Same but Different

Article by Leah Fahy

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Photo by Moe Sumino

A navy jacket, black pants, blue Nikes. Short brown hair, dark eyes. Half American, half Japanese, though to any student at the American School in Japan just describing him as “half” would suffice. He sits on the carpeted floor, leaning casually into the wall behind him, a comfortable smile playing across his face. This could be anybody at ASIJ; not shy but also not outspoken, friendly and attentive in class, nothing about Eliot Behr makes him immediately stand out. He seems to perfectly fit the mold of a typical ASIJ student. Yet this is not quite the case.


“I used to mess around a lot at my old school,” he admits, his eyes flitting downwards. “I would walk out of class whenever we had a sub who told us we could leave if we weren’t interested. I really didn’t care about school.” In contrast to what a first impression of Eliot would suggest, during middle school he was a troublemaker, attempting to attract attention by acting in a way he then thought was “cool.” It was only when he moved to ASIJ his freshman year that Eliot began trying to adopt a studious, serious persona, one that would make him blend in more with his new peers.


But Eliot isn’t studious, at least not in the conventional way. His friends would describe him as smart, but his interest in learning didn’t come about as a result of his efforts to change his personality. He doesn’t pore over textbooks; he reads Wikipedia articles on anything that sparks his interest (“It’s my hobby I guess.”) He doesn’t think knowing formulas should be a requirement for math, but he learns them nonetheless because he respects the people whose life work was creating them. He does well in his science classes because he’s fascinated with learning about how the world works; his goal isn’t good grades, but his interest makes them come naturally.


“I used to be really afraid of sharks, like just scrolling past a photo of one, I couldn’t even look at it.” As the words exit his mouth his hands reach up instinctually to cover his eyes, as if in an effort to shield himself from the terrible images. “When you’re taking a cold shower and you close your eyes, it feels like you’re in the middle of the ocean and that scares me so much because I feel like a shark is going to come up from behind me.” Even in this seemingly irrational fear, Eliot searches for logic. “I think maybe my ancestors were killed by sharks all the time so they evolved to be afraid of them,” he muses. He is curious and thoughtful, a desire for understanding spurring him to search for the reasons behind every situation.


Though he is considering studying medicine at university, when asked he doesn’t claim that his goal is to become a doctor. Instead, without a moment of hesitation he shares, “Yeah I have a life goal. It’s to have my own Wikipedia page.” It’s not a desire for fame that propels this hope. Rather, he believes it would mean that he has “done something important in life” and “somehow contributed something to humanity.” And perhaps part of him hopes that in the future it will be his work that sparks the imagination of other young Wikipedia aficionados.

An avid guitar player and music lover (he is one of the few people who still listens to full albums), Eliot admires artists who are unafraid of “being provocative and living unapologetically.” Whether it’s the flamboyant Morrissey from the Smiths or the eccentric stage look of Robert Smith from the Cure, he “envies the prospect of naturally having a strong personality and being comfortable with it.” It is true that he may not be outwardly flashy or different. Yet talking with Eliot it becomes clear that, in his own way, he is living just as unapologetically as the musicians he looks up to. Although he may not realize it, in a high school environment of teenagers so fraught with insecurity and the need to conform, his questioning personality and ability to think deeply makes him more unique than any mere appearance could.