International students find local families’ support through temporary housing program

By Gus Bode

The first thing Julie Clemencon, a master’s student studying business from the French Alps, connected with when she arrived in Carbondale at 11 p.m. was a comfortable, new bed.

Arriving three weeks ago before orientation, Vickie and Leon Bagley, Clemencon’s temporary host parents, greeted her with a glass of water and a warm welcome. She was appreciative but retired to her room.

“It was like 6 a.m. for me,” Clemencon said. “I wanted to be nice, but I just went straight to bed.”


Alex Ng’oma’s first night in Carbondale did not start with sleep, but rather a party. This was the second time he had visited Carbondale, after having been in Illinois for six weeks as a Fulbright Scholar at the SIUC this summer.

Regardless of their first night experiences in Carbondale, Clemencon, and N’goma did not have to worry about finding a hotel, adjusting their budget for food or renting a room before fall orientation began.

Community volunteers, like Bob Hall and Vickie and Leon Bagley, were eager to invite the international students into their homes through a new and rare temporary housing program SIUC now offers.

Beth Mochnick, community programs coordinator for International Students and Scholars, said in the past the International Programs and Services office would primarily reserve a block of residence hall rooms or community housing where the students could rent a room for a small amount of money.

Mochnick said typically, 30 to 40 students need temporary housing before orientation begins two weeks before fall semester classes. But she wanted to see want accommodations other universities offered.

“I called at least eight universities and found out if they offered this,” Mocknick said. “Only two [universities] approached temporary housing, and they simply provided international students with hotels, motels, transportation, basically what an American student would do if you were flying to Germany.”

But Carla Coppi, associate director of IPS, decided to ask the students, who would prefer temporary housing, if they would like to stay in a community family home rather than dorm housing.


“Of those 30 to 40, 13 were interested in the program,” Mochnick said.

For the few days the Clemencon and Ng’oma, a doctoral student in political science from Zambia, stayed with their host families, they learned about Southern Illinois culture, solved misconceptions about real Americans and found individuals they could rely on during their time at SIUC.

Landing in the Heartland (Subhead)

Clemencon thought the next days with her host family might be filled with listening to loud people, walking for hours and finding a place to live in the fall. But she was pleasantly surprised.

The Bagleys offered her a list of fun activities to tackle for the day because they did not know what Clemencon would like. The Bagleys took her shopping at Farmer’s Market and on a pontoon boating trip with American friends.

“It was not at all the thing kind of thing I expected,” Clemencon said. ” I expected to be hosted in something very loud and a lot of people, maybe spend a few days trying to find an apartment, but it was real cool to have a family and not to be depressed.”

Ng’oma also experienced a relaxed weekend with Hall, chatting at his Carterville home about religion, politics and cultural differences between his hometown and America.

“I discovered for myself that Bob Hall was a gem of a person,” Ng’oma said. “He was friendly, accommodating, and highly hospitable.”

Hall has spent several years accommodating international students and helping them through their college experiences. He said he’s had intriguing conversations with Ng’oma and another international guest who arrived before orientation, learning a lot from their diverse backgrounds.

“I need to get together with them for a year anniversary and find out how much their viewpoints about things changed,” Hall said.

Ng’oma and the other international student from Nepal barbequed at Hall’s home, where he got to experience American-style cooking and Southern Illinois summer atmosphere.

From to propaganda to bluegrass music (Subhead)

The types and amount of food Americans consume was one misconception Clemencon realized was not entirely inaccurate.

Accompanying the Bagleys to the Du Quoin State Fair, Clemencon had her first caramel apple, which was more like a candy bar to her than the treat she was used to in France.

Clemencon was also shocked by the propaganda from political representatives and candidates during the fair’s opening parade.

“They were throwing candy at everyone, the relationships was childish, but the people seemed to enjoy it,” she said.

Bluegrass music was also a culture shock to Clemencon. The music seemed typical to her for America and she understood the folklore behind it.

“It is the kind of things we see in the movies in Europe,” Clemencon said.

Hall and Ng’oma discovered many differences and similarities in government and education among their cultures. Hall said that in the past, when he has accommodated international students, he tried to find out more about their experiences rather than take them sightseeing.

“I have been doing it for so many years, and other than being able to sit and entertain them, it is for my entertainment as well,” Hall said.

Clemencon also found differences in religion and prayer and in how Americans act. In Europe, Americans are viewed as individualistic, she said, but she was surprised by all the volunteer work, especially the temporary housing program itself.

“In France, we do not open doors to a total stranger,” Clemencon said. ” But I like it, because we really connected – I have invited them to come into my house and visit my part of the country.

“So, I can do it the other way, ask them questions, the things they would love to know about.”

Finding Southern Hospitality (Subhead)

Clemencon admired Bagley’s flower garden, not for its colorful blooms, but for its symbolic meaning to her. The student’s mother has a flower garden in their countryside home, and for Clemencon, the similar environment is comforting.

“Here it reminds me of it [home], they chose to live in a very homey way,” Clemencon said. “I had the opportunity to speak real English in the first couple days, where otherwise I might have gathered by internationality or a group of international people.”

Hall and the Bagleys do not have children of their own, but they welcomed the company and cultural influences.

“These young people very much are extended family,” Bagley said. “We don’t have children, and my husband and I laugh about moving in a college student – I guess were are experiencing some of those parenting skills.”

Clemencon and Ng’oma both will continue to visit their temporary host parents, as they to feel they are now part of their family.

“I have met new people, new family, which makes the experience a success,” Clemencon said. “As far as I am concerned, this was a real success.”

Reporter Samantha Edmondson can be reached at [email protected]