Numerous smiling people, an honor code and many public displays of affection were the last things Richard Quest, a correspondent for CNN International, expected to find during his visit to Provo. But people all over the town, and specifically on Brigham Young University's campus, delivered with these unexpected experiences and more.
Quest is an international business correspondent and his visit to BYU was just one part of the American Quest, and eight-day journey across the U.S., which can be watched as a series starting Oct. 29.
He visited the university to gather students' views on Mitt Romney, a BYU graduate in the class of 1971. Quest's own university experience in England was significantly different than the experience he speculates BYU students have, as he compares the appearance and feeling of both campuses.
"The campus of BYU is a world apart from my experience; new buildings, manicured lawns. ... And a student body that frankly looks nothing like the student ragamuffins of my own university days," Quest wrote in an International CNN article. "Meeting staff and students, I felt the differences almost immediately."
However, Quest expressed an epiphany of sorts that came during his visit, in which the differences — in the way they appear to outsiders — are what students love about the school, because they aren't really differences to them.
"Having spent their youth in the minority — depending on where they grew up — for many BYU students, this was the first time they were in the majority, the norm!" he said. "Far from being restricting, this homogeny was their freedom to be as they wanted to be."
Quest did not add that many BYU students are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, though LDS Church members make up the significant majority. About 1.5 percent of BYU students are not LDS, and they represent more than 25 different faiths as of fall semestes 2011, according to BYU's demographics.
Smiling was one of the things Quest found most notable all over campus — at the ice cream shop, with his guide, among the students. He also noted a possible reason for the positive characteristics of those on campus — the honor code.
"Respectable and respectful throughout is the best way to describe (students), and for good reason: They have all signed the (BYU) Honor Code," Quest said. "When I suggested there was plenty of time in the future to uphold grooming and dress, and that surely student years were designed for rebellion, my host gave a 'we know what's coming next' tolerant look and ... explained there were plenty of other schools for that, and this was a Mormon school for those who wanted to live the Mormon way of life."
Because of the belief that sex is only acceptable after marriage, Quest was under the impression that relationships and physical contact among students might be rare. However, he realized "there is a lot of hand holding (between men and women only), with chaste kisses and long looks," among the student body as he was guided around campus.
"By now I was realizing I was the victim of my own preconceptions and prejudices about this faith and its worshippers," he said. He still speculates as to how the BYU experience may be for those who end up feeling like they may not fit in because of their choices, but concludes the university is more unique than weird.
"What struck me most was this was a college which, on the face of it, looked so familiar and yet underneath was a world apart from any school I had seen before."
Mandy Morgan is an enterprise intern for the Deseret News, reporting on values in the media. She is a true-blue Aggie, studying Journalism and Political Science at Utah State University, and hails from Highland, Utah.