BY ANNA JENSEN
A common answer to the question “what are you passionate about?” is “people.” It makes you seem likeable, genuine, outgoing.
Hallie O’Neill recognized that cliché right away, but she’s not so much passionate about people as she is learning from them.
O’Neill, a junior writing and anthropology-sociology double major at Drake, is constantly learning new things from people, be it through conversations, books, traveling or watching others interact.
“Talk to people who are different than you,” O’Neill said. “Read about people that you’ve never heard of, and get outside your comfort zone. If you only hangout with people who are just like you, you’re never going to learn, and you’re never going to grow.”
This is the mindset she brings to her columns every week as the staff writer who tackles the “Humans of Drake” series.
Hallie O’Neill is constantly looking for quirky and unique stories from every human she writes about. She is driven to learn something new from them and to share that with the greater community they’re a part of. It’s that genuine curiosity that makes her such a good storyteller.
To celebrate her work, the Times-Delphic wanted to showcase her story in the last issue. Hallie is my roommate and my close friend since our first year, so when I was asked to write the piece, I was honored, and frankly, nervous, to do it justice.
So Hallie and I sat on our porch for over an hour and a half and talked about things I knew and things I didn’t while I fished for that perfect story.
What I did know: she is reading David Foster Wallace’s “Infinite Jest” for fun. It’s a 1,100-page book she describes as a “meta” way to look at and understand the concept of entertainment.
What I didn’t know: her favorite word so far this year is flibbertigibbet, (n): A frivolous, flighty or excessively talkative person.
O’Neill was a renowned “spelling bee star” when she was young, and the friend who always pointed out the misuse or misspelling of a word.
Now, she’s the friend who plans to use her spelling bee background to travel overseas and teach English post-graduation.
“I love the English language,” O’Neill said. “If I can share it with other people who want to learn it, then that’s a privilege and a responsibility I have. I consider myself pretty adept at the English language; I know it very well, and I’m good with it, so I see myself as having some sort of responsibility to share it with people.”
Last summer, after a semester in Rome, O’Neill was an English au pair for a family in Anzio, Italy, meaning she taught two young children English while living with their family for three months.
For O’Neill, studying abroad was about the learning experience. It wasn’t about dressing up for photos with great scenery or spending little time learning and a lot of time drinking, if we get down to the heart of the stigma.
“My attitude was really ‘I want to travel, and I want to see new things,’” O’Neill said. “And I liked the challenge of it — going to a brand new place, alone, and learning the language. That was such an important part for me too, actually learning the language.”
During her summer teaching English to her temporary Italian siblings, O’Neill spent a lot of time learning and practicing her new language, Italian, often having full-fledged Italian conversations with vendors at the downtown marketplace. She describes herself as an “early intermediate” in the Italian language.
While abroad, O’Neill also had ample time to self-reflect and journal; she filled four journals with stories. She also writes to understand her feelings. A lot of those entries are dedicated to reflecting on what it means to be lonely versus what it means to be alone. Finding solace in being alone was a huge step for O’Neill while she was traveling in a country foreign to her.
After a semester and summer abroad, O’Neill admits she hasn’t quite gotten her fix. In the fall of 2018 she will be in Asia, doing a social research and grassroots journalism program in Thailand.
“The whole thing is this giant research project, and that will be so much different than Italy was, which was relaxed, and coursework wasn’t a priority,” O’Neill said. “It will be a big challenge, but I really want this time around to be different. I’m ready to do something out of my comfort zone.”
Here’s a bit of advice from O’Neill and I. Talk to your friends —really sit down and talk with them. Challenge yourself to learn something new about them, and cherish the power of a compelling conversation.