PITTSBURG — Over 115 Pittsburg State University international students bellies were filled to the brim Tuesday thanks to a special welcome dinner just for them.
The International Friends of Pittsburg hosted a welcome dinner for students from all across the world. The group hosts the event twice a year for incoming international students in August and January — an event that has become tradition for well over 20 years. The event is made possible with a group of some 20 to 30 volunteers from International Friends of Pittsburg and from the university.
“This is their first official evening meal and usually the Friends are always the first one to welcome them, which is the perfect way for them to start their orientation day,” said Brenda Hawkins, immigration and advising coordinator.
Cynthia Pfannenstiel, long-time member of the International Friends of Pittsburg, said the campus dining options are not open yet and many students are still settling into their campus homes so a home cooked meal is something they probably hadn’t had since they were home.
“We want to make them feel welcomed and let them know we are glad they are here and we want them to have a good year,” she said. “They seem to enjoy it.”
An international student from China, Jack Shi, sat with a group of students with his plate cleaned.
“They are so nice and friendly,” Shi said about the volunteers who served his dinner.
Another international student, Nathale Nicoletti, of Brazil, was especially excited about the salad, which she had not eaten since she left home.
“I feel welcomed here,” she said. “I just arrived Saturday, this is the first full meal.”
The International Friends of Pittsburg are also in charge of the Friendship Family Program where international students are paired up with families. The hosts don’t provide lodging, but they do provide friendship and invite the students to participate in family gatherings and other activities such as going to parks, attending plays or traveling to amusement parks or zoos.
“It allows for the students to meet people from the Pittsburg area and we get to know each other, share a meal, whatever it is they want to do,” Pfannenstiel said.
Pfannenstiel has been a Friendship Family host for many years, in fact, one of the students she hosted, Meihsien Wang originally from Taiwan, has a daughter who now attends PSU and volunteered for the welcome dinner. Her mother got a job in the area at a hospital and now lives in Kansas City.
“I consider them my family from Pittsburg here,” her daughter Meilene Robinette said. Robinette is a senior at PSU who is studying finance.
Pfannenstiel still keeps in touch.
Another long-time Friendship Family host, Astrid Zagorski, said “I’ve done this for many years, it breaks barriers, it opens communication.
“We can share the experience of being in this country with somebody else.”
“When I hosted, I hosted because it was fun,” another Family Friend, Morgan McCune said. “I always had a lot of fun, I got to meet all kinds of people.
“When you have a Friendship Student you always meet all of their friends too.”
Several of the Friendship Family hosts have ties to PSU as faculty or retired faculty, but for Angela Lewis it was a study trip to Brussels, Belgium, that inspired her to learn more about other cultures and their customs.
“I learned about the friendship family at Pittsburg State University, and soon became an active member,” she said. “It’s a great way to get to know international students right here in my own backyard.”
For Linda Stotler, it’s a fun learning opportunity for everyone.
“I really enjoy it, just to get to meet new people and find out about different countries,” she said. “We go out to eat, we go to plays, I’ve taken them out to Big Brutus, to Joplin to shop.
“I took a couple to Branson and Kansas City and they come home with me during Thanksgiving and Christmas when they’re here.”
The students especially seemed to like visiting her brother’s farm, where they get to see miniature donkeys and other animals.
“They loved seeing those kind of things,” Stotler said.
Prospective friendship families and students apply and then a reception dinner is hosted where they officially meet their new friendship families.
People can go to Pittsburg State University International Office website to learn more about the program.