Culture Shock in Utah: “Always an Outsider”


Brent Uberty

(Photo by Brent Uberty)

(Photo by Brent Uberty)
(Photo by Brent Uberty)

Out of 31,515 students at the U, more than 7,000 are from out of state, and more than 3,000 are from out of the country. That means for 10,000 students, coming to Utah for school can be a culture shock.
The Beehive State stands out mostly for its scenery, but also what appears to be a different language. “Mountain” becomes “Moun’ain.” “Oh my heck” and “oh my gosh” provide alternatives to swearing.
Religion is also unique in the state. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make up about 62 percent of the population.
Chris Judy, a senior in international studies, grew up as a Mormon and first moved to Utah as a young adolescent. Originally from North Carolina, Judy said the move was difficult because making friends was hard, as he felt kids in Utah were more “clique-y” than in other places. He said the people here had a bit of a “cold approach.” He left the state, and returned a second time in his late 20s, when he said he noticed improvements. Nonetheless, he said, “you’re always an outsider.”
But Judy is glad he came back because he’s a skier and a snowboarder. He’s also met a variety of people here who have surprised him. One qualm he has is dating. He said it has sometimes been uncomfortable when he goes out on dates with people in Utah because he has many tattoos and fears judgment for it.
“You’re a person — that’s all that matters,” he said.
He said his feelings about the culture have consequently made him more standoffish, but the outdoors offset that.
Jenny Blue, a freshman in the Business Scholars Program, said she was surprised she did not face any culture shock or criticism coming to Utah. Blue is from Wisconsin, and her friends back home warned her that not being Mormon would be a problem.
“It’s not the case,” she said. “It’s the exact opposite … They’re just people.”
Kaia Mendenhall, also a freshman in the Business Scholars Program, is a member of the LDS church from Las Vegas. She said she grew up visiting Utah often, and it already felt like a second home to her.
“I knew what to expect,” Mendenhall said.
Lauren Weitzman, director of the U’s Counseling Center, said it is not uncommon for students to have culture shock when going to a new place, whether that’s Utah or not.
“Many students can experience symptoms of depression as a result,” Weitzman said.
She said the symptoms are similar to what students may feel when they are homesick. But as students become more comfortable at the U, these symptoms should subside. For her, it’s all part of a “normal transition.”
Arty Breussov, a sophomore in operations management, is attending the U from Russia. Breussov said the first difference he noticed was that people in Utah smile more when talking. He said in Russia, if a person is smiling without reason, it is considered a form of mockery. But he likes studying here and finds the people to be nice.
Walter Talley, a freshman in the Entertainment Arts & Engineering Program, said his initial shocks were “lots of Mormons” and “cold.”
“I’ll get used to it eventually,” he said, regarding the weather.
As far as the people go, Talley doesn’t seem to mind it.
“They push their religion a little, but [they’re] very nice people,” he said.
Talley said college in general is a “conglomerate” of everything, so coming to Utah was the “best decision” he ever made.
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