Illinois Wesleyan New Home for Former Tulane Student

When Minh Nguyen evacuated from Tulane University in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, he left with a suitcase and his laptop computer.

September 12, 2005

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — On the second floor of Illinois Wesleyan’s Gulick Hall, Minh Nguyen says some of his floormates have been kind of loud, occasionally knocking on doors in the middle of the night.

Nguyen, who arrived at Illinois Wesleyan on Labor Day (Sept. 5) after being evacuated from Tulane University in New Orleans 10 days earlier, is not complaining about his Gulick Hall neighbors. He is just glad to be, finally, in college.

An 18-year-old Vietnamese citizen, Nguyen spent his senior year in high school as an exchange student in Fort Worth, Texas, and had applied (and been accepted) at both IWU and Tulane for his college education. He opted for Tulane and arrived, with his Texas host family, for first year orientation at the New Orleans school on the morning of Saturday, August 27.

He was there for a half a day.

With the path and ferocity of Hurricane Katrina bearing down on New Orleans, Nguyen was encouraged by Tulane officials to leave his four suitcases in the dorm room he had been assigned and evacuate the campus for a few days.

“Classes were to start the next Wednesday (August 31), and they thought we’d all be able to be back on campus by then,” said Nguyen, who returned with his host family to Fort Worth with only one of his suitcases and his laptop computer.

Tulane officials were right about the evacuation. But when the levee broke, leaving the city and environs submerged in floodwaters, all 13,000 Tulane students, including Nguyen, were displaced.

In Fort Worth, knowing that a return to Tulane was impossible for an undetermined length of time, Nguyen started making calls to some colleges and universities who were accepting the displaced students, and ended up back at Illinois Wesleyan, where his secondary school records were already on file and where a financial aid plan was already in place.

With his one suitcase and laptop, he flew out of Fort Worth at 4 a.m. on Labor Day, arrived in Bloomington mid-morning, and was able to start classes the following day, only a week behind the rest of campus.

“My sister was here from Washington, D.C., for the first couple of days to help me get settled in,” said Nguyen, who is majoring in business and is taking classes in physics, calculus, economics and his first-year Gateway course.

“Getting him into classes and onto a good floor in a good dorm (Gulick) was of primary importance,” said Reenie Bradley, international student advisor at Illinois Wesleyan. “There are still some things that need to be taken care of like banking and getting his immigration and registration established, which we are working on with Homeland Security.”

Not to mention some shopping. Nguyen, dressed in shorts, a tee shirt and sandals, is fine as long as temperatures remain warm in central Illinois. “We’ll have to take it slowly and get things over a period of time,” said Bradley, who is keeping an eye on the Tulane website to find out when Nguyen’s other belongings might be able to be retrieved. (The best guess is January 2006.)

As for what Nguyen might decide when Tulane reopens, whenever that may be, he shrugs and says he doesn’t know. But for now he is adapting.

In fact, Nguyen’s adaptation and assimilation might be easier and quicker than one might imagine. On his first Friday night at Illinois Wesleyan, Nguyen found his way to the Shirk Center for Athletics to watch the Titans play in a volleyball tournament.

Standing in the crowd, he looked like any other contented college student who lived in a noisy dorm, instead of one spared from the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Contact: Stew Salowitz, 309/556-3181