August 5, 2013 3 Comments
From preschool to present, I have always been told I was a unique child.
As an eight year old, this puzzled me. I wore the same, red-blazered uniform to school every day. I carried my books and pastel-coloured Japanese stationery in the same, foam-padded Digimon backpack as the kid who, despite the teacher’s best efforts, could not stop depositing nose gold underneath his desk. I took the same bus home as everyone else, and ate the same Singaporean curry box meal – you guessed it – like everyone else (and like most Singapore International School kids, conveniently forgetting my lunch coupon at home three days a week). My friends and I lived in similar flats that, while five times the price of an average, single-family Canadian home, were no bigger than a rabbit hutch. When we got home, we all began practising for the next Chinese dictation test by writing in the same boxed notebooks. To my eight year old self, I was the same as everyone else. And I had no problem with that at all.
By middle school, I began to see identification with the concept of being unique through attempts at differentiation among my peers. Classmates began participating in clubs that peaked their interests. Friends began dressing uniquely, and many bought the then newly-released iPhone to stand out in a crowd of Motorola RAZRs and Sony Ericssons. And I was no exception to the rule. Every day, I would wake up at 5 to spike my hair until I had an orange porcupine sitting on my scalp. In Grade 9, my French teacher said I looked like a Korean pop star (this pleased me very much). Individuality was prized, and if done properly, would win the approval of your immediate social group. And in high school, that took precedence over all.
When I began university a year ago, I had fully expected a complete realisation of this transformation process into a unique, adult being. My family friend said it would happen. My uncle said so too. And so I went starry-eyed into university, fully expecting to see a tidal wave of individuality on campus.
It might be the nature of my programme. It might have even been the university. But like many things in life, things were not as I had expected.
While it prides itself on many things, individuality seems to be one thing that Queen’s lacks sorely in. Despite the Apple mantra of thinking different, everyone has a 13-inch Macbook Air. Every commerce student has a quarter-zip and wants to break into consulting or investment banking in New York (see last post). Every arts student wants to become Mike Ross. And in the winter, every girl dons a pair of Uggs, a Canada Goose jacket, and black tights that, despite their protestations, seems to provide as much protection against the elements as a bikini from Victoria’s Secret. Project emphasis is often an exercise of “what does the prof want, so we can get a better grade”, rather than finding a better solution to the problem. It’s almost like I have come full circle, and am back in elementary school where everyone did everything in the exact same way, for the exact same purpose.
Of course, this may not be university-specific. I have no idea. But living within a culture that emphasises individual expression and how every person is unique, you would think that they would be a little more introspective in practising what they preach. But self-criticism is hard, so critics lambast others instead despite doing exactly the same thing (see: Japan).
I always see articles on how innovative North America is in comparison to its peers, and how our ideas set us apart from the rest of the world. We may have more forward thinking people than any other region. But from what I’ve seen, it’s certainly not a product of our education system or the culture within it.