As we Bergmanns say, I was French toast.
Actually, it was almost disappointing how little culture shock took place. The Christian community was huge and enveloping. Literally every single person lived to smile and shake your hand. Sure, the dance parties weren’t exactly Elizabeth Bennett’s cup of tea, but the guys walked you home, the girls gave hugs and good advice, and the history professors talked more about religion than the religion professors.
Making friends took little effort after a two-week missing-my-family-so-much-I-whine fest. (The secret is a combination of claiming lunchtime as social hour and going to bed late…unfortunately.) Hillsdale, for all its advertised conservativeness, represents a good chunk of variety—Catholics, evangelicals of all stripes, Mormons, Deists, and regular people, not to mention gays, Democrats, anarchists, progressives and feminists. (The faculty is even more diverse.) I found my people, a surprising mixture of all the above, and the college time warp bound us together in forever friendship.
Score for the unsocialized!
Not much else compounded the culture shock. Ideas, even in their living, breathing form, didn’t faze me as much as people worried about—I had no inclination to convert to Catholicism after meeting my Baptist-turned-Catholic acquaintance, in other words.
The thing that got me the most? Those awkward moments when somebody references something inappropriate and I, all wide-eyed and innocent, ask, “What does that mean?” and everyone laughs and tells me I really don’t want to know, and my friends explain I recently emerged from behind a rock. (Don’t worry, folks—I’m well-informed now.)
Those awkward moments…and swearing. Some of my schoolmates—some who I love to death and others who I would ________ to death—specialized in both these areas. You know that triple awkward moment when you’re either supposed to laugh or judge, and your conscience dangles on a cliff of indecision? That’s the core of culture shock—at least for this homeschooled kid.
And there are those firsts that prompt that culture shock and its symptom, the violent, pinching stomach. Things like your first dance party where Adele’s music pounds, lights flash and you struggle for breath in the crush of the entire campus crammed in one dance hall. Like the jaw-dropping realization that The Taming of the Shrew is bawdier than it appeared in the children’s adaptation. Like avoiding like the plague your fellow cast members who define “cast party” by the amount of beer consumed. Like watching your RA dress down a guy who dares to swear nonstop in the presence of two flabbergasted female freshmen.
Have I established that I get claustrophobic when foreign mores invade my personal bubble? I do. I feel horrible—I love these people. But what am I going to say? “You’re wrong, and not only that, but you can count me out of your immoral shenanigans now and hence forth”? “Oh, sure, go ahead and get drunk for all I care”? Um…no. If college taught me anything so far, it’s that different people are still people—fun, awesome people at that.
This knowledge and my own conflicted conscience threw each other around: “You prude, judging them with your flinches and raised eyebrows”—“You coward, tolerating this trash.” Punch, bang, smash. Just like that.
So I finally confessed to a friend about my secret boxing match. A while back, at a point where I thought I had boxed up my judgmentalism and shipped it off to Timbuktu, someone had told me I was judgmental. I didn’t want to be judgmental. I wanted to see my friends make wise choices with their lives, their words, their beliefs, to see them wrapped up in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. It’s that Christian thing, that urge “to spread Jesus’ love like peanut butter”—to quote Naomi, my next-door neighbor and fellow love lover. Because newsflash? In less than two months of college, I’ve already seen some pretty stupid mistakes made with bad consequences—and I’m not willing to let people I love go through that unwarned.
Fear of judgmentalism sometimes trumps that.
“I don’t want to be judgmental,” I told my friend, and I was hunched over from autumn cold and embarrassment.
His answer got me thinking: “Sometimes you have to make judgments of people,” he said. “You have to make judgments about what you let into your life. If you choose to be friends with certain people, you’ve already made the choice to deal with what they say and do.”
Which could be a good or bad thing—depending on how you act upon it. A thought is already forming after a month and half with these people I love, but since it’s three in the morning, I thought I’d leave the answer to your reason, fair readers. How do you share Christ’s love and your own friendship with people who warp your comfort zone? What’s that fuzzy area between prude and coward?
p.s. I’m on fall break, so the mention of three in the morning should not concern you.
p.p.s. College is the best experience ever. Period. I highly recommend it. More on that later. :)