In high school I went on a week-long mission trip to Belize. We were working with a local church that we regularly partnered with. In fact, many people going had been before. In preparation for the trip, the leaders explained the background of the country and the community we would be working in. They explained that although most everyone there spoke English, the culture was very different and we might experience some culture shock when we arrived. As the plane touched down I was a little nervous; however as soon as I stepped out into the community I felt completely comfortable. Sure I hadn’t ever visited a Central American country before, but I had spent much of my childhood in an unfamiliar foreign country; this all felt very familiar to me.
In contrast, two years later, my first day of college at the University of Nebraska Omaha felt like traveling to a different country. I was at a complete loss. Where should I sit? What should I do with my books? How do you take tests? How do I talk to people? After graduating high school, everyone I knew had advice about what to do to succeed in college.
The advice that came up the most was “Create a relationship with your professor. Sit in the front. Ask questions. Make your face known!” One of my first classes was a 380-person class on Introduction to Criminal Justice. How the heck am I supposed to be anything other than a number in a class that is literally 380 percent bigger than my graduating “class.”
However, the difficulty of adjusting to my classes was easy in comparison to adjusting to the culture of college forensics. During my time as a homeschooler, I competed in competitive speech and debate, otherwise known as forensics. It is often confused with examining dead bodies but it is less likely to net you a TV show. If you have ever watched the movie The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington, it is kind of like that, but not really. I really enjoyed competing in the homeschool forensics league in high school and I wanted to continue doing it in college. UNO had a nationally ranked forensics team so I joined the first chance I got. I was excited to learn a new style of competition and continue doing something that I love, but I was unprepared for the cultural differences I would face on the team.
The first thing I discovered is that forensics competitors swear. A lot. Like I think even HBO would think twice about how much swearing is going on. As a girl who didn’t even say “damn” and grew up around people who thought “heck” was too strong a word to use, I inwardly cringed at almost every conversation. Beyond the swearing and raunchy music, the subject matters of most conversations and most of the humor were much more, let’s say, “mature” than I was used to. I learned more about drinking and sex in that first year than I had in my entire life. So I spent most of my time around members of the team slightly uncomfortable. I have to say, everyone around me was very nice and if I had asked them to not swear or tell dirty jokes they would have stopped. But I didn’t want to silence them just because I felt uncomfortable. Also, asking them to censor their words would have made me feel like even more of an outsider.
It was hard at first to make connections in college. As a cultural outsider, no matter how nice everyone around you is, you can never get as close to them as those from within their group. For the longest time I didn’t understand how to really converse with someone who wasn’t homeschooled and so I didn’t really talk at all. It was a process adjusting and even now I find myself missing some of the cultural norms that come so naturally to others. But it showed be how resilient I am and adaptable I can be. After all, if I can finally become comfortable enough with mainstream rap to sign along to a Kanye West song anything is possible.