Posted: September 28, 2017 at 6:40 pm

By Rachel Teter and Megan Bsharah

Making A Difference in the International Community of Morgantown.

Nestled in the heart of Sunnyside sits a family home that is surrounded by West Virginia University students. Suzanne Pinion is a wife, a mother of four boys and a world traveler. Her home on McClane Avenue is a haven for international students in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Sitting on the family couch, Suzanne Pinion is a silhouette against the evening sky pouring in through the living room windows. The Monongahela River runs downstream barely visible through the trees in the family’s backyard. She looks up and smiles when a German boy in the kitchen compliments her apple cake.

The Pinion family has spent more than 20 years involved in the Friends of International Students & Scholars Program.

The program offers international students and local families the opportunity to interact with each other through cultural exchanges. Although the program does not offer housing arrangements for students, it is a way for exchange students to learn about American homes and their culture.  At least one interaction per month for one year is required from both parties to be involved in the program.

After leaving her home in New York City for the rolling hills of West Virginia, Suzanne found the Morgantown area to be very homogeneous. She glances up to two of her sons, Liam and Max, who are sitting on the staircase watching their mother. She says the program has been a great opportunity for her children to meet people from all over the world.

Her second-to-youngest child, Liam Pinion, is a junior at West Virginia University. He speaks for a while about how thankful he is for growing up around different cultures.

“Being young and able to experience people from other countries while living in West Virginia was a huge privilege growing up. Not everyone has a boy from India in their house on Thanksgiving,” he laughs.

Liam reflects on his childhood, “You look on the news and you can see people from far away places but you might not quite understand their culture. This program has let me experience things first hand in a different way than a lot of my peers.”

Now that Liam is older he finds the program to benefit him more.

“I remember always being very nervous because the students that came were always much older than me and we did not have much to talk about,” Liam says. “Being in college and having the international students closer to my age has been way more fun.  I can actually go out with them downtown now.”

He credits his parents and the program for making him feel more connected to the world around him.

“There is more to WVU than just the normal student who was born and raised in West Virginia. You know, those students who only come because of the Promise Scholarship. Many students don’t understand the international community that surrounds them and what they could benefit from getting involved with it.”

The Pinion family is hosting three German research students this year—Patrick Schmid, Jörg Siegel, and Raphael Mack.

Patrick sits on the other side of the family couch speaking with Liam and Jörg about the dinner Suzanne prepared for them that night—chicken pasta with roasted veggies, a house salad and apple cake.

Patrick smiles as he thinks back to applying to WVU.

“I had never heard of West Virginia University before a professor from Germany brought it up to us,” he said. “I wasn’t even sure where West Virginia was in the United States before coming here.”

The three students will spend six months in Morgantown total and plan to leave at the end of October. They live together in a three-bedroom apartment on Grant and Second St. It is a short walk to the Pinion home where they have attended dinner multiple times.

“When we had our introduction session at the International Students Office, we were told about the Friends exchange program and I thought it sounded really interesting,” Patrick said, looking up from his knees. “If you want to get to know local families from the area then I highly recommend this program. Plus, we get very amazing dinners and great cookies.”

Suzanne smiles at the cookie comment. Food is a huge aspect of the international community in Morgantown and it is one way they share their culture with locals.

The Intentional Student Organization hosts an International Dinner every year. Suzanne wishes more families in the community would come to the open event. She references it as the pinnacle event of the year.

While thinking of past events Suzanne lets out a laugh that fills the room.

“I have always cooked for the event and I have even had students come here to cook,” she said. “It has sometimes been great fun and sometimes not so much fun. I had a girl set my oven on fire one year.”

The International Dinner is filled with food from different cultures, music and dance from around the world.

“You have to be blind to drive through Morgantown and not see that there is an international community here,” she said. “I wish that more people knew about it and attending the dinner is a great first step.”  

Suzanne says that she sees the same faces at the dinner every year.

“It seems that the same families are always involved in the program, but I think it would be very beneficial for the local community to understand the international community that is here and what they have to offer us.”

Liam breaks the silence that follows.

“We have grown up surrounded by this community knowing that all colors and all nationalities are welcome in our house at all times.”