Gifts and Wound: ElenaLee’s Story

ElenaLee blogs at Our Place.

A blogger I very much respect once spoke of events in her life bringing both a gift and a wound. A gift and a wound—I carry this imagery with me like a familiar piece of jewelry or some small memento, some reminder of where I have been and of where I hope to go. The simple acknowledgement that both exist, at the same time, is healing. After growing up in a subculture often trapped by a black and white view of itself and the world, I relish the freedom to carry both truths in my hands. For me, being homeschooled was a gift. And it was also a wound. Both strands revealed themselves as I moved from a very home-centered existence to the larger experience of college and adulthood.

College unfolded a new world for me, one filled with the stimulation of interacting with more people more frequently than I had before, a chance to know and be known in new ways. After a high school education taught largely by textbooks (but with careful oversight by my mother, who assigned each day’s lessons and made sure I did the work), I found flesh-and-blood teachers exciting. I liked when they knew and respected me—when an art professor noticed I had a question during lecture just by the look on my face, when my history professor shook my hand after I finished his final test. Looking back, part of me hates that I knew how, and was eager, to excel in relationships with authorities. There is, perhaps, an element of “working the system” involved in it. And yet, I am grateful for the richness that interacting personally with these good men and women added to my life.

I have never excelled socially with peers. I suppose excelling isn’t even the point of peer relationships—but certain elusive social skills are helpful in bringing people together. I made only one lasting friend in community college, and she wasn’t a fellow student but an older employee in the library. Though on cordial terms with classmates, I commuted into town and never “hung out” with others, a skill I still feel uncomfortable exercising. In college, I continued to be dogged by a perception of myself which began with the (to me, unaccountable) distancing of one of my few close friends as a tween and solidified during my lonely high school years as a relative newcomer in a rural area: I wasn’t good at friendship. “I don’t expect to make friends,” I declared to my mother as I contemplated my transfer to a college in another state. “If I do, that’s fine, but I’m not counting on it. And that’s fine, because I’m really just going there to learn.” Viewing college as a job instead of an opportunity to develop friendships was my defense against the humiliation of social failure.

Thankfully, my predictions didn’t come true. I made a few real friends and a number of lovely acquaintances during the two years I spent earning my bachelors. The comfort of companionship which I had primarily experienced in family situations, I now enjoyed in spontaneous games of Dutch Blitz with the girls across the hall, in watching a movie with friends the first night back from break (soothing the jar of transition with back rubs and “mindless entertainment”), in having someone to sit by in chapel and (sometimes) the safety of a group in the dining hall. But, at least in my own mind, I didn’t exactly fit. I seldom felt secure in relationships with others, never fully relaxed.

During that time, I did experience a whole new joy in the realization that my written words could resonate with others and forge a connection. My professors challenged and encouraged me, creating an environment where things stored inside of me could come to life on paper. Interactions with fellow students in small peer-review groups delighted me—I could hear the warmth in their voices, enjoy the sense of discovery when something one of us had written became something that somehow belonged to all of us. Shared imagery wove into each of our lives. This joy, this gift of shared words, flowered in college—but it began long before that.

My parents, my mother in particular, raised me in a home rich with words. Mom read to my siblings and me nearly every night, even into our preteen years, and we each read eagerly on our own, as well. She placed a wonderful writing curriculum in my hands, thrilling me with the realization that words provided another outlet for my artistic passion. She even helped me like the physical appearance of my handwriting, teaching me a whole new kind of cursive when the first method wobbled and globbed from my left hand. Writing, especially poetry, has become a key way that I navigate life—a solace for myself, and sometimes even for others. When I trace the path that ushered me into that world, following it from my keyboard, today, through professors and fellow student writers–it begins with one woman, my teacher throughout my whole childhood, my mother.

I carry the gifts Mom gave me—the many benefits from her conscientious, extensive, and loving efforts on my behalf. In some ways, exposing some negative results from my upbringing feels disloyal and ungrateful. But it is not my job to be the justification of a lifestyle. I am no one’s lifework. I am a person. And along with a love for the sharing of life through the sharing of words, who I am includes the wound of a social limp which I carry today. I still tend to default to isolation or interacting with others through meeting their perceived expectations of me, but it is my hope that I will continually grow more honest with others and with myself.


First Week of University to my Master’s in Education: Ellen Martin’s Story

In May of 2014, I graduated with my Bachelor of Honour’s Degree, with a major in Sociology. As I prepared to walk across the stage to receive my degree, I reflected on my experiences that had brought me here to this moment — from kindergarten through my final project in my fourth year of my undergraduate program. This was an accomplishment I never expected to achieve. Along my educational journey, I had family question the home education method, and occasionally I had even questioned it myself. The result of my home education was a success. As I walked across the stage to receive my Bachelor’s Degree, I realized that homeschooling did provide me with success. It provided me with the success I needed to succeed in post-secondary education. The following narrative will tell of my experiences and challenges that I had in order to get where I am now — currently completing my Masters of Education degree and beginning my career. After graduation, I hope to gain employment as a School Administrator or within the alternative learning spectrum. My ultimate goal is to eventually operate my own private alternative learning school to provide children with the individualized attention similar to that which I received during my education years. I hope to reach underprivileged students who do not have the resources or encouragement to be successful in school.

I was homeschooled from kindergarten through grade twelve. I never set foot in a public school classroom until I volunteered in one during my first year of university. Growing up, I was often asked “do you like being homeschooled?” I did not know how to answer, since I did not know anything other than homeschooling. I always answered “yes”, since I did love it and was not aware of anything else. I was a very self-disciplined child and completed the majority of my work independently.

My parents never pushed for me to attend college or university. My parents made it clear that it was my choice. Most of the pressure to attend stemmed from my extended family. I did not know what I was going to do after I graduated high school, so I applied. Obtaining acceptance to university was easier than I anticipated, although I did not know what to expect. I simply had to submit an essay and the transcripts my mom wrote that stated all of the high school courses I took. My dad was not entirely happy about me attending school, but grew to accept it once I was enrolled. My mom was happy I was going and dedicated much time to editing my essays.

My first week of university was extremely overwhelming. The feeling I felt when I walked into orientation is indescribable. Although it is a small school, there were still more people than I was used to. I found my seat amongst hundreds of other first year students in the gymnasium, and the program began. Orientation was very informative and I became less anxious and more excited as the day went on. The administrative aspect of university was explained along with what to expect in the classes. The following day was my first day of classes. Because I had spent some time exploring the campus on my own the previous day, I easily navigated my way to class. I enjoyed my classes and easily made friends with a few people. One friend in particular I made during my first week of university was in three of my five classes. I remember her frequently saying “I’m going to socialize you.” She did. She made the transition to university easier in that we quickly became good friends and provided me with companionship on a daily basis. At the end of my first week of classes, I felt extremely overwhelmed but confident that I would be successful.

My first semester was enjoyable, although burdensome. I learned how to be successful in university. One new experience university brought me was writing tests, as I did not write tests during my homeschooling years. I did poorly on the first two tests I wrote. After this, I researched different ways to study and figured out which methods worked best for me. Since this was a new experience to me, learning how to study for tests was one of the biggest challenges I faced. Being amongst several other students, up to 80 in some classes, was a huge change. After the first few weeks, it became normal. The adjustment was not as significant as people assumed it would be for me.

