Socialized but Sheltered: Emily DeFreitas’s Story

Socialized but sheltered is the phrase I’d use to describe my state when I entered college.

I knew how to communicate with people. I had enough social skills to get by, but I had been so underexposed to new people and ideas that I would be shocked and confused quite a bit during my first year.

Academically, my transition into college went smoothly. I had gotten a real high school diploma and transcripts through NARHS; I also took college level courses at my local community college as a high school senior. I highly recommend both of those things to anyone homeschooling for high school. Because of them, I had no homeschooling-related issues with the admissions process, and had a pretty good understanding of what a college class was like, having taken a few.

The main things I hadn’t experienced were living away from my parents for an extended period of time and encountering religious and political diversity on a regular basis.

I chose to study creative writing and English at Widener University, a private college near Philadelphia with no religious affiliation and a pretty diverse student body. School was a good hour and a half from home, so I lived on campus for all four years. My transition to life on campus was definitely aided somewhat by my parents. They literally insisted that I stay at school for a full month before even thinking about coming home for a weekend. That set me up for success because I didn’t have the option to chicken out and go home if homesickness decided to rear its ugly head. There was only one instance in which it did, several months into my freshman year, but I’ll get to that later.

While I was homeschooled (for every grade except 9th), most of my friends were Catholic, like me. I met them at church, or through Catholic homeschooling co-ops. My friends who weren’t Catholic were conservative Christians, often also homeschoolers. I was severely underexposed to liberal ideas, so much so that in college when I stated my conservative opinions I was shocked to discover that many of my peers didn’t share those views. I was much more right wing than I thought I was. (I thought of myself as a middle-of-the-road independent at that time because I supported marriage equality.)

In fact, in spite of my own support of marriage equality, I quickly discovered how uncomfortable I was when other people voiced their support of the issue. One student wanted to do a poster about the issue for Constitution Day, and posted it to a message board for a program I was in. I was a bit shocked. Could she do that? Wasn’t a topic like that taboo? If I remember correctly, she wanted to create a display that would start dialogue on the issue, which is a great idea for a college setting. Why was I uncomfortable? It wasn’t that I didn’t want people to agree (or even disagree) with me. The main issue, I soon realized, was that I had never met so many socially liberal people before.

I was uncomfortable because I had no idea what was normal for these people. What were their expectations of me?

Because of the lack of political diversity I had been exposed to, I spent my freshman year pretty much completely unable to figure out when it was socially acceptable to bring up politics. I had never developed the sensibility to choose a different topic even for the sake of a peaceful lunch with my friends. Worse, I was grossly misinformed on several issues, and was often surprised to get into an argument with a peer and have him or her refute my claims easily. The issue that caused me the most social woes was definitely the issue of abortion.

At home, I had been taught that I was part of a “pro-life generation,” meaning that young people were supposedly becoming increasingly pro-life. Having attended the March for Life in Washington D.C. twice, and been president of a pro-life organization during my high school years, abortion was my favorite political issue. I mistakenly thought that making pro-life statements among people I had just met would garner at least partial support from most of my peers. I would bring it up all the time—in the dormitory, or in the dining hall at the tables my friends and I would push together to accommodate everyone we had just met. I would get into loud arguments with people I had only met the day before. I was literally just trying to find a friend with whom I could share a common hatred of what I perceived as baby killing.

Ultimately I found people with a variety of opinions on the issue, and the vast majority of them had much more nuanced thoughts than I had. They were also better informed.

Much like politics, religion was another difficult subject. There were other students who practiced their religions regularly like me, but there were many more who practiced a different religion, or who had one but didn’t practice it at all. Many of my friends identified as Christian but weren’t churchgoers. I met a few open atheists during my freshman year, a few Muslim students, cultural Jews, and some Catholics who were fairly liberal. The idea that there could be so much religious diversity in one place was eye-opening, but also difficult for me at first. I used to walk to the nearby Catholic church alone, before I met another student who was looking for a church buddy. My biggest moment of homesickness was when I was upset that I had no one to go to mass with me. It’s the only time that I cried as a freshman over something that I missed about home. Everything else was so new and exciting that I hardly had time to feel homesick.

I definitely made some social flubs along the way, but the time absolutely flew by once I started really sinking my teeth into classes and extracurricular activities. By my sophomore year I had finally grown accustomed to the fact that the people around me were going to think a thousand different things about the world, and that was OK.

Eventually, instead of looking for people to state my opinions to, I started to look for opinions and ideas I hadn’t heard before. I came into college with my parents’ opinions and religious beliefs, and came out with completely different ones.

Because I had finally been exposed to so much, I knew my ideas were my own. They were informed opinions I could be proud to have, and no, I won’t be bringing them up at lunch on the first day of work.

I know better than that now.

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