Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tarheels, Spiders and Culture Shock

The last time in my life that I really experienced culture shock was when I studied abroad.  I distinctly remember ordering a pizza and having the person on the other side of the counter ask me, "And would you like sweet corn or tuna on that?" Huh?! I learned quickly in the midst of that to avoid most British food establishments, to answer the question "Are you alright?" with the words fine or good because the actual American translation of said question was actually "What's up?" and that it was apparently perfectly normal for me to have to walk through a pub to get to the student gym.

However, culture shock is once again in full swing for me. I spent 13 years of my life as a Spider, first as a student, then as a volunteer and staff with InterVarsity.  Richmond is a cozy little University settled on a fairly relaxed-feeling campus with relatively abundant parking, a chaplain's office that actually supports campus ministries and the ability to see a lot of the same faces as you walk across campus each day.  In InterVarsity-land, our group was about 100 students, give or take a few over the years, with a leadership team that hovered between 20 and 30 students and one staff, me, to make decisions.

Last Thursday I kicked off my life as a Tarheel. My new leadership team? 100 people. The university? Not a cozy little place where you see the same people all the time.  We've met more people at Carolina in our new student events than actually show up as freshmen on Richmond's campus. Happy and informative little organization fair? No, picture the most crowded concert you've ever been to, add lots of free food, about a billion organization tables advertising their wares, multiple inappropriate tshirts that could probably get you kicked off Richmond's campus and then set the whole thing in a sauna.  They call this Fall Fest. Oh, excuse me, "we" call this Fall Fest.

You see, I'm having trouble changing my prepositions. For 13 years I've been a Spider. Any other mascot has always been "they."  And at Richmond, while we were loyal, we weren't exactly a bastion of school spirit. In fact, the most school spirit I saw each year there was usually displayed at the volleyball tournament at our annual InterVarsity camp when competing for the spirit award. 

Yet three nights ago I found myself with my sweaty arms around several people I didn't know, swaying to the Carolina Alma Mater in a Krispy Kreme parking lot. I wondered to myself if the freshmen who were there were as shell-shocked as I was, but began to realize that maybe they chose Carolina because they already knew about this culture, the, well, "hugeness" of everything I've been encountering. 

So, classes started yesterday. My husband is hard at work on year two of his Ph.D. Large group, the weekly meeting of our whole InterVarsity community, is tomorrow night and I am working hard on wiping my brain of all prior large group experiences and expectations. We have 20 people on our welcome team alone. We're using a room that can hold more than 500 students in the full hope that we'll fill it. My staff team, (yes, being a part of an actual team is a part of this), has been hard at work trying to make sure we've thought of everything that needs thinking about as we maneuver this all-important first week back while figuring out how the heck to care for each other in the midst of physical fatigue and campus transitions.

I will always be a Spider. No question. I graduated from there, saw my own faith grow exponentially because of the community there and will, likely, continue to be badgered semi-annually to give to the University's next big building project. But right now I'm trying to figure out how to identify with being a Tarheel, how to think the words "me", "mine"and "we" when I hear the alma mater and fight song. How to fully own and enjoy this huge group of students who have been entrusted to this team I'm on and to trust the Lord in the middle of a culture-shocked transition.

I may be Spider-born and Spider-bred but for right now I am Tarheel-immersed.  Someone better teach me the right cheer to follow that up with! (Particularly one that doesn't involve damning all of Duke to hell, please.)

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