I feel that I was prepared for university because I was accustomed to learning and studying independently. Although homeschooling provided me with a sense of responsibility for my learning, part of my self-discipline comes from my personality. Throughout university, I knew what needed to be done by what date. I made efforts to complete the work in advance. My parents through home education helped to instill this into my character by encouraging me to set my own goals and routes to achieve them. Because of this, I became very self-disciplined from an early age. This transferred to my post-secondary studies in that I would become determined to complete the assigned work when it was given, rather than waiting until a later date. I did not feel as prepared as I should have been for the social aspect. I quickly adjusted to the many people in my classes, however.

I am currently completing my Master’s thesis before graduating with my Masters of Education. The transition to university from being homeschooled was very overwhelming. I adjusted more quickly than I anticipated. I felt that I was on par with my peers in terms of academics. Although my homeschooling experience was not entirely positive, it did provide me with the skills I needed to be successful in university.

A Mixed Bag: Salome’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Salome” is a pseudonym. 

My experience going from homeschooling to college has been a mixed bag… but one I wouldn’t change for the world, no matter how shitty it was at the time. I have grown a lot and become a lot more normal, and rejected much of the legalism and hard conservatism of my youth, and all at a conservative Christian college which most people find restrictive!

I found enormous freedom (although I’m really careful about what I share with Student Life), and have become a moderate Republican (although if you were to ask the people I hung out with in my conservative activist days, I’m sure they’d call me a RINO, a flaming liberal bitch, and/or an idiot) and a feminist. I’ve found that there are actually a lot of people at my school (the administration of which prides itself in producing conservative culture warriors lol).

Thankfully, it’s usually safe to ask questions and come to my own conclusions among the professors. I even confessed to a couple of my professors that I’m not sure I believe in God anymore. I’ve become a lot more moderate, so I actually love my school and find myself defending a lot of the stuff it does. By the way, I still attend this school, so my knowledge of its culture and expectations are up to date. 🙂

I should also note that I’m really glad that I went to a small Christian school. Almost all of my professors know me by name. Several have put in long extra hours to get me to understand the subject matter, and are always willing to talk about non-academic stuff. Several have become friends and confidantes who’ve gotten me through really dark days. One has helped me manage my depression (because it’s unsafe to go to the school-sanctioned counseling or to Student Life) and has kept me after class to make sure that I weathered the panic attack that was clawing its way through my gut. He has checked up on me several times to make sure that I’m not suicidal.

Another helped me strategize how best to handle the sexual harassment I found myself woefully unprepared for in a culture which still asks women what they were wearing. When my anxiety and depression nearly paralyzed me, his office was a safe place where I could cry and swear and drink coffee with him. He has prayed for me a lot.

Another learned completely by chance about the recent death threats I’ve received, and has been praying with me (which… I mean. Even though I’m not sure I believe in God, that understanding and grace and prayer is so comforting). He has been talking through the Problem of Evil with me, and since he’s the philosophy prof, his answers are thoughtful and gracious. Yet another prof was a victim of one of the times that my pain exploded into rage, but he has forgiven me for losing my shit with him, and we still (carefully) joke and talk today. I look back fondly at the classes I took with him nowadays, and miss his quirkiness and dry sense of humor. I really don’t think that would have been met with so much grace at a normal school.

Anyway, I was homeschooled from 1st grade all the way through my high school graduation (although I managed to convince my mom to let me take a few classes at a Christian private school for my last two years of high school… which was a lifesaver omg). At first, my mom said that she wanted to homeschool us so that she could have more of an influence on us and spend more time with us than her mom did with her. As fucking creepy as that probably sounds to you all, I really can’t blame her, because her mom was a very emotionally absent single mom who’s tough as nails but hard and bitter. In the late 90’s, though, we started going to an evangelical church with a high concentration of homeschoolers. By 2000, my parents had made friends with these homeschoolers and had switched to religious reasons to homeschool us. They accepted the normal cocktail of homeschool ideology.

My homeschooling was spotty. I taught myself almost everything, which worked for most things, but I didn’t know how to write an essay until 8th grade when a homeschooling mom in my community realized that that was a major gap, but that I wasn’t stupid and undertook to teach me how to write. I still struggle with writing a lot. I don’t know why, but comma errors are my nemesis (which causes my poor professors pain when they read my papers). I also still struggle with basic arithmetic. But I have always read voraciously (and thus become friends with basically every librarian I meet), and trained myself to think critically and logically. I can spell better than almost everyone. My mind is full of trivia about science, history, and literature. I have always had this lust for truth, and have some measure of intuitive intellectual courage (when I bought a Qu’ran, I had to hide it for some time because my mom flipped out and thought that I’d convert and my dad threatened to burn it if he saw it… I read it, and have studied Islam, and still not Muslim. Interestingly, they also objected when I started hanging out with Presbyterians because they thought I’d become Presbyterian… which I eventually did to their dismay). I was woefully unprepared for the (very real) intellectual rigor of my college career, though, and my professors have spent long hours catching me up (because we technically don’t have remedial classes at my school).

I was the awkward, introverted homeschooler that nobody really understood or cared about. I was angry all the fucking time, and could blow up at anything. I had few friends. I had no sense of humor. I didn’t understand some basic hygiene (didn’t shower every day, and didn’t wash down south for several years because that made sense with the shame-based purity culture I grew up in, and my mom didn’t teach me how to clean myself, so yes, I stank and I stank bad). My view of sex was skewed, so I missed a lot of innuendo, which led to some awkward interactions. So I was really isolated. It’s hard to convey the horrendous pain and awkwardness and shame. I didn’t understand how to be good to people, because of the anger and violence which surrounded me at home. I’m still terrible at small talk. I get bored really quickly. It took me an embarrassing amount of time to learn how to listen. I always felt like I was out of sync everyone around me. I felt like a foreigner who was unable to communicate and remained unseen and unvalued.

I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but when I chose the school I did, I was running from my family. I had been fighting for some measure of freedom for years, and with every freedom I won for myself, my parents flipped out even more, although they would eventually chill after they figured out that I wasn’t a heathen – only to repeat the cycle of me asking, them flipping out, me doing whatever it was anyway, them crying and screaming at me, and then them chilling out until the next time I did something that wasn’t acceptable for a good homeschooled little girl.

My first semester in college was fucking amazing. I got thrown into a room with one of the officially closeted but obvious lesbians in the school and an alcoholic. I learned tolerance very, very quickly. They introduced me to secular pop music, gave me the courage to start swearing openly (only did it behind my parents’ back in high school, which didn’t go over well when I went home for the first several breaks), gave me honest feedback on how to dress (the alcoholic informed me that my favorite shirt made me look like a grandma and I wasn’t allowed to wear it anymore), and forced me to get my own email account and a facebook account (they literally ripped my computer out of my hands and made both accounts right in front of me). Oh, yeah, and the lesbian roommate sent me soft porn out of the blue (which scarred my poor little homeschooler soul).

