I grew up behaviorally repressed by Christian and Hispanic standards. Through personal experiences—I sort of reveled rebellion as a teenager—influenced my character, my upbringing significantly shaped my values. When I left Miami to go to college in Gainesville, I confronted many unusual attitudes and behavior of other people. I spent much of my freshman year comparing my values and the ones I observed.
A few experiences made me question myself.
Let me just start by saying that my standards of inherited Hispanic cleanliness border on clinical OCD levels. I grew up watching my grandmother sweep the floor every day and I observed my mother clean the bathrooms three times a week. My family even followed a policy for doing dishes: if it doesn’t squeak when you rub the dish with your finger, wash it again. I grew to value keeping areas and my thoughts clear.
Living with college roommates put a dent in my sanity. I confronted new sloppy habits: the mountains of dirty dishes, the sticky counters, the festering leftovers in the fridge. I remember feeling a pain in my stomach walking into a fraternity house for the first time; it mirrored a scene from those hoarding TV shows but with pizza boxes and empty beer cans everywhere. It was terrifying. Over time, I gradually suppressed my desire to clean everything. After my friends compared me to Monica from “Friends,” I finally realized not everyone grew up with my rules.
I still cringe at severe uncleanliness, but I keep the judgement to myself.
Along with cleanliness, I value respectfulness. In college, I noticed people my age treated adults differently than I did. Hispanic culture emphasizes showing enormous respect toward elders and the fifth commandment states to “honor thy father and thy mother,” so you can imagine the principles my parents instilled in me.
I was petrified the first time I saw a friend disrespect her dad the way she did. Her dad visited her for a couple of days and I guess he annoyed her when he kept offering to hang out with her. As I ate dinner at her apartment with a few other people one night, her dad dropped by to see if she needed anything. She lost it, apparently. She uttered so many foul words and interruptions to her dad that I was scared for her. I saw this upset him, but he simply swallowed the harangue as if it was normal. The atmosphere turned awkward after he left, for me at least.
The one time I fiercely talked back to my mother, she beat me with the ‘chancla,’ aka a flip-flop and the Hispanic tool for child-rearing. Another time, when I said a bad word, I was forced to taste a bar of soap. Though I’m an adult now, the respect for those older than me remains a value of mine.
I just find it odd to observe a handful of college students do the opposite.
Also, I thought the concept of touch was something interesting in college. I grew up experiencing a very high-context culture because nonverbal communication and social cues form a big part of Hispanic culture. In Miami, we greet others by kissing them on the cheek. On top of that, I watched people embrace others at church because Christians treat one another as a spiritual family. As a result, I value touch and other gestures as a form of acceptance and friendliness.
I quickly observed that touch is mostly a cue for ‘I want to hook up with you’ in college. Like, needing to clarify that my cheek kiss doesn’t constitute a signal for sexual desire. I also accepted the normalization of hookup culture in college. Not that Miami lacks sex-driven culture as well, but people in the city tend to embrace the art of ghosting, or cutting off communication with someone after a single hookup. Seeing two college students become friends after having casual sex with each other is interesting. No judgment from my perspective, but I am just amused by these differences.
College definitely broadened my view of life. Though my values remain quite stable, I adjusted my attitude toward behaviors I find peculiar. Going away to college is valuable for that reason: you meet people who possess different values than you do. Not everyone grew up with the same parents with the same culture or beliefs. Not everyone forcefully tasted a bar of soap when he or she said a bad word. We all have different standards, and learning that comes with experience. Sometimes, it only takes a few questions and quivers to realize that each person is raised differently and that is OKAY.