INTRODUCTION & EXPERIENCES
Jérôme is a 26-year-old truck driver at Farmland with a university degree in electrical engineering. When he began his studies back in the Congo, he did not know that by his final year, he would be applying for the Diversity Visa lottery to move to America.
“Since I was like, too young, I was really excited by technology. It was like my go-to, wanting to do some kind of study,” he told me (see 1:41 in recording below).
However, life in Kinshasa was not necessarily easy.
“There is a lot of difficulty,” he said, referencing political corruption (2:15).
In 2014, he won the DV lottery, and moved to the States the following year. (Learn more about the lottery here.)
“When you are in my place, and you still live in Africa in my country, and then you didn’t find any possibility to do something [that] would be exciting for your future, you always try to find the best jobs you can. And I mean, the lottery was a good way for me to improve myself, and see the world.” (3:40)
“When you travel, you can see different cultures,” he noted (4:17).
Jérôme worked for a company in Gibson City, Illinois, for five months after his initial arrival in the country, having come to the area through his cousin. He moved to Kirksville after this period through his sister.
Jérôme now works for Farmland, a foods company outside of Milan, Missouri, just west of Kirksville. He’s now on his third position there as a truck driver on the factory’s campus.
“I think it [is] a good experience to learn how to drive something. And then also, I think that it was a more flexible job. You don’t have to stay on the line like 8 hours a day. You can work, and sometimes you have some free time, you can go to the bathroom. You don’t have to ask your supervisor about a break anymore.” (8:05)
Despite having only been in the area for a couple of years, Jérôme has come to know Kirksville very well. He insists that he does not think of himself as an English speaker, and yet he is extremely articulate on matters of his own life as well as the life of the community he is now a part of.
Farmland is not the end goal for Jérôme during his time here, in the long- or short-term. He is in the process of returning to school, aiming for an associate’s degree in art.
“It is really good to go back to school for me because I think I will be able to have a lot of opportunities after,” he said (21:25).
“Not even here; they could be here or in my country, or anywhere in Africa, or in Europe.” (21:40)
The degree in art, he says, will open more doors for him.
“That would be kind of challenge for me because it’s something really different to what I did before, and because I’m a kind of person that really likes to learn everyday, and that would be good challenge for me. And then also… I would be able to switch to whatever I want,” he said. (23:24)
His dream job, however, “would be to be an electronic engineer, to be able to teach those knowledge to other people.” (24:14)
He describes teaching as “family stuff,” as both his parents taught or presently teach. (24:30)
Despite increased access to feasible opportunities, life in the US has not come with its challenges for Jérôme. The Kirksville area, for example, is not necessarily very receptive to its new members at all times.
“They are so closed, you know. It is not really easy for me, for example, to approach someone.” (16:57)
This is not a hard and fast rule, however, he cautions.
“There are some exceptions. Some people are also so open.” (17:23)
Jérôme compares this environment to that of Africa, where the opposite is true. In Africa, he says, communities know each other and are very close.
“In Africa, it is really easy to live somewhere and to talk to everybody. Here in US, it is different. For example, you know, I am in my apartment. I do not know the name of that guy who is downstairs. It is different. But in Africa it is not like that. We know each other.” (20:00)
Hear Jérôme describe his view on the Kirksville community in full here:
To Jérôme, help is a two-way street; not only can the local community help its new Congolese members, but those Congolese can help their new community just as much.
“We also can help the Kirksville community,” he told me (26:05).
Here just one part of Jérôme’s discourse on the interactions of these two communities here:
“We make this city our city, because we live here, our children go to school here.” (27:18)
“I do pay my taxes here!” (27:37)
He tells the story of a time when he was returning from Columbia (a major city 90 minutes south of Kirksville), and pulled over to help a man who’s car battery was acting up.
“We helped that person to jump his battery, and I think that if I wasn’t there, maybe he wasn’t able to find a lot of people to give himself, just for example.” (28:15)
He believes the primary way that the Kirksville community can help the Congolese is simply to be more open.
“The really good way to learn the language is to speak with someone,” he said (28:53), noting that if Kirksville community members are not open to speaking to migrants, it will be more difficult for those ELL’s (English Language Learners) to acquire the language.
“They will be able to know our culture, and then also we would be able to learn their culture,” he noted (29:16). He believes that the local area has much to learn from African culture.
“The African people are the most open people in the world,” he described the cultures from his home continent (30:27).
“In Africa, we know each other. The way that you know that person, is also the way you know to help that other person. If I do not know your needs, I will not be able to help you. But if I know your needs, I will be able help you. It is like that. In Africa, I don’t know if it is like a gift from God that we have, but it is really easy for us to know that pain that your brother have [sic].” (31:27)
The United States, he said, can learn from this attitude. Rather than always placing one’s work life first, he says, Americans can learn from African cultures to prioritize other things.
“In Africa, it is like, family comes first, your brother next to you comes first, and the other things after. I think it is really important to know that.” (32:50)
“Our priority is family first, and the other thing can come next.” (33:26)
Ultimately, he stresses, the reason he and other Congolese are here is in order to provide help to others—as he says, to family first.
“The reason why we come here isn’t only about the money. It’s not only about to see the way that the United States looks beautiful. It is also because we do have a lot of family members who really on me, on us, I mean.” (35:06)
“I want to find out something that I can do for those people.” (36:37)
This brief quasi-journalistic summary does not due justice to the full depth of Jérôme’s thoughts and experiences. Listen to his full interview below:
*All photos on this page courtesy of Jérôme Apipia.*