Whether new or familiar with Miami University’s landscapes, incoming students have one thing in common: the hopes and fears they bring with them as they are leaving what once was and entering a new and important era in their lives.
Although we do it every day, starting anew is frightening — especially when it’s something we expect and eagerly look forward to like going to college. Each year, Miami invests a lot of time, money and thought in the attempt to welcome and retain new students. The orientation and transition teams spend a whole year brainstorming ideas to best create a sense of community and belonging.
I mean, really, how do you make someone feel like they have always belonged in this small college town in Ohio in less than two days? And why is that so important?
If you ask a lot of students why they chose Miami, a common answer is because Miami cared. I guess we could say the secret ingredient to making students care and plant their roots in Oxford is by caring first.
On the other hand, caring and expressing that care in creative ways is just the beginning. For example, I got my acceptance letter from Miami on my birthday, and that made my mother absolutely infatuated with the idea of me going to college here.
So, caring is first and foremost, but inviting students into the tradition of care or Love and Honor is even more important. What comes next, however, is how students perceive this slideshow of “Come here, we care for you!” Of course, some are convinced more easily, and others take some time. But no matter the type of student, the lenses that they use to think about what college might bring to them is best described through hopes and fears.
During orientation, I spent a lot of time with students exploring their concerns about coming to Miami, and in all of the small groups, we played a little game that was called hopes and fears and served as a bonding experience.
During this activity, students anonymously shared with me by writing on colorful paper one hope and one fear they have of coming to Oxford and starting college. I decided to collect those papers in a mason jar and share them with you. Surprisingly or not, it turned out that many of them have almost identical hopes and fears.
“I am afraid that I will not do well in my classes.”
“I fear being far from home.”
“I am nervous that I will get lost on campus.”
“I am scared that my roommate will not like me.”
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“I am anxious that I won’t make friends.”
After spending some time reading the fears, it would always get quiet, and students would glare at me and each other either in relief or compassion. As Welcome Weekend continued, I got to see a lot of them again, hug them and chat as we were painting frames or decorating succulents. I thought to myself at one point how wonderful it is that although they carry their fears with them, the hopes are the ones that persevere and shine through.
What were they hoping for?
Well first, they hoped to make a lot of friends, meet new people, try new things, branch out, join a fraternity or sorority and find their place under the Miami sun. These were the most prevalent responses with almost 70 students hoping for the same things. Then there were the resume builders hoping to find their passion, start their business, do well academically, join a lot of clubs and find an internship by their second year. A couple students hoped that they would enjoy the dining halls, and one hoped to meet beautiful women.
Whether to thrive socially, academically or mentally, their hopes were high, and I could easily say that all of them hoped they would fit in and find belonging. Sharing our hopes was easier and much smoother as it gave room to smile at each other and rest assured that everything will be OK and that it will work out just about right.
This activity always kindled the RedHawk spirit in me and whenever I did it with students, I wanted to make them remember what they did. To me, it felt like as they were writing their hopes and fears, they were growing with them, their faces becoming lighter and their hearts wispier. There’s a certain magic of cultivating hope and letting go of all the fears once they are spelled out.
At the end of the day, as students were heading back exhausted from long orientation sessions, I wondered if Miami could actualize all their hopes. That would be wonderful, right? To have a place you can go to always and forever that will make all your dreams come true. Yet, I think the beauty of college is not in giving students what they want, but in giving them the means to fight for what they want.
As I watched and listened to students cultivate hope and envision their Miami journey, I felt the urge to shout at them: “Go out there, fight for your hopes & conquer your fears!” It is not enough to only spell your fears out. Indeed, we as RedHawks are known by how we conquer our fears, rather than what scares us.
Anastasija Mladenovska is a second-year political science, finance and Russian, East European & Eurasian studies triple major from Macedonia. She is involved with the Honors College, Scholar Leaders and was an orientation leader for domestic and international students during the summer of 2023.