Academically, I did well my first semester. I got all of the coolest professors, had all the subjects I find easy, and skated by on my natural intelligence. But my study methods sucked, and I didn’t know how to take good notes (I’m a lot better now, but I’m still working on that). I didn’t always know the most basic things about classroom etiquette. Deadlines are hard for me (even though I love having deadlines. Yes, I know how contradictory that is. Yes, I’m as confused about it as you are). I also found myself learning from good, godly men and women who disagree with me and disagree with each other. I started to correct some of the misconceptions about history that I had. I learned that America’s immigration system has a sordid, racist history. I remember that day really clearly, actually, because I was in my favorite class with my favorite professor (who’s a really sweet. And Ivy-league educated. And happens to be married to a Latina woman). In the midst of class he said that first generation immigrants tend not to integrate well into American culture, but that their kids learn English and learn how to integrate their ethnic backgrounds with American culture. He said that a lot of the conservative resistance to immigration was just racism and paranoia, and has been the same arguments for a really long time… and those arguments have been proven baseless time and time again.

The more I listened and the more I learned about history, the more I became convinced that much of what I grew up with was wrong. I figured out that my dad is extremely racist, and that I had unconsciously picked up some of his bias. I had never been consciously racist, and would have said that racism is wrong, but the more minorities I met and the more I studied history, I realized that I needed to uproot much of what I had thought beforehand. To be honest, I’m still learning how to listen to people whose experiences are different from mine.

I also found myself interacting with people whose theological backgrounds were different from mine. I remember very clearly the first conversation I had with the first Lutheran I met. He informed me that he doesn’t really sweat the doctrinal fine points, and really just participates. Back then I was really shocked and thought he was a heathen. Now, he’s one of my dearest friends.

There was a dark cloud gathering over that first semester, though. I found myself getting deeper and deeper into an emotionally abusive relationship (which I’ve written about previously on HA, so I won’t go into detail). It didn’t get unbearable until Christmas break and into the spring semester, but it was bad.

Then Christmas break hit. I flew home, and found myself at war with my parents. I had started dressing normally, painting my toenails, wearing makeup, swearing, going to a Presbyterian church, and had a head stuffed full of ideas. My parents were losing control and they were panicked. Every day was a battle. They screamed at me for hours (I’ve also written about that on HA), and threatened to disown me. Fortunately, they didn’t, but the threat was enough to make me careful about what I shared with them.

The next semester, I came back broken and fearful. My relationship with my boyfriend was souring as he tried to establish control and I resisted. The academic honeymoon period was over, and my lack of skills left me treading water. My GPA plummeted due to the controlling boyfriend and lack of study skills. I stopped going to church, lost a lot of friends, and found myself deeply depressed.

I realized eventually that I would literally debate anyone about anything that year, and it took me forever to learn how to have a respectful, chill, normal conversation about normal topics.

That summer, I had to fight my parents to go back. Part of it was that they didn’t want me to take out loans, and didn’t want to help me pay for it. I managed to scrape most of the tuition cost together, and convinced them to pay for the rest (god, I have more skills than people give me credit for…).

Sophomore year was super rough. Almost all of my classes were things I’m not good at, with boring professors and a shitload of reading due every class. My GPA died in a cold, dark hole and I’m STILL trying to resurrect it. I figured out that I have a really hard time trying in classes that don’t come naturally. I didn’t have any motivation to actually study.

Socially, my abusive relationship had fucked me up so badly that my old rage roared back to life with a vengeance, and I became known as a vicious person and it was best not to mess with me. I lost more friendships, and was miserable.

A couple of the friends I *did* have came out to me, though, and as there were more people I loved in the category of “gay people,” I found myself realizing that much of the way I had learned to talk about the LGBT community was horrible and homophobic. I’m so, so sorry for that. I don’t know if I will ever be able to forgive myself for the horrendous shit that came out of my mouth.

That year was also the year that I tried being an emotional support for one of my professors… I didn’t realize how inappropriate that was. I still cringe when I think about it.

Junior year was much the same academically. The same professor who taught me about the reality of racism also really gently told me that sometimes when I don’t understand an idea, I dismiss it impatiently as idiotic. That was a hard lesson to learn. I studied a lot of non-Western history that year, for which I’m really grateful. I also learned that I had been overly dogmatic and I needed to be more gracious with the people who disagree with me. I took and passed a survey of physics class just for the hell of it (and the sense of triumph was intoxicating). Since arithmetic is difficult, I had no idea I was capable of that… but I figured out that I have an intuitive grasp of physics.

The most important lessons I learned junior year were social lessons. I started making new friends. I’m forever grateful that they saw beneath how prickly I am and realized that my anger was because I’d been hurt so badly. It became a joke among my friends. They’d tell me not to murder anyone, and in turn gave me safe places to curl up when panic ripped through my gut. I became rather famous for my profanity-laden pep talks, and started receiving requests for them fairly regularly. I started going to a new church and everyone there was nice to me (and still are). Some alumni from my school go there too, and they invited me into their home. I find my broken soul healing every time I’m with them. I watch them parent their girls in a delightfully non-gendered and gentle way. They interact with each other gently and with mutual respect. The man does housework and helps make dinner. They’re also delightfully nerdy. It’s comforting to know that it’s possible to recover from our backgrounds and become good people and capable adults. I met Christians who drink and swear (which gave me the courage to inform my parents on my 21st birthday that I was drinking and they could either come celebrate with me and make sure I consumed responsibly, or I could drink – and drive – alone and possibly die in a car accident… they couldn’t really argue with that logic, so we went out to dinner at my favorite restaurant and I had a drink with dinner and we had fun). I know now what unconditional love looks like. During a particularly bad panic attack, my favorite professor really gently looked at me and told me that I didn’t have to be good to be worth loving and worth living.

I also became the victim of sustained sexual harassment from two different supervisors at my job on campus (yes, at a fucking Christian school). I was woefully unprepared. I didn’t know that harassment was illegal. I didn’t know that much of the minor stuff that I considered creepy but normal was actually harassment and grounds for getting the bastards fired. I had to learn about sex online so that I knew what my supervisors were talking about and how to protect myself (which is why I’m a feminist and a passionate advocate for sex ed.). When I finally did come forward, the manager had zero rhyme or reason for her reaction. She fired the one guy, but the other is still working there now and I have to see him every day.

This was also the year that I started trying to work on my anger. I realized that lashing out and hurting people because I hurt is wrong. I think that’s why my mom was so screwed up. She took all her grief and rage and insecurities from her own childhood and took it out on us. That’s not the person I want to be. I know I can be a monster, but I can also break the chains of my childhood.

I also went from trying to be “normal” to allowing myself to be unapologetically smart and nerdy… because I know the difference now between being a tiny little homeschooler who didn’t understand and was afraid of the world around her to being able to come up with my own special variation on normalcy. And that’s okay. I don’t have to look like everyone else… but I don’t have to fit myself into the restrictive categories I was taught as a girl.

I still struggle with a lot. I know that I get really emotionally invested in my schoolwork. I kinda spill emotional pain all over random people sometimes. I tend to overshare (which is a pretty common problem with homeschoolers in my experience) with professors I trust without even realizing that that’s what I’m doing. I’m still learning about healthy ways to resolve conflict. I’m actively trying to undo a lifetime of learned racism.

