The art of fitting in

Face-to-face with expectations, we can sometimes paper over what makes us distinct to be accepted

Samia Zahin
Published : 19 March 2024, 01:46 PM
Updated : 19 March 2024, 01:46 PM

One day in class, one of our teachers assigned us a project.

It was about travel.

“Write about a trip to a mesmerising place outside Dhaka that caught your attention.”

Our teacher described all the different aspects we could explore – the experiences of the journey, the pros and cons of our chosen destination, and how the area could be freed from pollution to make it more eco-friendly and a nicer place to visit.

Soon enough, Ma’am was talking us through the central ideas of the assignment and how to structure the piece.

I decided to speak up, carefully forming the words I would use in my mind:

“Ma’am, would it be ok if I used my imagination? I have never really visited anywhere outside Dhaka.”

But, just as I was perking up the courage to ask, Ma’am turned to us and said, “And none of you should dare tell me you’ve never been anywhere outside Dhaka. I know for sure each of you must have visited Cox’s Bazar at least once in your life.”

The class laughed in agreement. Some of them nodded.

And that’s when I decided to swallow my words. I didn’t want to be seen as different from my classmates.

But I don’t think I’m alone in this. Do you ever feel like you don’t belong somewhere because most of the people there have different styles and ways of living? And have you ever straightened your back, puffed up your chest a little bit, and smiled, pretending that there’s nothing different about you?

When we are part of the same circles – social, academic, or professional – there’s an unstated expectation at play. Everyone assumes that we are alike in most aspects of our lives.

In these situations, it’s very hard to speak up and paint yourself as someone distinct from the rest of the group. No one dares to put their perceived ‘weaknesses’ on the table because we are all afraid of being looked at as ‘different’. But this insecurity also holds us back and prevents us from making a more authentic connection.

Here’s one paradoxical secret – my family and I struggle to afford the place where I study. If you told my classmates, they would probably find that hard to believe.

But, despite the strain, my family and I somehow managed.

And I hide that stress from those around me and pretend that I’m the best. That’s probably what the art of fitting in is about, don’t you think?

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.