Coming to the University of Minnesota was a big step for me personally. After going to private schools all my life and growing up in a conservative Christian household, one of my biggest challenges I faced was balancing my faith and figuring out a way to maintain an open mind in this new environment.
As a freshman, one of the biggest changes that I had to get accustomed to was the wide range of beliefs, viewpoints and cultures all being represented in one place, at the University. I knew upon entering the University that I would face many differences, but I never knew the reality of what IâÄôd actually experience until I got here. Aspects of life that I was not used to were all becoming evident at a rapid pace: gay pride, atheist student groups and even Christian extremists. I had to find a way to find my place within this new, diverse world.
Looking back upon my freshman year, I canâÄôt imagine IâÄôm the only one that went through this experience. Many students come from rural towns or conservative households, places where there is really only one main system of beliefs.
Those students leave such surroundings in order to enter an institution such as the University, a place that is filled with countless other beliefs, cultures and ways of life; once here, they try to figure out how to be themselves and how to reconcile what they believe with the new cultures and systems of beliefs they encounter in their new environment.
On my journey here at the University, I have found that it is better to look at the University as a place to discover yourself rather than lose yourself and to view the changes you undergo as positive rather than negative.
While it may be easy to feel secluded from what seems to be the greater majority of the campus, the truth is there are many ways to get involved with people who have the same viewpoints as you, but also many ways to discover something new.
The University allows us to do this; it provides the students with a wide array of resources that support so many different beliefs, faiths and cultures. As a student, I have found that getting involved with these groups is one of the most beneficial things that a student can do.
One thing thatâÄôs both surprising as well as refreshing about the University is the diversity that is so prevalent here on campus. The various student groups, ethnicities, cultures, beliefs and backgrounds are part of what makes this campus so beautiful. Recognizing this should allow us to realize that you donâÄôt have to be secluded in just the beliefs that you grew up with in your hometown or household âÄî now you have an environment in which you can explore other ways of life as well, allowing yourself to grow. That is an important part of the college experience.
After being at the University for three years, I see the drastic change in the person IâÄôve become and my own personal growth. I believe that one of my biggest assets while going through this journey of education as well as exploration has been my ability to be open-minded.
While it would be easy for me to find student groups that focus only on Christianity âÄî what I was used to âÄî I have made an effort to connect with people I didnâÄôt used to encounter. I have connected with people of many different beliefs and engaged with people of totally different backgrounds, like atheists, Mormons, homosexuals, Muslims and the list goes on. Not only has this helped me to gain perspective on the wider world around me, but it has also given me the opportunity to share what I believe as well.
So, while students with a religious upbringing could choose to look at religious student groups and programs as a way to stay connected to their roots, I would urge them to also allow themselves an opportunity to grow and gain new perspectives on life.
Not only will this help make them a more well-rounded person, it will also allow them to have the opportunity to discover new truths.
At the same time, engaging with people who are different from you can also allow you to hold on to what you believe all the more firmly, because you now have a greater context and understanding of why you believe what you believe. The foundation of your beliefs becomes stronger because it is now based on your own discoveries, rather than it being simply what you learned growing up.
At this point in my college career IâÄôve come to understand many different groups and beliefs that, at the beginning of my freshman year, I was simply oblivious to.
The University provides us with ways to gain knowledge and not remain in a box. It is up to us to take the steps to both explore and engage.
Consider joining a new student group or registering for an elective that focuses on a culture or philosophy you know little or nothing about. The University is made up of over 500 different student groups and many courses on a variety of international perspectives, religions and philosophies.
And this is all not to mention that the people around you, classmates, roommates and even professors are resources as well. But while so many opportunities to gain new perspectives are around us, it is up to us to take the initiative to discover.