Baudry Metangmo didn’t know anything about Billings or Montana when he came to Montana State University Billings last year from Cameroon.
And MSU Billings had never had a student from Cameroon, as far as anyone can remember.
Despite the unfamiliarity on both sides, the match has been a good one with Metangmo captivating the campus with his outgoing personality and friendliness.
He’s also made an impression on St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral downtown.
Metangmo, one of 140 international students at MSU Billings this semester, arrived in Billings at the end of April last year.
It wasn’t long before he was introduced to snow for the first time – in May.
“It was supposed to be spring,” he said with a laugh.
He had to make other adjustments, too, particularly for American food, which he found isn’t as varied or flavorful as dishes he ate back home.
In Cameroon, he ate a lot of fresh fruits and vegetables, but not much meat or cheese.
“I miss plantain (which looks like a banana but isn’t as sweet) and the way we cook corn,” he said.
Cameroon is a country of 20 million people and a little larger in size than California. It stretches from the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa to Lake Chad.
Dressed in jeans, sandals and a traditional Cameroonian shirt in bright colors made by his aunt, Metangmo talked about his homeland during an interview in the Student Union Building atrium. Frequently interrupting the discussion to wave or smile at passersby he knew, he looked right at home.
Metangmo lived all over the country growing up as his family moved for his father’s job with the country’s electrical company.
That was a wonderful opportunity to get to know members of some of the more than 200 tribes that live in Cameroon. Along the way, he learned how to get along with people from different backgrounds.
“I feel lucky to have seen so much of my country,” he said.
The bridge linking the diverse tribes is French, the official language of the country.
At home, Metangmo’s mother insisted her six children speak precise French and never allowed slang in the house.
He studied English in school, but wasn’t required to speak it, which is one reason why he decided to come to a smaller city in the United States to study, where he would have an easier time polishing the language.
Going to a city and state he’d never heard of before also struck his sense of adventure.
Although he traveled thousands of miles from home, he didn’t leave his faith or his music behind.
One of his first requests after landing in Billings was locating a Catholic Church within walking distance of campus.
“Faith holds a big place in my life,” he said.
He didn’t just show up for mass once a week at St. Patrick’s Co-Cathedral.
Because his mother always stressed getting involved in a church that he attended, he joined the choir in September. He also is the cantor at some masses, singing the Psalms and leading the congregation in songs.
“Baudry is a dynamic young man who’s a real asset to our parish,” said Sister Kathleen Hanley, St. Patrick’s music director, adding that the young man’s energy and friendliness has made an impression on everyone.
Although he doesn’t think he has a perfect voice, Metangmo likes to move and feel the music physically to express the spirituality of a piece as he sings.
Even without any formal musical training he learned to read music from an older brother who was taking piano lessons.
Singing, too, has come naturally for him.
“My mother loves to sing and we sing a lot as a family,” he said.
He and his brother loved singing a cappella, so when a member of the St. Patrick’s choir suggested he might be interested in the Big Sky Chorus, a Billings barbershop group, he jumped at the chance.
When interviewed in early March before Pope Francis was elected, Metangmo was asked about talk circulating that an African cardinal might be the next pope because of the increasing number of Catholics in Africa. Metangmo said that as much as he would like it to happen, there won't be an African pope anytime soon.
The Catholic Church is a mix of politics and religion, he said. If the church wanted to pick a pope from outside Europe, it might turn to Latin America as well as Africa, he said, which it did in choosing the former cardinal from Argentina.
“For me the goal is not to have a pope from a certain country but a person who can lead the church,” he said.
Now majoring in math, Metangmo would like to take enough chemistry classes to add that as a second major, too. He would like eventually to get a Ph.D. in math.
As if he’s not busy enough, he also works as a math and chemistry tutor in the Academic Support Center on campus and also helps international students to settle into campus.
Metangmo has blossomed since arriving in Billings, said Tracy Mouser, coordinator of international student programs on campus.
“His sweet spirit has endeared him to us all,” she said.