I think sometimes people imagine that a Mennonite going to a secular college is like a defenseless Little Red Riding Hood walking into the clutches of the Big Bad Wolf. It never really felt that way for me though, because I knew what it was that I believed and I’d decided that I would stick with those beliefs no matter what. In all honesty, being a Mennonite in secular college is more like Red Riding Hood walking through the forest with an ax in her hand. The wolf might attack, but she has what she needs to defend herself.
Going to a non-Christian college after growing up Mennonite felt like a shock at first, because I was suddenly surrounded by people who didn’t believe the same things that I did. Even though no one ever challenged my beliefs (or made me write on a paper that God is dead…that would never actually happen imho), I could still tell that a majority of the people around me had different values and goals that I had.
I’ve heard people point to this as a reason that you shouldn’t send your kids to college, saying that it’ll make them lose their faith. It always annoys me when I hear that, because it did the exact opposite for me. When I was surrounded by people with different beliefs, I was forced to either reject my faith or commit to it whole-heartedly. I could no longer just go with what the people around me were doing, I had to choose God for myself. When I did this, my faith grew so much stronger.
Along with this idea, going to college and being constantly surrounded by non-Christians made going to church feel much more important. I learned to value being with believers and having the opportunity to worship the Lord with other people.
Being in college also helps me to appreciate my heritage. The one day in an education class a story was brought up about a kid who had divorced parents, and how switching between them affected their behavior at school. At my table, people started talking about how their parents had divorced, and what their parents’ systems were for spending time with them. As the people at my table talked I realized that I was the only one whose parents were still together. At that point in really struck me how lucky I was that I grew up in a home that had such a strong emphasis on family.
One of the struggles of being a Mennonite in college is that it was hard to find people who get what my life is like. My friends at school don’t get the Mennonite aspect of things, and my Mennonite friends don’t get what it’s like to be in college. Thankfully I have siblings who have also chosen to go to college and understand the dual perspective on life.
It can also be hard because my friends are a different stage in life than I am. They are working consistently and saving up for international trips, and I am taking classes and funneling all my money into that. I end up sitting and watching and feeling like my life is so boring compared to theirs.
Honestly though, I love college. I love learning new things, and being around people who are also there to learn. I love that it gives me new perspectives on life and helps me appreciate how I was raised. Going to college has been so good for me. It’s helped me to find who I am and what I believe, and without it I don’t believe I would be the person I am today.