The summer I turned 16 I was convinced my parents hated me. I had just finished my sophomore year, celebrated my birthday, was about to get my driver's license & gone to the junior prom with my new boyfriend - life was wonderful. My parents decided to move us from Chicago's northwest side, the only home I had ever known, to the suburbs in search of a single family home in a wonderful neighborhood and school district. Their search landed us in north Hoffman Estates - a mere 27 miles away but it may as well have been the other side of Earth to a teenage drama queen. I was happy in my little, diverse part of the world.
Always a solid honor roll student I had no plans to go away to college; it just was not on my radar. My parents and most of my family worked for the Chicago Transit Authority and my neighborhood was filled blue collar people. I figured I might take a few classes while working as a secretary, like my mother had done. I had no college example and my dreams only reached where I could see. Not until I arrived at a high school where the student parking lot was tons better than the teacher parking lot and I visited classmates in their 3000 square foot brick homes did I even begin to ask "what do these people do for a living". No longer was travel agent the most exotic job within my grasp. I talked to real estate agents and accountants and engineers and sales professionals. I was surrounded by people who were not from my neighborhood in Chicago, or not even from the U.S., and it was pretty exhilarating.
I also brought a sense of "the ‘hood" to those around me in suburbia. No lie - I never thought I would be asked if I was in a gang, if I had to leave Chicago because a gang was after me, if I could dance salsa since I was Puerto Rican or, my personal favorite, if it was harder to speak Puerto Rican or Mexican. I figured out rather quickly that most people live in their own small worlds and that most people stick with the familiar. In high school they are recognized as cliques; in urban areas they are called ghettos or barrios, boroughs or parishes. More often than not, the boundaries are not just determined by geography but by a common link.
I remember seeing a Charlie Brown poster that read "The more I learn, the more I learn, how much I have to learn". I had no idea how small my world was until I changed zip codes. Up until that time my parents lived in the same 10 mile radius their entire lives. I did not understand the reason for the move or the change it would make in my life until very recently. As I help people buy and sell their homes, I have noticed the importance that people place on demographics. I applaud my parents now for going outside their comfort zone and not confining their lives to just those from the same high school, employer and culture. My life is immeasurably richer and more colorful now because of the move 20 years ago. It would have been easy for them to find comfort in familiar faces and common names but they stretched and that allowed me to fly.