I do have friends of other ethnicities, sexual orientations, and outside the gender binary, now. I have a go-to alcoholic drink (but I still experiment sometimes), and know how to drink responsibly. I can have an intelligent conversation about multiple religions. I’m learning how to listen and show mercy instead of hysterically wringing my hands about the fall of American civilization all the time (BTW, in case you’re wondering, pretty sure American civilization isn’t going to fall because of gay people being able to marry).

I do have advice and suggested reading:

  1. Understand where people are coming from and exercise charity. If you look at 1 Corinthians 13 and your reaction doesn’t look like that, it’s not charity. Don’t be combative… people aren’t usually trying to destroy your faith. There is no vast left-wing bogeyman conspiracy.
  2. Read up on philosophical Pragmatism. American culture is more or less pragmatic, and that will help you understand your culture.
  3. I recommend dipping your foot in little by little to avoid culture shock. Don’t start out reading Richard Dawkins or Ayn Rand (I suggest using Ayn Rand to roast marshmallows, actually).
  4. Read Martin Luther’s “On Christian Liberty.” It was instrumental in teaching me how to distinguish between the legalism I grew up with and real Christian liberty.
  5. It’s okay to doubt your faith. God’s a big boy. He can take it.
  6. If you grew up evangelical, I suggest reading D.G. Hart’s book, “That Old-Time Religion in Modern America: Evangelical Protestantism in the Twentieth Century.” It’s a really good intellectual criticism of evangelicalism, and I believe that Hart is a Christian, which will make it easier to swallow if your parents flip out as much as mine. Even if you remain evangelical, you should read this to challenge yourself and see weaknesses in your beliefs.
  7. Related: if your beliefs can’t stand up under criticism, they’re really shallow and probably not worth holding.
  8. I also recommend Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn is not a Christian, but this book is really wise anyway, and there’s plenty to glean from it. Actually, literally everyone should read this book… not just homeschool graduates.
  9. Read secular poets and novelists. The current poet laureate is pretty amazing. Read John Le Carre and Daniel Silva. Also, don’t be afraid of non-Western writers. I have less experience there, so I can’t be of help. Experiment a little.
  10. Music does not have to be explicitly about Jesus to be okay to listen to. Our parents came out of the heyday of rock-as-rebellion in the 1960’s-1980’s, so they’re a little paranoid.
  11. David Barton and the authors of The Light and the Glory are bad historians who allow their agendas to corrupt their responsibility to tell the truth. Source: I’m majoring in American History, and I looked into their books and there are soooooo many glaring errors. Don’t do it. Just don’t. If you want a really good Christian historian, look up Mark Noll or Steven Keillor. Mary Habeck is also an amazing historian who writes and lectures about Islamic extremism (and is a world class military historian). If you need further advice on how to choose a reputable source, look at their credentials and the publisher, as well as where they teach.
  12. Read C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed” if you’re going through enormous pain or loss. I cried the whole damn time but felt better afterwards.
  13. It’s okay to google stuff. It took me a freakishly long time to figure that out.
  14. It is never EVER your fault if you are the victim of harassment, bullying, rape, or abuse. I don’t care what you were wearing or whether you were drunk. You share NO culpability for someone else’s sin.
  15. Recognize the warning signs of an abusive relationship and get the hell out if you see them, but be careful while doing so. You can’t change them or save them. Love doesn’t look like manipulation, control, or isolation. Trust your gut.
  16. Don’t let your anger run your life. Find a balance between anger and mercy toward the people you’re angry at. Don’t demonize people because they’re still people, even if you disagree with them. Also, demonizing people historically doesn’t end well.
  17. Normalcy and happiness are possible. You aren’t trapped. Discover. Travel. Dance. Sing. Eat good food and drink booze (legally, of course. Don’t be a fucking idiot).
  18. Finally, you’re worth loving and you’re worth living. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.  

Finding Myself in the Ashes: Aisling’s Story

Editorial note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Aisling” is a pseudonym. 

The heavy wooden door to my dorm room closed with a definitive click behind my parents. I exhaled the weight of eighteen years spent wrestling for control, for individuality, for personhood.

I was free.

I imagined this moment often, with ever-increasing fervor as the end of my homeschooling approached. Some people who grew up like me, children of conservative Christian homeschooled parents, were not allowed to go to college. But the proudly educated tradition of my family would not allow for depriving my sisters and I of higher learning. My mother was the first person in her family to go on to college after high school. It was expected.

It was my ticket out.

I chose a school not far from home, but far enough that my busy parents would be too busy to come visit often. I chose a big state school, with enough room for me to roam and spread out my roots and grow tall like the oak trees all over campus.

I imagined the freedom, the ability to do what I wanted without asking permission, to spend my days and nights as I pleased without being fussed at for staying up on my computer until 2:00 in the morning. I didn’t expect the overwhelming weight of overstimulation, social anxiety and drastic personal revelation that occurs when you spend every waking moment trying to suppress who you are and play a role.

I played the part of devoted Christian, loving and virtuous daughter, for so long. Once I had a chance to find out who was really hiding inside, I almost tore myself apart on my way out.

The last couple of years before high school “graduation,” I spent most of every day alone in my parents’ house. Dorm life, with my roommate’s near constant presence across our tiny room and shared hall bathrooms, was at once liberating and meltdown-inducing. I began quietly panicking inside as my daily hours spent in isolation suddenly gave way to never being alone. For someone who considered herself an extrovert, it was confusing. I had craved social contact but I got more than I bargained for, certainly more than I could handle.

I was also lost trying to keep up with academic pursuits far beyond anything I’d undertaken before, thanks to a barely-supervised home education that left me with no math skills to speak of and no idea of how to study successfully. My ADHD, which my mother called laziness and procrastination, made it even harder. I cried in secret frustration many times because everyone else knew things instinctively, like labeling every paper with your name and the date in two neat rows at the top left corner of the page.

From when I began homeschooling at age 6 right up until the speech at my makeshift graduation ceremony, adults told me I was the cream of the crop. Homeschoolers were supposed to be stellar academics, with fantastic test scores and great grades. Those grand speeches were little comfort to me as I struggled in a biology class I was failing because I never learned about genetics.

I hid the fact that I was homeschooled for as long as possible, only letting in a few people here and there. I was overwhelmingly met with, “I couldn’t tell! You’re so…normal.” It made me feel proud and also terrified: was I playing a part again? I definitely was very far behind on pop culture, videogames and “throwback” music, and I spent a lot of time faking it until I could catch up.

But I also found real friends. One of my first close friends was a staunch atheist, and she patiently listened to me as I parroted all the Right Words You Say To Atheists per evangelical Christianity. Through her and others like her, I began to reconsider everything I knew and formulate my own ideas about what I believed.

I made many mistakes due to ignorance. I abused alcohol, lubricating my existential crisis with cheap booze to forget the realization that everything I told myself was true might actually be wrong. But as the fog lifted, I realized there was a freedom for me to be the bold, fearless woman I’d tried to hide in fear of the countless reprimands for being too forward and opinionated.

Without the restraints of the beliefs I was taught, I was afraid I wouldn’t have any kind of moral compass. From the ashes of the beliefs I’d clung to out of fear and ignorance, I was able to rise into a person I could live with, a person I actually wanted to be.

My experience has taught me a few important things: children need freedom. Children need a safe place to make mistakes. They need to be adequately prepared for life outside the bubble of home and church. Children need socialization and adequate education. They don’t just need these things, they deserve them and have a right to them.

