I have never been particularly good at engaging in small talk. I much prefer sharing deeper conversations with those who really know me, my close circle of friends and immediate family. During monumental stages in my life, this dreaded small talk was especially, painfully prevalent. Family-friends and community members always managed to bring up my least favorite topics of discussion. In eighth grade, everyone wanted to hear about high school. What were my options? What were the considerations? I was always somewhat frustrated by these questions, as I was not particularly enthusiastic about my choice of schools, and rather wanted to avoid the subject matter entirely. “Ask me about eighth grade!” I always thought, “That’s the grade I’m in now.” The college process brought even more questioning. Where was I applying? What were my top choices? These questions felt higher-stakes and sparked unwelcome stress. The application and decision-making process were anxiety-producing enough, but now I was forced to discuss them with countless members of my community.
As Fall Break approached, I eagerly anticipated my return home and reunion with many of the special people in my life – family friends, neighbors, and even past high school teachers.
But carried away by my excitement, I failed to consider and brace myself for the onslaught of personal questions that I would be forced to answer yet again. At every shared meal or community gathering, I was asked the same questions. “How’s school? How’s your roommate? Your friends? Your classes? What is your major? What classes are you taking? Are the bathrooms communal?”. The list goes on. I responded by delivering generic answers with as much enthusiasm as I could muster up. “It’s good! My roommate and I are getting along well. I am undecided right now, but I’m taking psychology, sociology, freshman writing, and Hebrew.” People asked me these same questions so many times that I developed automatic responses to deliver on cue. The pestering continued. “Isn’t it great?” they would persist. “I miss college! It’s the best, I just wish I could go back.” “Yes!” I responded, but I sensed the insincerity in my own answers. Sure, college was going well, but it had only been two months. I was still adjusting to a completely different lifestyle. I was transitioning away from my home, family, and friends, and into a new city, with new people and friends. While I was impressed with the way I was navigating the adjustment, I knew it would take time to feel fully at home and settled at Emory. No matter their intention, these questions gave me a sense of inadequateness. I felt like they posed unrealistic expectations for this stage of the adjustment period, and this sparked doubt about how well I was truly handling myself.
My initial inclination was to be somewhat resentful of the people who asked me these questions, putting me on the spot and leading me to doubt my confidence when I was just excited to be home. I tried to remind myself that these frustrating questions come from a place of care. Part of adult life is engaging in these polite interactions, even smiling through them. And returning from my visit, now automatically programmed to answer all of these questions, I am reassured to know that at least my community is invested in my happiness and success.