International students find a home away from home

It has been two weeks since Hope College students packed their bags and said goodbye to their friends and families to embark on this college journey. We’ve gathered from all parts of the world eager to find ourselves and to begin our academic endeavors at Hope. For some of us, it was easy. We were excited to finally move out of our parents’ house and have the independence we desired. But for others, college means leaving everyone and everything they have ever known behind.

Since Hope was founded, the college has aimed to integrate international students and Third Culture Kids (TCKs) into its community. Third Culture Kids refer to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ during their upbringing. The Center for Global Engagement at Hope has programs and activities that allow these students to build a home away from home, including international orientation. We interviewed freshman international students to learn more about their experiences and transitions at Hope.

“Hope College first appealed because of its friendly atmosphere, Christian community and good academic program,” said Jimmy Hwang, a freshman international student from Deajeon, South Korea. Hwang also lived in China for two years and in the United States for one year. 

Danai Mandebvu, an international student from Zimbabwe, cited similar reasons for choosing Hope. “It’s a Christian institution, a smaller college to connect and build relationships, and the theatre program was very attractive to me,” she said.

For both Mandebvu and Hwang, international orientation helped ease the transition between choosing to go to Hope and actually arriving on campus. 

“International orientation was one of the best experiences I have had at Hope so far,” said Hwang, “It allowed me to have friends that comfort me and relieve my stress. It’s good to have someone to talk and relate to.”

Mandebvu agreed. “Being away from family and friends was hard. As soon as I got to the dorm, I felt homesick, but international orientation made me feel less homesick and lonely. The orientation allowed me to feel acquainted with campus and Michigan. I was with people that understood me and could relate to,” she said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that international orientation took away all the difficulties of attending college in another country. 

“It’s the small things I miss,” Mandebvu said. “When I speak English, insert the Shona language, and realize that no one understands, it has been difficult. [So has] seeing something and thinking that I should tell my mom or sister and realizing there is a 6-hour difference.”

Nevertheless, both Hwang and Mandebvu have enjoyed their time at Hope so far. 

When asked to describe his experience at Hope in one word Hwang said, “Welcoming.” He elaborated, “There were moments where I was so lost, but friends, professors and upper classmates reached out and helped me. I didn’t expect that because it’s college and where you are on your own. But Hope tries to help people and get through this together.”

For Mandebvu, the word for her experience at Hope thus far is “transformational.”

“It’s transformation because traveling here has supplemented a lot of things that I have been learning about myself, and my community. Having to make decisions for me and live with those decisions has been very interesting and transformational,” Mandebvu explained. 

Even though Hope College may lack the diversity of a larger institution, Mandebvu is still comfortable in her skin. Hope is a community that embraces that by allowing for the interaction of cultures and diverse backgrounds that make it safe to be yourself. 

For other international students, Mandebvu offers this advice: “Don’t think that America is ‘the promised land.’ It’s not jolly rain and sunshine, it is still a country with its issues and pleasant things to enjoy and experience, but it is a normal place with both good and bad. Be open-minded and be intentional about experiencing life. Take a break if you need it, but don’t deprive yourself of experience and joy because of fear or discomfort. That is when life happens.”

Overall, Hope College can become home for us all. The small community allows us to build intimate relationships and get to know each other. It’s a place where even President Scogin helps freshmen move in during orientation. Truly, Hope is a home away from home. 

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