To the homeschooled graduates heading to college: if you are struggling personally or academically unprepared, don’t be afraid to take care of your mental health and seek extra help. Be prepared to question everything you think and know. Relish it and embrace it, because the only things worth believing will withstand the test. Don’t be afraid to burn it all down and start over if you have to, because you’ll find someone to be proud of in the ashes.

I’m One Of the Lucky Ones: Muriel Sylvanus’ Story

Muriel blogs at StoryCache.

As I’m sitting here contemplating my homeschool-to-college story and how to write about it, I think of all the other stories my homeschool brothers and sisters will have to tell alongside mine, and I think… “I’m one of the lucky ones.”

For all the positive stories of a seamless transition, I expect there to be war stories from those who had to fight for themselves. For every transition story, positive or negative, I expect that there’s an empty space where there is no story because you still haven’t gotten to go yet.

I’m lucky, because I didn’t just get to go, I was told to go. College was expected and prepared for.

Of course, I didn’t want to go. My argument was “If I’m just going to be a stay-at-home wife and mom, what’s the point?”

The argument came partly from my mother, and partly from my group of friends who weren’t going to be going to college. With them, I complained about how ridiculous college was, and said that I was only doing it because my dad was making me, thereby establishing my cover as a godly, submissive daughter despite the cesspool of worldliness I was about to wade into. Together, we justified my dad’s decision as something that God would bring good out of – maybe I would find a husband there.

Behind all that ideology and back-patting was a severe burn-out on all things educational, born of long years of being educated in a way that wasn’t conducive to my learning style at all. I was intellectually exhausted and completely unmotivated. But since it was verboten to critique homeschooling, and by correlation, my parents, I clung to the ideology. Cue more back-patting. Such a good little homeschooler!

Now I’m on the other side of college and I can’t believe how just-dig-a-hole-and-bury-myself-alive stupid I was being.

College was not difficult academically – the face-to-face setting and classroom interactions kept me focused and alert and my approach to picking a degree was a “path of least resistance” move.

It was not difficult financially – being from a large family with a modest, not extravagant, income made federal and state grants a certainty, and I had the support I needed from my parents to file and to fill in whatever financial gaps where left.

It was not difficult socially – embarrassing in retrospect to be sure, but at the time I was elated to have broader social access; I loved diversity even as I tried to squelch it by attempting to convert everyone; and honestly, I loved being the weird one in a given social group. It made me stand out as actually being someone interesting and unique, whereas in the more homogenized, acceptable weirdness of homeschool culture, I was relegated to the sidelines due to being female and shy.

Of course, it could be said that I shouldn’t have found college such an easy experience– what if I had picked a more difficult degree? If I went back to school today, it’d be in an entirely different field that I simply don’t have the necessary pre-requisites for. I would have to do catch-up work first. My homeschool education would not have been adequate. And my approach to socialization should indicate just how seriously inept my social skills actually were (and still are today, to be honest, though I’ve learned how to hide it).

But I’m still the lucky one, because I still have a degree, despite the rampant facepalms and stupidity, and that is enough to get me into the door of any public university should I pursue different, or further, degrees.

And I’m lucky to have someone who made me do it, because for all that my dad was pretty awesome and deserves sainthood, there’s another story where someone’s parents were heinously misguided and kept their children imprisoned in patriarchy, isolated from society, and academically stunted.

And that’s unequivocally wrong and horrendous.

So to all the unlucky ones – I’m sorry. I don’t even have the words to express how frustrating and angering it must be. But you do, and I’ll be reading your stories. And to those who don’t yet have stories – I hope one day you will.

And to the lucky ones like me – let’s recognize our privilege, and be aghast that in this day and age, higher education is still inaccessible to some. Let’s fight for the educational rights of all and not rest in complacency.

And to the lucky, newly-minted graduates who are about to create a story: Don’t call your history prof a “liberal commie” just because he doesn’t teach revisionist history, mkay?

Dealing with Culture Shock: Latebloomer’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

There was always an expectation in my family that I would go to college. Both of my parents had a college education and saw its value, and they didn’t cave to the general attitude at our homeschooling cult church that higher education wasn’t appropriate or necessary for girls. Even though my parents’ expectation was for me to attend an extremely fundamentalist Christian college simply to get a skill to “supplement my future husband’s income, if necessary,” that expectation was more than what many of my female peers at church had, and I’m grateful for it. And, unlike many homeschooling families in our circles, my mom also put in the necessary work to make sure I wouldn’t encounter any roadblocks on my way from homeschool high school to college–she made a very professional-looking and detailed high school transcript that included my GPA, she signed me up for the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam) so that I could have a legal high school diploma, and she made sure that I took the SAT.

Still, it took me three years after graduating from homeschool high school before I began to pursue higher education. Years and years of severe isolation had not emotionally or socially prepared me to deal with the world outside my home. Years of listening to sermons about the evils of the outside world had left me terrified to leave the “shelter” of my home, even though my home life consisted of nothing more than broken family relationships and debilitating depression during those years. Years of heightened spiritual sensitivity had also paralyzed me with no sense of direction in life, waiting for a sign from God about what to do with my life, terrified of making a mistake.

With no end in sight, the darkness of those years gradually increased my sense of desperation until it was finally enough to overcome my inertia. I decided to be a moving vehicle that God could steer, and I would simply make the best decisions I could until I heard from him. I started taking a full load of classes at my local community college a few months later.

I entered my classes confident in my academic ability. Thanks to my mom’s willingness to administer yearly standardized tests and my scores from the SAT, I knew that I was an above-average student. As I expected, I performed well on tests and got great grades.  But I had other college struggles that caught me off guard. For instance, I was used to simply reading textbooks for the info I needed, so I had no idea how to take good notes in class, and my handwriting and rushed spelling looked like a child’s. In class, I’d get distracted occasionally by hearing the pronunciation of words that I had only ever seen on paper and had been saying wrong in my head for years. I sometimes had questions, but no idea about the etiquette of asking questions during the lecture.  Additionally, my teachers were surprisingly fond of group work, something that I had no experience with, and I was at a loss as to how to collaborate or give/receive feedback.

But for me, the worst thing of all was my discomfort with myself, my body, my existence. While everyone around me seemed to just plop down easily on any available floor space or chair in order to study and eat and chat, I simply couldn’t do it. I could never relax and be at ease where there was even a chance I might be seen by another person, and attempts to talk with others left me breathless and sweaty, with my heart racing.  At this time in my life, I couldn’t even eat in front of another person–not because of an eating disorder, but because of anxiety. The pressure of eating and chatting at the same time made me physically shake, because I had only really experienced eating silently together with my family, and we never had people over for meals. Because of these issues, I couldn’t handle being on campus for a second longer than necessary. For breaks between classes, I would sit in my car or drive home and come back just in time for the next class. The stress of being in public and being surrounded by people was too much.

But over time, my continued practice and effort started to have positive effects. As I went into my second semester in community college, I wasn’t constantly teetering on the edge of panic, and I started to notice positive things happening despite my social stress. People around me didn’t seem bothered by me. People sat by me in class. People smiled at me. People tried to talk to me. I started to feel a spark of human connection and see that people could be kind and decent even when they didn’t share my beliefs and even when they had no agenda and nothing to gain from it. It confused me because it didn’t fit the narrative I grew up with, but it also gave me a vague sense of hope about the life I might be able have as an adult out on my own.

