Meet the Hidalgo Family

As parents, watching our college-aged children struggle to find friends can be heart-wrenching. We want nothing more than for them to thrive socially, as well as academically. For each of our Hope students, freshman year, first semester was a real struggle. Looking back, that shouldn’t have come as a surprise. During our son’s first year, our youth pastor asked us how he was doing. We told him about some of the struggles. His response was enlightening…

Freshman year is the worst social experiment ever. You take a bunch of 18-year-olds who, for the last 12 months, have been celebrated, have had minimal obligation, and haven’t really needed to make major decisions. Then, you throw them all together into an environment where they don’t know anybody, they have all sorts of responsibilities thrust upon them, and they’re told, ‘Go ahead now and make your own decisions’. Yes, most of them struggle with this.” If nothing else, it was good to hear from him that our kids weren’t the only ones in this boat.

The good news though is that both of our children not only survived but have thrived. Our daughter graduated with deep, sincere friendships that are continuing to grow post-graduation. And our son, a current student, is constantly talking about the rich relationships he has in a variety of contexts. So, how did this happen? Well, why don’t we hear from them.

From Molly, Class of 2022:
It’s hard to find friends in college. I struggled just as much as the next student. But as I look back, I have a much different perspective. This is what I would tell my freshman-year self if I could sit with her today: First, remember that you already belong. I know that sounds annoying to hear, especially when it can feel so lonely. But with your Hope College acceptance letter came a place for you at Hope College. Change your mindset from “If I find my place” to “When I find my place.” And remember it takes time. You cannot build fulfilling relationships in your first month at school.

Second, say yes as much as you can, but be intentional with your yeses. I found that relationship and belonging happen in the “in-between.” Relationships are built at the late-night study groups, the walk to the Chapel after class, or in line at Phelps – those small in-between acts. When I say “say yes” I don’t mean sign up for everything. While clubs, sports and other on-campus activities are great ways to meet people, they can burn you out faster than you think. Don’t over-commit. You cannot build lasting relationships if you are constantly running from activity to activity. Pick one or two to try out, looking for the opportunities that will put you in the “in-between.” Say yes to the small things and be intentional with your big yeses.

Lastly, stop comparing yourself to others. It’s easy to see a large group of freshmen at Phelps or playing frisbee in the Pine Grove and wonder, “How did they make friends so fast?” Or maybe it’s seeing upperclassmen and envying their friendships. Just remember each of your classmates is in the same position you are in or was in that position. Every person on campus experienced freshman year and dealt with the same struggles and emotions as you. The best thing you can do is understand that everyone is on their journey, and you cannot compare yours to theirs.

From Jules, Class of 2025

I found my people the latter half of my second semester, freshman year. It was after spring break. My roommate introduced me to some cool people he had gone on an Immersion trip with. I was invited and accepted into that friend group, and we started hanging out. I really found my people there. In the second semester of my sophomore year, I decided to rush. I was a little nervous that I would lose those friends because of the time and social commitment of being in a fraternity. I expressed those concerns to some of the members in the fraternity and they assured me that they had the exact same worries when they were joining. What they found, however, was total support from the guys to be a part of the fraternity, but also keep the relationships they already had, working to see them flourish outside of the fraternity.

So, I’ve found a group of guys through my fraternity that love me, support me and will always be there for me. They also encourage me to have outside relationships. It’s not an “us or nothing” situation. I’m learning that the key to having a good relationship with anybody, the key to finding your friends is finding people who meet you where you’re at, who are there for you, who encourage you to pursue the good things that are already in your life. These are relationships that don’t pull you away from those good things. I’ve been able to find this in my friends who are in Greek life and my friends who are not in Greek life.

So, what have we as parents learned as our children have traveled this journey? A few things…

Keep the Communication Open
We worked hard at striking the right balance between letting them have their space, and hovering. It wasn’t easy. But we were proactive, looking to establishing open lines of communication via regular check-ins through phone calls, texts or video chats. We did a lot of listening, allowing them to share their experiences, challenges, frustrations and triumphs. We tried to be supportive listeners, offering empathy, guidance without judgment, and every once in a while, a little advice. By fostering a safe space for expression, we found that we were able to strengthen trust and deepen our connection.

Respect Their Independence
While it’s natural to want to stay involved in their lives, we realized that we had to respect their newfound independence. We sought to avoid micromanaging or helicoptering, and instead, tried to empower them to make their own decisions and learn from their experiences. Of course, we’d offer guidance when needed, but we also gave them the space to navigate challenges independently. We’ve seen them grow in independence and in their ability to think critically when solving problems.

Be Present and Supportive
Even though we’re only 40 minutes from campus, there is physical distance. So, we look for ways to remain present and supportive. When Jay is in Holland on business, he checks in to see if the kids are available for lunch or dinner. We attend family weekends, sporting events, or performances, when possible, to show our support and interest in their college experience. We have been intentionally getting to know their friends, and their friends’ parents. We ask about all aspects of their life, not just academics. We sport our Hope College swag at home and around town, not just during campus visits. And of course, we serve on the Family Advisory Council. These are just some examples of ways we’ve sought to actively participate in their college experience, thus showing our unwavering love and support.

Freshman year is the toughest year, but if they can get through that first semester, they are on their way to an amazing experience. Our hope is that this article may provide a nugget or two for you as you look to guide your student to great things.

Jay and Janice Hidalgo live and work in Grand Rapids, Michigan. They have four children, one of which is a Hope graduate, Molly Hidalgo ’22, and one of which is a junior at Hope, Jules Hidalgo ’25.

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