stopped in [Washington D.C.] for a couple hours, ” Kerozene said. “We didn’t even sleep there.”

[In Florida] there were no good teachers and no good people. They did not treat each other like they were supposed to.

— Fabrice Kerozene

The government in Florida helped support Kerozene and his family with housing and other necessities, but wages were low and work opportunities slim. 

“There was not enough work,” Kerozene said. “There was not a lot of money. The hardest job [my dad] was doing there paid only 15 dollars an hour. That’s it. You cannot get more than that.”

Kerozene struggled when he first came to Florida. 

“[In Florida] there were no good teachers and no good people,” Kerozene said. “They did not treat each other like they were supposed to.” 

Kerozene faced xenophobia from his African American peers because of his African immigrant status. 

“They were mean to Africans, trying to fight them,” Kerozene said. “I told my mom I didn’t want to hurt anyone.” 

After one year in Florida, Kerozene’s family moved to Vermont, as Kerozene’s father was also able to find a better job there. Kerozene and his family were originally planning to go to Winooski, but ended up settling in Burlington at Kerozene’s request. 

“I told my dad [to move to] Burlington since they have good teachers,” Kerozene said. “And [Burlington] was like the big city that a lot of people know. And then my dad said, because I am the oldest, that ‘you can choose whichever [city] you want to live in.’”

All my family is still in [Burundi] except us

— Fabrice Kerozene

In Burundi, Kerozene said teachers would smash pencils in between students’ fingers, a painful practice, in order to discipline them. Kerozene has vivid memories of these punishments.

“[In Burundi, teachers] can beat you up really badly and get you to clean up the whole classroom by yourself,” Kerozene said. “So you get scared even if you have a good answer and are intelligent.” 

Kerozene’s experiences with education at BHS differ from his experiences in Burundi. He said he no longer has to worry about expressing his ideas. 

“Here, I never see the students talk to the teacher really badly,” Kerozene said. “They always treat the students really well. And if the student is bad, they send them to the office to make them a better student.” 

Kerozene has found Burlington to be the safest environment he has ever lived in. 

“[In Burlington] they have protection,” he said. “They have money. They have work. They have a better education. So I like [Vermont] much better than [Florida].” 

Though Kerozene said he has no pleasant memories of Burundi, he misses those he left behind.

“The only thing I miss is my friends and my family because my grandma’s mom is still there and my grandma and grandpa,” Kerozene said. “All my family is still in [Burundi] except us.”