Meanwhile, I was ramping up to transfer to a conservative Christian university far from home, in a place where I didn’t know a single person. It sounds like a big deal, except that I really had almost nothing that I was leaving behind–really, just one close friend that I had made several years before and that I’d been able to confide in, a person who was similarly sheltered and homeschooled. The thought of a fresh start somewhere was terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. I figured that the culture of the Christian university campus would feel at least a little familiar, and that having my own room on campus to hide in would be a welcome relief. I made sure to request an international roommate so that my weirdness–my odd clothing style, my poor conversational ability, and my nearly-total ignorance of my peer group’s slang, movies, music, etc.–wouldn’t be as obvious.

In the environment of gender-segregated dorms, no alcohol, no sex, no drugs, and no dancing, there wasn’t too much around me to shock me at my Christian university. Instead, it was the little things that made life challenging. One of my daily challenges was dealing with the shared dorm bathroom, where there were always at least a couple other people milling around. Even though it was set up so that there was no need for public nudity, I didn’t have any idea how to pee or shower in a shared space. I couldn’t stand around casually wrapped in a towel doing my hair and makeup and chatting with the other girls, not a chance. I couldn’t even pee while other people were listening.  This was a completely foreign experience to me and one that took me months to get used to.

For the first semester, my life on campus consisted of going to class, doing homework in my room, and hanging out in my room, which was luckily often empty since my Chinese roommate, despite having just arrived in the country, already had a life and friends. It sounds like a recipe for homesickness, but this is something that I never experienced the whole time I was in college. Instead, I was the happiest I’d ever been (really, it was just that I was less severely depressed, but at the time it felt like happiness in comparison to the previous years). Even though I had no idea about how to connect with the other girls in my dorm and was too anxious to really try, I saw that they were nice people and I felt like the future was full of possibilities.

Things started to change after a few months, thanks to a couple good dorm events that brought me out of my room. This proved to be just enough for one of the outgoing girls in the dorm to seek me out later and start to pry into my little closed-clam-shell of a life. Friendship with just one outgoing person in the dorm served as a bridge to making more connections and boosted my confidence to attend other school events. Although at first I just drifted along trying not to cause anyone any trouble by having opinions or problems, during the next few years I was able to start figuring out more about who I was, what my interests were, and where my place in the social scene of life was.

Figuring out my place in life turned out to be much more complicated than simply getting past the worst of my anxiety though. Even though I was several years older than my dormmates and classmates, I had years of catching up to do, learning about things like cliques, gossip, power dynamics, the art of self-deprecation/teasing/complimenting, and how people seem to group themselves based on life habits, clothing choices, and hobbies. It’s hard to explain, but I simultaneously felt I was decades older than my peers, and also much much younger, which meant that I either felt like I was taking someone under my wing or basking in their glory. I had no idea how to connect to someone as an equal, and I didn’t even start to learn that until I was about to graduate from college.

Looking back now at my transition from homeschool to college life over a decade ago, I feel a sense of pride in how much I grew and changed in a few short years. I finished college able to relax in class and chat comfortably with friends. I no longer hid away in my room all the time. I stretched myself. I attended dorm events. I cheered with enthusiasm at sports games. I worked out at the school gym. I went to parties. I dated. I asked out a guy. I got away with breaking the campus rules about gender segregation and alcohol. Years of pushing through my anxiety paid off, and I finished college feeling ready to tackle life and live on my own as a working adult.

Given my set of issues, I can’t imagine how I would have transitioned to adulthood any other way. The most important things I learned in college were not academic, but instead life and social skills that paved the way for me to have a satisfying life today.

Living with a Schedule: Karen Poole’s Story

Stepping onto a college campus for the first time was not a big deal for me. I was ready to leave home. Tired of the monotony, drudgery of my daily life at home, I was excited to move on to bigger and better things.

Thankfully, my parents had never encouraged me to believe the typical mantras that many of our homeschooling friends encouraged, that 1) I shouldn’t go to college and have a career, or 2) women can go to college, but their main priority should be to find a husband.

I wasn’t fazed by the dorm life. I had grown up with 8 younger siblings, after all. Crazy and hectic was the norm. I wasn’t even concerned about the fact that I had 5 roommates in a small room my freshman year. We all shared growing up. That was normal life for me.

The atmosphere of the college wasn’t an issue. My parents both happened to be alumni, so I was familiar with the campus and the overall feel of the small Christian liberal arts college. I wasn’t even really concerned about not knowing a soul. I wasn’t overt or outgoing, but I was comfortable meeting new people and developing new friendships. Our close relationship with many of our “secular” neighbor friends growing up had provided a good background for that.

The classes weren’t really that big of a deal. I actually found them to be much easier than most of my peers, and didn’t have to work extremely hard to do fairly well. I graduated with a 3.64 GPA. None of these factors bothered me that much. NO, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the schedule. As an education major with a music minor, I had about 160 credits to cram into the shortest time possible. My family didn’t have very much money, and I didn’t have access to a job that would allow me to take the sometimes 6 years that many people allow themselves to graduate with an education major. This meant that I was constantly tired, always on the run, had many credits each semester plus the music electives and performing groups to fulfill my requirements for my minor. It was insane.

I went from the doldrums and lazy days of being homeschooled, where I could set my own schedule as long as I completed my assignments in a timely manner, to sometimes 8-10 hours of classes per day. Don’t get me wrong, college is exhausting for everyone. However, not having a structured routine or going through the high school experience, I did not have a clue as to what I was getting myself into schedule-wise. I ended up sleeping through classes and feeling guilty about it, going back to my dorm if I had more than a 45 minute creak to take a 20 minute nap, falling asleep in the library, etc., etc.

The routine was so different than my entire school experience, that it was almost mental overload. I wasn’t an organized person, and certainly wasn’t used to having to micro-manage my time to accomplish everything that needed to be done. However, I soldiered through. I didn’t quit. I drank 64 oz. sodas to keep me awake to finish projects and papers. I persevered.

And although I think my homeschool background failed to prepare me for that aspect of college, another trait got me through – flexibility.

Because, even though the overall experience could have knocked me out and I could have run away with my tail between my legs sobbing because I just couldn’t do it anymore, homeschooling taught me that it’s ok to be flexible. It’s normal for things not to go exactly the way that you planned them. Constant changes in plans – Dad has business colleagues over today so we have to clean the house instead of doing school this morning, or it just snowed 6 inches and we need to go shovel our elderly neighbor’s driveway – taught me that my life will never be just the way I want it, and that I need to adjust to what it is, make the best of it, and keep on going.

My PoliSci Professor Has a Potty Mouth – and I Like It: Savannah’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Savannah” is a pseudonym.

If you’re not going to go to a Christian college, you have to make sure your faith is rock-solid by the time you graduate high school. Because college—especially professors of the humanities like psychology and social studies—hates you. College is the epitome of “the world”. The second you mention that you’re a Christian, the non-religious students will mock you. Perhaps even ostracize you or censor you. Perhaps have you thrown out of school for your beliefs if you’re not “liberal” enough for them. Professors will openly mock your beliefs in class, even calling on you personally to make fun if they know you’re a Christian. They may even assign you projects that violate your religious beliefs and you will be obligated to do them, because colleges will give a free pass to other religions, but not you. If you’re not Superman-strong in your faith by the time you go to college, you’ll probably cave to the pressure and fall away.

