Because BYU-I is a privately funded religious school, all the rules about separation of church from your education no longer apply. Because it's focused around Mormonism, naturally, there is a lot of talk about religion and Mormonism in all the classes and in events and in social spheres and just everywhere.
When I first started classes at BYU-I, this really threw me off. Obviously, to a certain extent, I had expected this. I knew that almost everyone would be Mormon, like me. I knew it would thus be a topic of casual conversation. Clearly, I knew about the Honor Code. I knew about the religious class requirements. What I didn't expect was how deeply intertwined and intrinsic religion would be to the structure of all the classes, the events, and the school itself.
The first week, maybe even the first month, of school, this was really confusing and kind of uncomfortable for me. I was taking six classes. One was a religion class, centered around the Book of Mormon. The others were all regular classes. But in Science Foundations, we started off by learning a) about how science and religion correlate and b) about Mormon scientists. In American Foundations, we began with statements of scriptures and prophets relating to how government should properly be structured, freedom of choice, human rights, etc. In lit class, the teacher began by saying that every piece of literature we read would, in some way, bring us closer to the Savior. In orchestra, we prayed every day to be able to bring the Spirit through our playing.
(Yes, he was. You have to be a member in good standing to teach there.)
This continued in all my classes throughout the year. For someone who had spent something like fourteen years in public schools, where religion is kind of a taboo topic, even and maybe especially in casual social situations, I was extremely confused. I'd wince every time someone brought religion up, because I was just waiting for someone to start calling names or something. But it never happened here. Religious topics? Yeah, man. That's the attitude of this school. And for me, having learned to actually pretty strongly differentiate between my normal education and my spiritual education, it was a big adjustment.
On top of that, there was the spiritual/religious aspect all throughout the school outside of classes. Indeed, I'd expected religion to be a topic in casual conversation, but the extent of it surprised me. The way people could just talk about it, without any worry, seemed revolutionary. You'd see people praying all the time, and it wasn't strange. Words and ideas that outside the Church wouldn't have made any sense were commonly understood. All activities began with prayer. Another thing was that it was assumed that you attended devotional (a religious-themed talk) every Tuesday. I never really wanted to do that, mainly because of the crowds, but I've gotten into listening to it online.
There's also just this huge "happy news!" culture here. Every week, I swear, someone in one of my classes would announce a) they're pregnant, b) their wife is pregnant, c) they're getting married, or d) they've gotten a mission call. There are babies everywhere. I'm telling you right now, I would not want to go to school pregnant, but it's normal here. The first chair cellist in orchestra was so pregnant by the time our concert came, we were worried she might go into labor onstage.
So, different from regular public school? Um, heck yes. But, when the adjustment period passed, I realized that I actually really love it.
What's more, things have a lot more meaning when you've got that deeper spiritual aspect about them. I'm not saying you shouldn't appreciate regular education, but let's be honest, sometimes it gets really boring and really hard to find the motivation for. The spiritual application for all of these topics makes them more relevant and important in a deeper way. I feel like I'm actually accomplishing relevant things and in the midst of the learning, developing as a person.
Also, naturally, the social situation is a little easier because everyone has approximately the same standards and similar life goals. You don't have to feel awkward about your beliefs because everyone gets it, and the dating scene, in a lot of ways, is more relaxed. (In other ways it's a lot worse, but hey, I didn't really have time/energy for that this past semester anyway.)
In basis, being at a religious school is very different from being at public school, but it makes me happy, and I know BYU-Idaho is where I do belong. It feels right, in a way my last college never quite did. I'm gaining some really great advantages from the religious education. It's not something that works for everyone, but it works for me.
Any thoughts on the differences between religious and public schools?
Images via byui.edu and mormonnewsroom.org.