By Alanna Rizza
Upon first glance, one may get the idea that first-year politics and governance student Jacob Neil is what some would call a “bro.” But there is much more to him than his baseball caps, or passion for hockey.
“[Sometimes} I have to be like, ‘OK before you talk to me I’m not an asshole,’ or that I feel like I have to do that because I hang out with certain people or I play a certain sport and look a certain way.”
Born in St. John’s, Newfoundland and raised in Nova Scotia, Norway, Calgary, Texas, England and Italy, Neil explains how being an expat from a young age has led to a lack of identity and a struggle with labels.
“I’m from Newfoundland but really I only lived there until I was five. And I go back there every summer, and I’m not nearly as engrained in the culture as I would like to be.”
Neil interprets his biggest personal struggle as losing himself in a large cultural background that inevitably makes him who he is.
“It’s hard going back, and I’m not part of my Newfoundland family, I’m not part of my Nova Scotia family because I only ever go there in the summer. I’m Canadian, but when I go overseas they’re like, ‘you don’t sound Canadian, you sound American, or you sound like this or you sounds like [that]. You don’t seem Canadian’.”
Constantly having to adapt to new environments has also proved to be a positive influence for Neil. He explains how being exposed to change so early in his childhood has prepared him socially for where he is now.
“Growing up, every year having a new friend circle, [and] making new friends, it kind of forces you to be a friendly, outgoing person.”
In his final year of high school Neil received a hockey scholarship and moved to a boarding school in New Brunswick. He then re-located to Toronto and lived on residence as a first-year journalism student. Now he’s starting a new program and becoming a residence advisor at Pitman Hall.
“For me the most important thing is getting to know everyone on the floor and assuring them that I’m always there. No matter what I’m always there.”
Neil explains the importance of feeling supported and having a sense of family, especially when being away from home. He clarifies how it is more effective for residence advisors to try to relate to situations rather than being overly authoritative.
“It’s so difficult because I’m literally yelling at people to stop doing the things that I was doing six months ago.”
His love for getting to know people and a passion for experiencing many different perspectives has also come from a significant cultural influence left over from living in Italy.
“Italians are very emotional and I think that’s such a good thing, just because there’s no point in hiding the emotions you have, because we all feel them. And that the basic human interaction is the emotions that we feel and the connections we make through that,” he said.
Neil’s says his passion for hockey and having his father as a role model shaped his outlook on life.
“Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work as hard.”