This is what they told me.

Homeschooled for my entire life, I had no exposure to a classroom environment. Before anxiety got the best of me and made it impossible to deal with, the curriculum was religious. I’d never had a secular education—never even knew what it was like. And so I believed them. I believed the preacher who told me his professor declared in class that no gods were real and anyone who believed in one was delusional, and I believed him when he said the professor called upon him and other Christian students to berate them for their beliefs.

It would be even worse for us now, he said, in the 21st century. Our society was getting more and more liberal. Colleges, the Liberalest Places on Earth, were Ground Zero for trying out these new liberal measures, among them the normalization and acceptance of non-heterosexual, non-cisgender identities and the stifling of free speech—for Christians and conservatives, of course; liberals could say whatever they wanted. We were on the front lines. We were, perhaps, five years away from the beginning of the end of the world, and it was soon to be open season on Christians.

When you are the victim of spiritual brainwashing, thought control, and other individuality- and critical thinking-quenching measures by your local church, a religious education, whether formal in a Christian school or informal at home, is utterly exhausting. When your genes predispose you to anxiety disorders and depression, a religious education combined with spiritual abuse can make you suicidal. So when I finally won and got to be taught from a secular homeschooling program for high school, half of that weight was lifted. And I excelled. Before, I had been an A-B student, but in my “worldly” curriculum, I had a 4.0. I still had to suffer through Sundays, but I could push it all from my mind as soon as we drove out of the parking lot. Eventually, I was even able to push my limits and leave the church.

But there was still the problem of college.

When I tasted the freedom of secular education, I knew that I could never go back. So after I took my first SAT and began receiving brochure after brochure from colleges in my state, I examined each of them for any hint of religiosity. Any college that even looked Christian got its brochure recycled. I memorized their names and blacklisted them. I’d heard about Bob Jones. I’d heard a story from a visiting youth teacher who said he got in trouble for touching his then-girlfriend’s head because opposite sexes were not allowed to be near each other. I remembered the frustration, the panic attacks, the nightmares I had at the beginning of high school. I could not even take the risk that I would suffer through that again.

The “excessive”, as the pastor called it, liberalism of secular colleges might have scared me if I’d been the same little girl that he frightened into believing I’d be vilified just for who I am. But I was not. The two years of secular high school education that I got changed me immensely—not that I wasn’t already changing before, but now I was allowed. The curriculum wasn’t constantly contradicting my own views, or guilt-tripping me. Between the ages of fifteen and eighteen I became exactly the kind of thing he’d warned me against becoming—one of those dirty, worldly liberals. And I love it. I love myself. I love the people around me.

As I write this, it’s the Friday of my first week of freshman year and I’ve already had several conversations on privilege and intelligent critiques of religious culture. Half my professors swear in class. I’m taking two classes in the social sciences right now, and I’ve yet to hear any mockery of any religions or their followers—in fact, the only religion-related degradation I’ve seen or experienced came from a street preacher who hangs out just feet from campus property so that he can scream at students without repercussion. (Seriously, dude, don’t you have some feeding the poor to do?) Had I not gotten, as a friend of mine says, “out of the box” two years before my first experience with such a free environment, where everyone I have encountered so far is radically different from the people I grew up around and the expectations I would have been held to if I had stayed, this might have seemed like a little hell. Instead, it’s a tiny piece of heaven. I feel no pressure to conform to a religious or moral standard too high to reach, or follow rules I don’t believe in.

Still, to my own surprise, I’ve retained some faith, in spite of the abuse, the nightmares, the panic attacks—despite not setting foot in a church in two years. Retained, by my own standard, anyway. Not by that of the preacher of my old church—my newfound liberalism would disqualify me from any sort of legitimate religiosity; I am delegated to the ranks of “fake,” “halfhearted,” “lukewarm.” But I have found many more interesting people here in the ring of second-class Christian citizens. And a hundred times more love.

And I can never see that as a coincidence.


Getting a Higher Education: LJ Lamb’s Story

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “LJ Lamb” is a pseudonym.

Nothing prepared me for the shock that my homeschooling experience was woefully inadequate.

Despite getting an extremely high score on the test that asked about my ability to read and do basic maths, I quickly discovered that I didn’t know what I needed to know to survive in the classroom.

My only saving grace was that I needed to speak to someone about course load and disability, and once they heard the magic word disability everyone sent me on to the next person they thought could help me – which meant that I got signed up for scholarships and grants, got loads of advice and academic support, and managed to pull off decent grades. Nothing flashy, but solid grades that said I had studied.

During counselling I realised my experience was normal for a homeschooler, and I actually was coping extremely well, all things considered. Honestly, I’m not sure how I survived the first year. Often I felt completely overwhelmed and several times I freaked out that I didn’t have what it took, and I had no idea how to complete the assessment work.

At some stage after my first year I realised that I had not been given anything like an education from my mother, and it was a miracle that I was as good as I was with what I did know. My mother NEVER made me write assignments.

I did a total of 10 tests in my academia, and almost all of these were music related.

The only writing I had done that was essay-like, was 3 things I initiated because I wanted to write. I was never taught how to structure an essay, I had no idea, I simply wrote from my heart, which wasn’t very consistent when it came to getting grades. I can’t do math past my timetables. I know what a square root is, but please don’t ever make me use it because I don’t know that I would get it right.

My mother thought it was completely appropriate to give me 3rd grade science in high school, and then complained when I chewed through books in a few weeks. I still can’t spell, and especially not under pressure. Again, finished 3rd grade in high school. Mother didn’t care.

The only anything I did at a high school level was some of Jay Wile’s year 12 science. Somehow I was able to pick the books up and learn while only really having a 3rd grade science level.

Apparently I didn’t need chemistry either, being a girl and all you know.

I badly wanted to be a doctor. I had thought for a long time about what career in the science and medical field I wanted and it was perfect. Mother told me I was too stupid to be a doctor. My piano teacher on the other hand, believed I could. Unfortunately, I didn’t trust my piano teacher enough at that age to open up about why I thought I couldn’t be a doctor, which summed up to, Mother thinks I’m stupid, and has completely freaked me out about having to see cadavers as part of my study because she hates medicine. She is the only teacher I have ever had. Of course her opinion goes.

Apparently she was trying to live my life for me. Never mind that I actually do love medicine. Never mind that the cadavers don’t bother me. I respect their sacrifice, and what that means for me and the world of medical science, and I learn from them.


Following is my advice to homeschool alumni wanting to obtain a higher education.

