Arsène Kabeya has a knack for remembering important dates. He recalls that on December 6, 2018 he submitted his application for graduate school at the University of Kentucky. That same day, he went to a post office and mailed his application for U.S. citizenship.
Kabeya was not sure how he would afford tuition for a master’s program, or whether his citizenship would be approved. He is a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, though, and felt it was the right time to try for both.
He was right. Today, Kabeya is in the Rehabilitation Counseling master’s program in the UK College of Education. And, he is a U.S. citizen – 13 years after first setting foot on American soil. What’s more – he found a way to fund his graduate education through a fellowship award.
Born in 1991 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kabeya’s family sought asylum in Zambia when he was six-years-old. They left everything they knew, not knowing where they would eventually call home.
“My dad told us we are doing this resettlement thing,” Kabeya recalled. “He said there’s a possibility we could go to the U.S.”
Home has become Lexington, Ky. In 2006, when Kabeya was 14, his family boarded an airplane for the first time, on a two-day journey from Africa to Lexington by way of layovers in Kenya, England, New York, and Chicago.
“When you are in Africa, especially as a little kid, you think of the U.S. as what it looks like in the media, in places like New York or Miami,” Kabeya said. “When I arrived in Lexington, I wondered ‘where are the sky scrapers?’ Likewise, a lot of people see media about Africa, the kids starving, and think it all looks that way, but there’s a balance.”
Like many parents of refugees, Kabeya’s pushed school as a way to create a better life. During a time in his life when everything was new and foreign, one thing that remained constant was soccer. It became his passion, and a way of affording college. He was a standout at Henry Clay High School and earned a scholarship to play at Earlham College, a Division III school in Richmond, Indiana.
Kabeya is a people person and thrived in college, where he developed friendships with teammates and students from across the globe. After college, he returned to Lexington with few resources, unsure of what he wanted to do with his psychology degree.
“I feel like I’ve always had a heart to give back,” Kabeya said. “I’ve always wanted to find myself in a position where I could do some work that’s meaningful. I was back home and looking for different jobs.”
True to Kabeya’s belief that everything happens for a reason, he ran into his high school soccer coach.
“He said ‘hey, there’s a paraeducator position open at Henry Clay, why don’t you give it a shot?,’” Kabeya recalled.
Kabeya spent four years with Fayette County Public Schools. The first three, he worked at Henry Clay High School with students who had physical and intellectual disabilities. The last year, he moved to Jessie Clark Middle School where he worked with the school’s refugee population.
“The kids immediately were drawn to me,” Kabeya said. “We connected. I always felt like I would love to continue in this path.”
An alumnus of UK’s Rehabilitation Counseling program introduced Kabeya to the idea of going to graduate school to become a rehabilitation counselor. He connected with faculty from the program and, while researching the career possibilities it offered, became drawn to the major. His concerns about paying for the degree were eased when he received a Lymon T. Johnson Diversity Fellowship from UK.
“I’m the first person in my immediate family to be in grad school,” Kabeya said. “I knew from the beginning that, financially, it was going to be very difficult. The fellowship I received means everything for me and for my family.”
Kabeya’s professors helped connect him with The Ridge in Lexington to complete his practicum and internship. There, he works with adolescents and adults who have substance abuse or mental health needs.
Through his studies, and his previous work with special education students, Kabeya has come to understand how meaningful work can be to someone’s life, particularly for someone who doesn’t fit the traditional high school to college to career path. While he is unsure of what direction his career will take, Kabeya has an affinity for helping people with disabilities discover opportunities they can pursue.
“People, regardless of their abilities, want to be in a position where they are doing something, connecting to a community,” Kabeya said. “If I can play a part in helping them find that, I know I will have found where I am supposed to be.”
UK’s master’s Rehabilitation Counseling program was established in 1962 and is among the oldest Rehabilitation Counseling graduate programs in the nation. The program offers both masters (with online-only and campus-based hybrid options) in Rehabilitation Counseling and Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and a doctoral degree program in Counselor Education and Supervision. A graduate certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling is also available. The master’s and doctoral programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). For more information, contact Dr. Jackie Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org.