ABINGTON, Pa. — Erik Suarez left his home in Venezuela, a country mired in an economic and humanitarian crisis, and finished high school in Peru. He then enrolled at Penn State Abington and, while making his way alone in America, has become a leader among the college’s burgeoning international population.
Suarez is the campus’ first Student Government Association (SGA) senator representing international students. He lobbied for the creation of the position since more than 500 of Abington’s roughly 3,700 students come from outside the United States.
“I represent them for current issues on campus and speak up for their experiences, issues and problems. I am trying to get international students more involved to stand up and raise our voice,” the sophomore said. “It’s better for all of us as a community to get international students involved, and I see every day that they are.”
He also serves on the SGA’s Governmental Affairs Committee.
“It helps me understand and learn how the American system works. It’s good example for many countries, especially my country, to apply,” he said.
"I try to involve local students to connect and establish relationships with international students. The more diverse we are and mix cultures the better.”
— Erik Suarez, sophomore, Penn State Abington
Suarez recalled his early days at college and how the Abington community helped him adapt to this new culture.
“When I first came to Abington, I had lots of fear and nervousness because of how hard it is to start a life on your own in a new place. Overthinking about my accent, different cultures, and even handling the life of a student was a big part of my first week in college,” he said. “Then I saw that there are a lot of other students like me that may have or will have the same fears.”
That realization led him to join the Abington Office of Global Programs as an international student orientation leader (ISOL). The ISOLs, among other tasks, help students organize their immigration documents and schedule classes.
“But the most important part was, in my experience, to create bonds with them, and let them know they are not here by themselves. We are here to help international students and be friends,” he said.
After international student orientation ended, Suarez secured a position as a student worker in Global Programs.
“I am there to help them, open for any questions or concerns. I have the opportunity to help a lot of international students adapt and get comfortable here at Abington," he said. "I try to involve local students to connect and establish relationships with international students. The more diverse we are and mix cultures the better.”
Supporting others is never far from Suarez’s mind. He recently coordinated an event at Abington to collect clothing and toiletries for Venezuelan refugees who are flooding the neighboring country of Colombia.
“Penn State has the mentality of helping and community,” he said. “It’s the year of activism at Abington. Everything fits together. Grab Venezuela, grab Penn State Abington, grab activism, and put it together to send to the refugees.”
As Suarez looks toward the future, he plans to double major in economics and international politics and, as is his trademark, work aiding others and reducing conflict.
“I’m very interested in going back home to Venezuela and getting into politics there, or work for the United Nations or another international organization that can help solve problems,” he said. “I’m very interested in how organizations interact with each other to solve problems.”
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible, and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With about 3,700 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 21 majors, undergraduate research, the Schreyer honors program, NCAA Division III athletics, and more.