Refugee finds home in Burlington

In 2014, 317 refugees resettled in the state of Vermont, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Pabitra Bhattarai came to Burlington in November 2009 with her family after her parents escaped conflict over religious differences in Bhutan. “I was raised in a refugee camp, and I have nothing that can prove me as a Nepali citizen, so I don’t see any reason to miss Nepal,” Bhattarai said. Bhattarai said expensive housing, the way people dress and American food are some of the hardest culture shocks to which she’s had to adjust.

“I had a pretty bad time at the beginning of my schooling because I knew how to read and write, but I wasn’t very good at communicating,” Bhattarai said. “I’ve had to socialize more with new people to help me better communicate,” she said.

Social work professor Susan Comerford has spent 14 years working directly with refugees. “It’s really hard to explain what it feels like to be forced to leave everything you’ve loved,” Comerford said.

 

“People ultimately overcome basic survival struggles, but the most difficult thing is loneliness for the ease and comfort of being in your own culture.”

 

Comerford said that the refugees should remind us how “incredibly lucky we are to live in this country.”

Bhattarai said it is hard to go through the refugee experience, but she also said that the refugee community is very close here in Vermont. “I feel like I am a valued member of the Nepalese community because we were refugees back in Nepal, and we didn’t have anything to share except for thoughts, emotions and feelings,” she said.

Comerford said that the people here in Vermont are “very welcoming.” “We are fortunate that our children can go to school with people from all over the world,” she said.

But living in a new country can have its hardships, and sometimes people don’t understand cultural differences, Bhattarai said. Bhattarai said she has seen employers fire their employees because they stayed home for “cultural funeral ceremonies.” “In some cultures, people are required to stay home for 15 days mourning,” Bhattarai said. “In my culture, 13. They should understand these problems and consider our feelings.”

But even with a refugee population in the area, some people don’t know much about them. “I know there is a large refugee community in the area, but I don’t feel their presence at UVM,” sophomore Mariah McGough said.

Sophomore Ian Danforth also said he knows very little. “I know that refugees exist in Burlington, and I’ve heard of programs, but that’s about it,” Danforth said.

Bhattarai said bad things can happen when there is a lack of communication. “I am surrounded by wonderful people here, and I encourage everyone to raise their voice and help each other understand our cultures better,” she said.

Comerford said she would like to see “every person in this community meet someone with refugee experience and hear their backstory and help them get settled into the community.”