  • Do a bridging course. I didn’t, and I wish I had.
  • Find out what the course requirements, prerequisites and assumed knowledge are prior to applying, and start preparing for them.
  • Find your academic gaps and look for ways to get them filled early in the piece.
  • Don’t be ashamed of your past. It’s not your fault. Be honest with your academic staff and support staff in asking for help. They can be very compassionate and understanding.
  • Tap into every resource that there is available to you.
  • Learn how to write a basic assignment and brush up on your maths.
  • Find out what resources you have at your particular institution. Mine had transition staff, English writing staff, maths help, counselling, disability support and social workers as main points of assistance. I used every single one of them in my first year.
  • Be realistic and kind to yourself. You have big gaps. They will not be bridged overnight. Don’t overload on subjects at first.
  • Find people who will support you.
  • Make friends with people. It’s okay if they are different and/or not Christian.
  • I made friends with the nerds. It helped me, because we were all a bit crazy and they could help my study style.
  • You do have a right to an education, and being a woman doesn’t make you ineligible. Don’t let anyone else convince you otherwise.
  • People who believe in you and your dreams and goals are essential. This goes double if you aren’t supported by your parents and family.
  • Get internet at home if at all possible.
  • Buy second hand textbooks online, or check notice boards. If you are in a hurry, finding a second year student for the same course may mean they will be happy to sell you the lot for a bundle price. Easy for you, easy for them. (But do shop around prior to purchasing!)
  • Look at getting a new job prior to starting if you are in full time work.
  • There are accommodation options within institutions if you need help or subsidized accommodation.
  • Take advantage of any extra tutorial groups, study sessions, etc. Trust me on this. They help a lot!
  • Don’t forget to apply for all the scholarships and grants you may be eligible for. You would be amazed how much money people will give you sometimes for being female, or disabled, or poor, and it can be extremely helpful. I had several things paid for by grants, including a new laptop when mine died, equipment to help with my physical and medical problems, and other money towards books, necessary one-off purchases, other useful things such as an iPad, etc. Sometimes there are large scholarships for persons who overcome several difficulties and extenuating circumstances to study, so ensure that you are aware, as that may mean you have a much easier transition.

Intellectual Traditions: Molly Dodd’s Story

Molly Dodd blogs at Sticky Green Leaves.

After some eleven years of homeschooling, overlapping with three years of local community college Gen Eds and art classes, my parents drove me and a few suitcases up to a medium sized public university, where they had met, married, been enchanted by ideas, and baptized as Christians. In the car, I read them excerpts from For the Life of the World, a book on sacramental theology by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, a Russian Orthodox priest. We talked about the way he insists that Christianity is not a religion, comparing it to the Evangelical slogan we had grown tired of, “it’s not a religion, it’s a relationship.” We appreciated the precision with which he laid out what he meant by that — what both “religion” and “the Church” meant to him, and in what way he believed them to be different, along with his obvious love for the sacramentality of Creation.

In addition to academic and life skills, I learned from my parents to be conscious of the intellectual and theological traditions we inhabit; the philosophical lenses though with we encounter the world. Their beloved philosophy professor, Dr. Wood, had studied under O K Bouwsma, who studied under Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was influenced by Kierkegaard, who was known to exclaim things like “shout it from the rooftops: truth is subjectivity!” and leave it to the reader to figure out the extent of his irony. Along with that, I inherited a tradition of beautiful theological fairy-tale tellers, myth makers, and mythopoetic enthusiasts (Inklings, George MacDonald, G K Chesterton, Antione de St. Exupery), and great, dense, thoughtful stories (The Brothers Karamazov, Les Miserables, Greek epics). By the time I went to college we had also started reading Eastern Orthodox writers, including some beautiful Byzantine, Arab, and North African theologians. We were a little snobby about self-consciously Christian books, from heartwarming prairie romances, to earnest pleas for courtship, to stifling Bible study booklets. We had read enough truly good books to recognize the mediocre or saccharine ones.

My parents were evangelical when I was growing up, because Evangelicals believed that the Bible was true, without equivocating, and so did they. Still, we never quite fit in. We were introverts in an extroverted church, engaging with a different intellectual tradition than most of the church. They were also passionate about education in general, not only homeschooling, and have both taught in public schools since I graduated.

In a lot of ways, my parents did homeschooling right, at least for me.

When I transferred to the university as a junior, I decided to major in Art Education because I had a lot of art credits already, but wanted an obvious job to do when I graduated. I had a mix of romantic excitement about books, ideas, and intellectual engagement, and cynicism about the College of Education. Despite some engaging classes in art history, wood fire ceramics, and argument analysis, cynicism largely won out within the institutional coursework. Education was a poor fit for my temperament, strengths, and life experience, which emphasized philosophical pondering over real world management concerns. Also, most of my courses assumed a good grasp on what public school classrooms are actually like, based on experience as a student, which I didn’t have. I spent a lot of time wandering around campus and pacing my dorm hall muttering to myself about “cognitive dissonance.” Transitioning from homeschool to college was much easier than from college to teaching in a public school.

One thing I do regret about my college experience is that it nearly extinguished my love for arts and crafts, which had been encouraged through near daily 4-H meetings. I’m good with my hands, at devising beautiful and occasionally useful objects, and also with my mind, at picking apart ideas and tracing them back to assumptions and reasoning. But postmodern, post-industrial art criticism is a precarious business, destroying as much as it illumines. I would regularly end up, in the course of art apologetics (the branch of art education aimed at policy makers, school principles, and the students who would prefer not to be there), concluding that visual arts can be true, good, and beautiful; they can be good for people’s creativity, observation skills, and appreciation of the world; they may come in handy for various reasons; but it’s more or less arbitrary what exactly students learn, or how exactly they learn it. And I hate enforcing arbitrary things on unwilling students. So eventually my own work began to feel arbitrary as well, and I largely gave up on it.

A few years later I got a Masters in Liberal Arts at a lovely little Great Books college with a long and venerable history (for America), because even though my degree had opened interesting, practical doors to me in the real world, I still felt I had missed out on my romantic ideal of what college should be. I got to read important books from the Western canon all day while sitting on balconies or in parks and watching the sky, then sit around a table and talk about them. It was delightful.

I got pretty solid grades, but aside from a few electives, most of my positive intellectual, spiritual, and social engagement came about through involvement as a catechumen at the local Greek Orthodox mission. There were theological books to be read, Byzantine liturgical chants to be learned, a complex liturgical tradition of feasts and fasts to practice, and a warm, welcoming little community made up mostly of first or second generation Greeks and students. My parents were supportive and interested in what I was learning. In my second year of college, they drove up for my baptism into the Orthodox church, and to bring my home for Christmas break, which included a week stay at a Serbian monastery.

Every now and again my Protestant high school, and later college, youth groups had talked about all the temptation I was expected to face in college, which never materialized, but it was a very minor part of my overall experience. The same people suspected icons of being idolatrous, which I was also unconcerned about. They invited me to a crafts class, college dinners, and a ball (where my neckline was deemed too low), and were pretty accepting of any perceived theological oddities.

It’s hard, and perhaps not even desirable, to trace back everything I experienced in college to specific causes, be they homeschooling, religion, temperament, or anything else. Was I somewhat awkward and naive? Yes. I still am, to an extent. Would I have been less awkward and naive if I had gone to a regular school? It’s hard to tell. Maybe. Has my awkwardness and naivety hurt me? Also hard to tell. Not in ways that are very important to me, I think. Maybe if I had gone to a good school I would have learned math and science better. Maybe then I could have taken a more technical major.Maybe I could be working in a neuroscience lab! In some alternate reality I’m well on my way to becoming an important neuroscientist. Or maybe not. Probably not.