Up until the beginning of my college career, my days consisted of studying for heavily one-sided religion courses, worrying about whether my plaid, pleated skirt would land me a detention, and getting psyched about the fact that we were missing second period for a school-wide mass. This is because, for 8 years, I had been immersed in the culture of a private Catholic school.

In fourth grade, I transferred from my local public elementary school to a private Catholic elementary and middle school. From there, I transferred to a Catholic high school that began in 7th grade, leaving me to forget about the customs that public schools practiced. I had become a closed off teenager who knew of nothing of diversity and other cultures that existed outside of our bubble of a school.

Coming to The University of Rhode Island back in 2013, I quickly had to deal with far bigger adjustments than just ditching our required polos and kilts. I learned that I was going to be immersed in a completely different culture than I had ever experienced or known about. From being surrounded by fellow predominantly Caucasian students who, for the most part, were from well off Rhode Island families, I quickly learned that my years in Catholic school had given me the misconception that everybody around me was just the same as I was.

On move-in day freshman year, I had a lot of new concepts that were quickly thrown at me. Both my roommates were from New York, and had completely different perspectives of Rhode Island than I did. One roommate had grown up right near New York City, a place I had only visited once in my life. She talked about how she frequented the city and how it wasn’t really a big deal or special for her, a big shock for a girl who had always considered the city to be a big trip.

My other roommate was from Long Island, and discussed how the traffic was so horrendous that sometimes it would take her an hour to drive 10 miles down the road. Growing up in Rhode Island my entire life, I had a hard time understanding how other states could be so much bigger than mine. This learning curve however was just the beginning.

We talked about courses we had taken in high school, and I realized that attending a Catholic school for most of my educational career had led me to take a lot of biased courses which really didn’t give me a good perspective of the outside world. Most “interesting” classes offered were variations of math and science, and only appealed to a small population of the school. The rest of the students were stuck taking classes that did not inspire students to want to learn much more. We were required to take a religion class every semester, even though every class but one focused on similar ideas on Catholicism.

Despite all these differences, I think the biggest adjustment for me to get used to was the diversity of students I was now surrounded by. I was surrounded by people of all different backgrounds with all different interests. Given that everybody in my high school was from the same general area, everyone had pretty similar interests. People generally enjoyed the same music, watched the same shows, and traveled to the same places. Coming to URI, I was given opportunities to explore a whole new world. A world that was filled with every club imaginable, a world where people come together with unique stories just waiting to be shared, a world where I could discover myself. My eyes were suddenly opened up to all these possibilities and it was an incredible thing to learn.

Though I definitely grew as a person throughout my high school years, I felt that I hadn’t reached my full potential. Until coming to college, I felt like there was some part of me that was being held back. I didn’t know how or why, but I understand now. I have been able to discover who I am as a person, and I have had the chance to learn about so many new cultures, ideas, and perspectives. I, for one, am very glad I was able to break out of that mold to become a cultured person who appreciates the stories around me. This is the kind of influence a public college can have on a private Catholic school girl.