Beyond brotherhood — Senior and freshman refugee siblings reflect on time together at UI

George Ngalamulume never truly had his own identity.

For the past 19 years, the University of Idaho freshman has been defined by the legacy set by his older brother, Patrick, a UI senior.

George said he isn’t discouraged. He finds it motivating — he always has.

He said at UI, he is still referred to as “Patrick’s brother,” but the title weighs less on him now. 

“There are those who recognize me as his brother and identify me as such, but there are still those who have no clue who he is,” George said. “I see him as my friendly competition.”

Senior Patrick Ngalamulume and freshman George Ngalamulume play pool with their fraternity brothers Friday afternoon at Fiji.

Despite their rivalry, he said his brother remains one of his greatest role models.

The two are not only brothers in a biological sense, but in a fraternal one as well.

Patrick said he didn’t expect his brother to attend UI, let alone join the same fraternity, Phi Gamma Delta, or FIJI.

“When I came to college, I had my own space — he changed that by coming here,” Patrick said. “It’s been a joy to see him grow as a man, as a brother and as a friend.”

Patrick said he’s happier with his brother around, and is glad he got to spend his last year at UI with him.

The Ngalamulume brothers don’t act much different from other siblings, but their journey to Moscow is entirely unique.

George said their parents fled the Democratic Republic of Congo in the early 1990s for Zambia, where he and Patrick were born. In 2008, the family arrived in Boise as refugees, and eventually became U.S. citizens in 2013.

“It was a little bit overwhelming at first, and we didn’t know much in terms of education, so we had to play catch-up,” George said. “In Zambia, nobody really talks about if you’re going to go to high school or if you’re going to go to college … It’s a whole new environment here.”

The Ngalamulume brothers are first-generation college graduates. Both said such an accomplishment would not be possible without their parents and their prior struggles.

“We want to give our parents the world, because they have sacrificed so much for us to be here,” George said. “For us to fail would mean their sacrifices were not worth it.”

George and Patrick said they sometimes feel uneasy when talking about their early past, and many of their classmates and fraternity brothers didn’t know the brothers were refugees until recently.

“There are a lot of people who don’t think we were refugees until we tell them,” George said. But in the recent wake of backlash against foreigners, the brothers said they have found themselves defending refugees and other immigrants, and they plan to use their education to help those in similar situations.

“America gave us a wonderful opportunity. We want to pay it forward,” George said. “But, we also want to set a different tone for how refugees are viewed … All refugees have a story to tell, and if you give them that opportunity, you will realize they’re not who you think they are.”

Patrick said he hopes to attend law school, and later work on behalf of those who cannot fight for themselves. While George said he wants to attend medical school to help those in countries like the ones his family fled.

But for now, the two are focused on the time they have left together at UI, before Patrick graduates and George is the only Ngalamulume brother left — a first for both of them.

“I’m not going to be sad. I’m going to be pretty happy to see him go. It’s less competition that way,” George said, laughing. “But honestly, whatever comes my way, I know I’ll always have Patrick there … I still look up to him, and I always will.”

Olivia Heersink can be reached at arg-news@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @heersinkolivia


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