(i don’t really like this one)

To shave or to leave school, that was the question. Comply and go against my values, or stand for what I believe - freedom of appearance and expression - and risk rejection and isolation.

The trip was the furthest I had ever been from home. I was to attend New Plymouth Boys High School for the duration of our six-month stay in New Zealand. I had assumed that the schools there were similar to the ones in Canada. On my first day, I discovered I was wrong. I had just come through the front doors when the assistant principal (ironically named Mr. Hope) pulled me aside to discuss my neatly trimmed goatee: “I’m not sure what goes on where you come from, but you’re going to have to be clean shaven in order to attend this school”. At first I thought it was a joke. Of course I had known about their dress policy beforehand but everyone had assured me that they wouldn’t obsess about it on the first day of school. “Do you think I could keep it for today, and come back tomorrow clean shaven?” “No, no you cannot be present in the school without adhering to the dress code.” I stared dumbfounded at Mr. Hope (who was himself sporting a thick brown beard). I had to make a decision. The requirement to change my appearance for no substantial reason seemed absurd. In my own high school, a student’s appearance was only questioned when it prevented other students from learning. I was having trouble determining how my goatee would interfere with education. But there was no time to think. I was handed a razor and shown to a bathroom. I emerged clean-shaven for the first time in two years.

The weeks that followed were difficult. After the demeaning experience of the first day, I had little motivation to attend school at all. I thought of NPBHS as a sinister institution that preyed on individuality. I was critical of the school’s teachers, the classrooms, and the curriculum. Yet even as I criticized the school, I began to meet students like Connor Apimerika. Connor is an amazing artist. We spent hours sitting beside each other in art class, and he helped motivate me to improve my own skills. He and other students helped me realize that I should not judge a whole culture through a single experience. Although it was humiliating to temporarily suspend my values, that decision had a reward.

Being in a foreign country for six months taught me many things, and most were learned in that high school. I learned that the struggle to fit in to a different environment could sometimes result in antagonistic feelings towards that environment. I imagine that Quest University will be a welcoming environment for most, but to some it may be scary and different – perhaps a bit like NPBHS was to me. Because of my own struggles in a new culture, I can offer empathy and support for people in different learning environments or difficult situations.