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February 16, 2018

Pat Morrison helps with housing, culture shock

Over the last 30 years, Pat Morrison has housed around 35 international students in her south Overland Park home. She’s not sure of the exact number because she never expected to have so many.

When Pat started inviting students into her home in the 1980s, she thought it would be a nice thing to do once – maybe twice. She and her husband could help students with housing and overcoming culture shock.

Empathy from experience

“When I first came to the United States in the ’60s, I didn’t have anybody to take me aside to tell me ‘Hey, there’s a difference in culture here,’” Morrison said.

“It was two years of tears,” she explained. “I was very, very homesick.”

Thankfully, language was not a barrier. Morrison learned English even before she learned Chinese, since her mother was an English teacher.

She traveled from Singapore to Texas to Kansas City because of her husband’s career, learning new homemaking skills like cooking without her usual staples or the kinds of food she grew up with. “Asian markets were not all that popular back then. We were like aliens, come from another planet,” she said.

So when she had a chance to help others acclimate to a new culture, she said, she felt it was her calling.

A mission to help

“My husband and I also felt it was a mission, tied to our faith, to offer a place for these students,” she said. “They needed to be able to go to school and not worry about rent. We wanted them to get an education,” she said.

They started with homestay students from William Jewell College, then branched out to include students from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the University of Kansas and, most recently, students from Johnson County Community College.

“I try to have only one student at a time,” she said sternly. “Except for now. And a few other times when someone needs a place to stay.” She smiled. “One couple got married. They were both staying with me, and now they are living in Japan with four kids.”

At the wedding, Morrison and her husband walked the bride down the aisle. When the family visits Kansas City, they reconnect with “Auntie Pat.”

“That’s a cultural thing, a sign of respect,” she explained. “For all the students, I am Auntie Pat.”

Making lifelong connections

For international students who have no family nearby, “Auntie” is also a sign of comfort.

JCCC student Matias Gomez Palau has stayed with Morrison for the last three years. Born in Argentina, he moved to Botswana at age 5 and to the United States in 2013.

“I have had a fantastic time,” he said. “It’s like having a second family. Since this was my first time as a host student, I didn’t know what to expect. But they invited me to events, took me out to dinner, and I felt very welcomed. “

The effects of this hospitality last long after the visit. “I had one student, the parents send me a gift at Christmas every year,” Morrison said. “They do that because their son considered Kansas City his home, and he has come back to see us.” Another former student contacted Morrison immediately after her husband’s death and sent her a ticket to come visit his family in California.

“It’s always nice to hear from the students, because I’d like to believe at the end of the day, one or two will stand out, you know? That I helped them on their journey,” Morrison said.

“One or two” students is an understatement, according to Suzanne Maheu, Homestay Coordinator for JCCC’s International and Immigrant Student Services.  “Countless students have benefited from her guidance, support and from her ability to help them adapt to life in the U.S.”

Maheu said Morrison personifies JCCC’s mission of transforming lives and strengthening communities. “Pat stands out for her ability to meet students where they are developmentally, emotionally and academically,” Maheu said.

To find out how you can be a host to international or immigrant students, contact Maheu at 913-469-7680.