Culture Shock: Being Christian at a Secular University

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I transitioned from a small, Christian high school to a large, secular university. For thirteen years I had interacted with the same people who held the same beliefs as me, which made it so much easier for me to maintain my faith. I knew once I attended college I would face difficulties adjusting.

High school had prepared me for facing relentless Atheists and debating why my religion is true. Without a doubt, I knew all the evidence to back up my claims.

However, high school didn’t prepare me for the simple challenges I would face in day-to-day life as a Christian in a non-religious university. My first semester’s over and I wasn’t once faced with a student or professor who insulted my faith, but I have been faced with countless situations like when everyone in your dorm is drinking and you’re offered a shot.

Before college, I had the perfect plan. I would explore various Christian groups on campus, find the one I liked best and attend the meetings religiously. I would make some of my best friends there and we would help each other stay grounded as we struggled through the “temptations” of college together. Sounds perfect, right?

Well, life isn’t perfect and never works out as planned.

Yes, I visited a few Christian groups; even though everyone was welcoming, I still felt like an outsider as the “newbie.” It was harder than I thought to dedicate myself to a group and attend it consistently. Meanwhile, on top of that, I began to feel the pressures of college that conflicted with my faith.

Rewind to my first weekend of college, when most people meet their friends and bond for the first time. Already feeling overwhelmed by the craziness of move-in day and overall “fitting in,” I found out that a group of people on my floor planned to find a party that night.

How would I respond to my first official “test” as a Christian? Was I supposed to miss out on the opportunity just because I don’t party? Had I even decided that I “don’t party?” I tried not to allow others’ opinions get to me, but I also hated how people would ask, “Oh, do you not go out?” as if that’s the determining factor of whether or not I’m a normal person.

Did I really want my first impression to be “the girl who doesn’t go out?”

I didn’t, but how was I supposed to find a balance between staying true to my convictions while still making friends and getting to know my floor mates?

I’m going to be honest; I haven’t been the “perfect” Christian while in college. I’ve partied and repeatedly done things that I knew in my head were wrong, but that I chose to do anyway.

At first, I was really hard on myself. I felt disappointed in how easy it was for me to give up on my convictions. I experienced a slight identity crisis, questioning who I am and what I’m doing. Eventually though, I didn’t feel remorse for what I did; I did what I wanted to do. Yet, I still felt extremely guilty for things my college friends don’t think twice about.

Ultimately, I felt like I couldn’t be a Christian and party at the same time: I had to choose one or the other. I tiptoed back and forth between “the world” and “God,” but I knew I couldn’t live life balancing on a tightrope. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite, but I also wanted to party with my college friends. It was fun and I always felt like I was in control.

I wanted to believe that if I maintained control, what I was doing couldn’t be that bad.

However, I also kept thinking if I was going to consciously make bad choices, I shouldn’t go to Bible studies or attend church because then I would be a hypocrite. I soon realized this mentality wasn’t helping anyone. Christians aren’t perfect and Christianity isn’t about following a set of rules. If I don’t go to Bible study or attend church, I’m only going to drift further from my faith. I felt like I didn’t “deserve” forgiveness because I wasn’t asking for it. Although there may be some truth to that, I can’t walk away from my faith just because I’m making bad decisions.

Being a Christian in college isn’t a perfect situation. However, one thing I’ve realized is that life isn’t as black and white as I thought. Making mistakes doesn’t mean I’m no longer a Christian. I so feared being another story of the typical Christian girl who goes crazy in college and leaves her faith at the door that I was too hard on myself when I did mess up.

I haven’t rejected my faith and I still believe in the same values, but I’ve faced several challenges that I thought I was prepared for but in reality was not ready for at all. Honestly, I haven’t figured it all out yet. However, I’ve learned to be more understanding of myself. That doesn’t mean excusing my actions, but instead learning from my mistakes and trying my best to maintain my faith despite my circumstances.

Sophomore at the University of Maryland double majoring in English and communications. Favorite things include Jesus and avocados.

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