It is not surprising that Hope College attracts students from across Western Michigan. After all, Hope has been an integral part of the Holland community since it began in October 1851 as the Pioneer School.
What may be more surprising to some is that Hope also attracts students from every corner of the world and has since its beginning. According to the Hope College International and Third Culture Kid (TCK) Students landing page, the class of 1879 was ⅓ international students.
The college rating and informational site “College Factual” said that international students made up around 2.5% of Hope’s student body in 2018, which is comparable to the larger, public school Grand Valley State University which had international students comprising 1.6% of its student body.
So what draws students to Hope from not only Western Michigan but also from the wider world?
Kayla DeVries, a freshman from Holland, Michigan, grew up hearing about Hope but was initially unsure about applying. “I didn’t think I was going to come here because it was so close to home and I just felt like it was going to be so familiar,” she said. In the end, however, “the community aspect that I felt when I toured Hope for the first time” is what won DeVries over.
On the other side of the world, Sion Kang (‘25) who is South Korean, was also considering Hope. “My parents are both missionaries, and in the mission field community, Hope College is pretty well-known,” Kang explained. Even so, Hope was not on her list, to begin with.
“I actually emailed almost 30 colleges in the U.S.,” Kang said. Hope made it into the running when an advisor at Hope emailed back. “He was the only person out of those 30 colleges that had replied to my email with such kindness. He literally changed my whole decision of coming to Hope College,” she said.
DeVries and Kang are now roommates, affording them the opportunity to learn more about the disadvantages and advantages that come with attending college both close to and far away from home.
“It’s the small things… you can choose how much you want to go home,” DeVries said of the advantages of going to school close to home. “If you’re feeling homesick, or you need to do laundry, or just wanna see your dog, it’s literally a 10, 15-minute drive away.”
Yet that doesn’t mean being so close doesn’t come without disadvantages. “The hardest thing is that I’ve become more of a homebody,” DeVries explained. “I’m hoping to study abroad and I don’t want to feel so homesick then.”
Kang faces another set of positives and negatives. On one hand, she feels that being an international student has made her more independent.
“I felt like for the first time, I was trying to keep my faith without my parents. I had to build up my own relationship with God away from my parents,” Kang said. “I also feel like I am growing more as an adult… I’m growing up and learning things about myself.”
On the other hand, homesickness is a major negative. “It’s just hard, knowing that you can’t go back. Thinking that I have to stay here a whole year… it’s just hard, I guess,” said Kang.
But Kang is finding the silver lining even within the homesickness. “Even though I’m homesick, there’s nothing I can do about it… I just have to get over it and I have to survive. I think it makes me more mature,” Kang explained.
One common problem both DeVries and Kang agreed on? The need to balance old friends and family with the new lives they’re creating here.
“I try not to give myself too hard of a time of either choosing to go home or choosing to stay on campus,” said DeVries. “I think there’s a lot of different opinions and pressures… It’s hard to find that balance.”
DeVries also argued that it’s important to “let yourself make new friends, and meet new people and don’t make yourself feel guilty for making new friends.”
Kang agreed that the balance is difficult to achieve. “I can feel that my parents are missing me,” she said. “I try contacting them as much as I can. I text them every single day and call them at least five times a week. At the same time, I don’t want to focus on my family and my old friends back in high school to the point where I can’t socialize with new friends here.”
Kang said that making “one or two close friends you can share your emotions and feelings with” also helps her keep balance.
Students from near and far chose Hope College to call home and it’s worth remembering everyone’s college experience has its own ups and downs.