When I was 16, I lived in Denmark as an exchange student. About a month after I arrived, every Rotary student in the country was sent to a two week long, sleep-away language camp. That first week of language camp, my fifth week in Denmark, I almost got sent home.
There were about 100 teenagers at camp, kids from all over the world, all 16 to 18 years old, all in Denmark, all of us together. We were 100 teenagers sent away to camp so, of course, a social hierarchy immediately crystallized.
At home, the cool kids in school were all fairly good looking and wore jeans with the right stitch pattern on the pockets. They had slightly above average jump shots and possessed that elusive mosaic of personality traits that, I don't know, inspired the middle-school-Gods to smile down upon them.
In Denmark, it was a bit simpler.
In Denmark, the cool kids were Brazilian.
Back home the Brazilians allegedly spent the majority of their waking hours out dancing and drinking in clubs. They must have also been somewhat nocturnal, since their evenings out didn't start until 10 or 11 pm. They loved to party, and were thoroughly disappointed with the lackluster Bacchanalian offerings of our little language school.
One night, they'd had enough, and word got out.
Tonight, after lights out, party in room 204.
Now, the Brazilians ruled our social world absolutely, but they were benevolent: everyone was invited to the party. More people, more party.
"Everyone" was just about the only kind of guest list I was making as a 16 year old, so I took advantage. That night, thoroughly disgusted with my up til now completely failed attempts at being a suave adolescent, I decided to simply be somebody else.
I was in Denmark, thousands of miles away from the freshman team basketball practice and evenings spent snuggled up to Pre-Calculus homework.
In Denmark, I could be the kind of kid that went to secret not allowed parties with my glamorous Brazilian friends.
So that's who I became.
I walked up to the door of room 204, knocked lightly, and walked in. Inside were crammed a few dozen kids listening to music quietly and drinking - if you can believe it - beer they bought out of a vending machine in the hallway.
I sat myself on the floor up against the wall, hugged my knees to my chest, and immediately started feeling very nervous.
Walking down the hallway in a spontaneous act of protest, it turns out, had not instantly transformed me into the kind of kid that actually enjoyed this type of thing.
I sat there in quiet misery for the next ten minutes, until the door opened again.
Standing in the doorway was our language instructor, and nobody needed a pocket dictionary to read the look on his face.
We were sent back to our rooms for the night until the next morning when we were herded into one of the larger classrooms.
In that room we were lectured, scolded, and threatened. We were a huge disappointment, we'd broken our word, had poorly represented our home countries and could quite possibly be sent home on the next flight headed West.
After 20 minutes, he left us in the room to think about what we'd done while he discussed our punishment with the rest of the instructors.
We sat in silence for a moment, and then one of the organizers of the party spoke up. He said we should just deny everything. What proof did they have? They couldn't send us home without proof, could they?
And then, horrified at that idea, I went into full Goody Two-Shoes mode.
I told him that plan was terrible and ridiculously stupid and would only get us into more trouble.
Deploying years of careful research into how to avoid getting into trouble, I suggested that we each admit what we had done, cooperate as much as possible, and above all, beg for forgiveness and promise never to do it again.
Our instructor came back into the room, and everyone took my advice.
We apologized, looked solemnly at our feet, admitted what we had done, and begged for forgiveness.
Everyone but the few organizers of the party walked away without any punishment at all. The organizers didn't have to go home, but they did have to go back to their host families and explain what happened.
I might not have been brave that day, leading a room of my peers into surrender, isolating the leaders and leaving them to their fate.
I wasn't brave, but I was honest.
It may not have been someone to be proud of, but it was exactly who I was.