Do people want an honest answer?

?How?s the big Chicago treatin? ya?? ?How was that first semester for ya??

Ah, the small town grocery store questions. Working at Vogt?s has led me to become a pro at executing polite, amusing and appropriately small small talk. But when people ask me questions like this (which is about every three minutes), I feel torn on how to answer.

I know that, these days, ?How are you?? isn?t really an inquiry about the status of the inner workings of my soul. It?s merely a greeting, like ?Hey? or ?What?s up?? Imagine me giving a totally honest answer?

Customer: ?Well hey there, Abi! Welcome home! How was your first semester at college??

Me: ?Aw thanks, it?s so great to be home. Well wow?where do I start? First semester was the biggest transition ever. I?ve never had this much independence so of course the freedom part is awesome. But I never realized how fast money really goes or that if all I eat are grilled cheese sandwiches I?ll feel really sick or that there are some really mean people in the world or that I really, really, really miss my mom sometimes. Phew.?

Customer: ?Uh?..? *drops groceries and runs crazily out of the store.?

See? That much honesty would just be bad for business and would certainly slow the line down considerably.

I sometimes wonder if people would really want to hear the honest answer. I?m sure that some would, so that?s what I?ll use this week?s column for.

The best way to describe this semester was ?good growth.? My dad ALWAYS says, ?Good growth is never easy.? Tell me about it.

The past four months have been full of confusion, change and starting over completely.

Starting over is not that awesome, let me tell you. Being in a place where no one truly knows me has been the hardest thing I?ve experienced. On the other hand, though, it has ended up being the most helpful part of the whole semester.

The first weeks of school were like a feeding frenzy for friendships. There was so much pressure to make those ?best friends you?ll ever have,? and to do it quickly.

To me, this is what it felt like: ?We?re all here in this weird place together. None of us really know each other. NOW GO! MAKE FRIENDS! HURRY HURRY HURRY! BOND BOND BOND!?

There were these weird moments when I?d be bombarded with questions, and it felt like a quiz: ?Where are you from? How many siblings do you have? What does your dad do for a living? Who is your favorite Pok?mon? What?s your third favorite movie??

I never felt like I knew those people any better after our speed-friendship conquests.

I have had the privilege of growing up in a place where I got to know people over time. I know how many siblings my best friends have because I?ve been to their houses and seen for myself, not because they told me on the first day of fourth grade.

There are things about people that are ?caught, not taught.? It takes time to get to know someone?you learn him or her in pieces, and you can?t really give names to those pieces.

In Chicago, people don?t know me because they know my dad or my mom or my brother or have seen me play basketball or sing in the choir. They know me by the way I act around them.

For the first time, I?ve had to fully know who I am. The ?Abi? I put forward is the only ?Abi? that they are going to know until they?ve been around me long enough to learn me and put those pieces together. That feels like a lot of pressure.

Another thing that?s been a learning process for me is figuring out where I fit on campus. At North Park, there are so many students who are artistically gifted. I?m not especially good at singing, I?m not awesome at an instrument, and I?m not blessed with a wonderful eye for photography.

I was talking to my dad about this a few days ago, and he pointed out that my writing is something that I could be using a lot more. I hadn?t ever entertained this idea.

It seems that each day I?m home more people tell me that they enjoy reading what I write. It?s so surprising. I had no idea that so many people read my stuff. It?s flattering and so encouraging at the same time.

I realize now, thanks to all of your encouraging words, that I do have some influence?no matter how small. If what I write makes someone smile or reflect on what it means to grow up, I can find purpose in that.

I don?t know how I?ll continue to develop this skill and use it in my possible career someday, but I feel like I want to. I just really wanted to thank the people in Hillsboro and the surrounding communities who have seen something in me that I didn?t realize was there.