College can be both a weird and wonderful experience, regardless if you're a "drink till you drop" partier, a bibliophile who sleeps in the library, or something in between.
I know the most significant part of my own college experience has been the change of environment. And no, I don't mean global warming or Ithaca's infamous hills. I'm referring to my transition from a conservative Catholic bubble to a much more liberal and secular one. You see I had spent my entire academic career up until college in Catholic schools, from the elementary school that was part of my family’s parish, to an all-boys Catholic high school run by the Jesuits (a religious order of Catholic priests). I’ve also been fortunate to meet a number of fellow Catholic school kids at Ithaca, and we've bonded over the odd struggles we've faced while adjusting to college life.
Here are a few examples.
1. Getting used to not praying before your first class of the day.
From kindergarten to 12th grade, we would always begin the day with a prayer, followed by the Pledge of Allegiance and announcements. I don't remember which prayers we said in elementary school, but I do recall the simple mantra that our principal taught us. She would say, “God is good,” to which we would respond “All the time." She would then reverse the mantra, beginning with "All the time" and have us respond with “God is good.” To this day, I worry that if I hear either part of the mantra, I'll stand up and repeat the other part like a Catholic version of the Manchurian Candidate. Now admittedly, beginning the school day with prayer seems like a pretty forgettable detail. But it still feels weird to start class without standing up, bowing my head, and mumbling along to some prayer.
2. Accepting (or reveling in) the fact that you probably won't need to take a Religious Studies course.
I’ve never been great at math or science, which kind of explains why I’m a writer. While I’ve come to appreciate the math and science’s importance in both academic and real life, I still struggle to grasp anything beyond the basics. Thankfully, my low grades in these subjects in elementary school and high school were somewhat balanced out my better performance in history, English, and religion classes. I know that in my experience, religion was considered just as important than the other subjects. After all, if you fail religion class you’re a bad student and even worse, a bad Catholic. Or at least that’s what we ended up thinking. And because of this additional pressure, some Catholic school kids avoid religious studies courses in college at all cost. Strangely enough I still enjoy taking religious studies courses, even though I no longer consider myself a Catholic in the spiritual sense. But maybe that’s just because I finally get to learn about other religions besides Catholicism.
3. Subconsciously keeping track of all the Commandments you've broken.
Honestly, this really applies to anyone who was raised Catholic. But there’s something about going to a school adorned with crucifixes and pictures of white Jesus that makes you behave (and makes you feel guilty when you misbehave). Personally, I can' say I miss being constantly reminded that I'm a horrible person.
4. Figuring out how to dress like a normal human being.
This may shock some people, but I generally loved having a school uniform. While it was annoying it wear a sweater and dress pants on particularly hot days, it kept things simple when getting ready in the morning. But then again, I was never subjected to the ridiculous double standard that female students face when it comes to uniforms and dress code. At my high school, our dress code consisted of a blazer, a dress shirt, a tie, a belt, dress pants, and dress shoes. But what kind of blazer, dress shirt, tie, belt, dress pants, and dress shoes we wore was ultimately up to us, barring certain exceptions (such as no bolo ties or boat shoes). The problem was that when it came to packing clothes for college, I considered my high school dress code to be "normal." This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but I knew that as a lazy college student, I wouldn’t have the time or energy for ironing and dry cleaning.
5. Struggling to call professors by their first names.
During my first couple of semesters at college, I refused to call my professors by their first names, even when they preferred it. It just felt inherently disrespectful to me. I eventually made some friends who went to public high schools, and who were on a first name basis with some of their teachers. At the time, this absolutely blew my mind. This is probably because Catholic schools tend to be more disciplined than public schools, since they have greater autonomy. Therefore, calling our teachers by their first names was never an option. And while I thankfully missed the days of corporal punishment in the Catholic school system, they found other ways to keep us in line. There was always the possibility of detention or expulsion, but what really kept me in line was the knowledge that if I disrespected my teachers, I was also disrespecting the sacrifices my parents made so that I could go to a Catholic school. And since my high school was run by Catholic priests, disrespecting them might as well be disrespecting God. While I no longer consider calling a professor by their first name to be disrespectful (assuming they prefer being called by it), it still feels weird to do so. I guess that's just further proof that you can take the kid out of Catholic school, but you can't take the Catholic school out of the kid.