Visitors cozy near campus

Shawntaye Hopkins

Charles Kimwele cozied up on the couch. Across the room, an international chess competition was on the television. Beside him a lamp glared and gently lit the dark living room.

It was Saturday night.

But Kimwele wasn’t at home. His home and family are an ocean away in Kenya.

Kimwele, a professor of physiology at University of Nairobi in Kenya, is visiting America for the first time to study on the Hill, and Western is providing him a place to stay.

Two houses on Normal Drive – both across from the Mass Media and Technology Hall – are temporarily being used to house visiting scholars until the land is used to expand campus.

Over the summer, renovation of the houses for the visitors began.

Residents are currently living in one of the houses, said Robin Borczon, assistant director of International Programs. Renovation of the other should be complete by the end of this month.

For nearly two months, Kimwele has been studying in the biology department.

Sponsored by International Programs, he came to Western to study molecular genetics, he said.

Kimwele said the house he’s living in on campus is very comfortable and convenient.

Previous international scholars have not had such accommodations.

In the past, visitors lived in hotels or stayed with faculty in the department they were visiting, Borczon said.

But that wasn’t always effective.

“There aren’t any good hotels in walking distance, so there are transportation issues,” she said.

John Osborne, associate vice president for campus services and facilities, said the house that is still being renovated was transferred to the WKU Real Est ate Foundation and was being leased to Bowling Green residents before the renovations began, he said. It was purchased along with other property late last year.

The house Kimwele is living in previously belonged to the Kentucky District Council of the Assemblies of God, Osborne said. He said student members of that organization lived there before, but the house was empty and going to be sold when Western bought it for $138,000 in December 2002.

Borczon said international scholars come to Western to give talks or collaborate with various departments.

One of the houses has four bedrooms – two women’s rooms downstairs and two men’s rooms upstairs. Guests share a kitchen, dining room and living room. There’s also a basement with a washer and dryer.

There are two two-bedroom apartments in the other house.

Kimwele, who lives in the four bedroom home, said all he had to bring with him were clothes and personal items. He said everything else was provided for him.

Borczon said the two-apartment house being worked on is having several minor repairs done, including some electrical rewiring, flooring repairs and redoing some bathroom fixtures.

Provost Barbara Burch said the renovations for both houses were “nothing drastic.”

Gene Tice, vice president for Student Affairs and campus services, said buying the houses was part of Western’s master plan.

Western will eventually expand in the direction of Normal Drive, he said. The area will probably be turned into a parking lot.

Tice said Western wants to buy more property on Normal when it becomes available.

The houses will be used for at least the next one or two years for visiting scholars, Tice said.

Burch said this was the best temporary use for the houses.

Osborne said he isn’t sure whether or not there will be adequate funding for such a project in the future. Borczon said there are several policies being created to develop more international ties.

A subcommittee of the International Education Council is currently drafting policies for the program and the houses.

International visitors have priority over visitors who are residents of the United States to live in the houses, Borczon said.

Exchange visitors have priority over one-way visitors, and long term visitors have priority over short term visitors, she said.

But the house being renovated could also be used for visitors who stay on campus for less than two weeks, Borczon said.

She said the houses can’t be used for new faculty or people interviewing with Western.

The idea is to make things possible that may not have been otherwise, Borczon said.

The committee is also deciding whether or not the residents will have to pay rent, Borczon said. She said they are leaning toward having funded guests pay about $300 a month. The money will pay utilities and other costs from running the house.

Kimwele said he is being sponsored by the office of international programs but does not pay rent. Borczon said details were just beginning to get worked out when Kimwele moved in.

There has been some housing for international visitors in the past, but none of it still exists.

Reach Shawntaye Hopkins at [email protected]