By Connie E, editorial columnist
One month into my co-op, the questions I get the most are, unsurprisingly, “How is New York?” and “What’s it like to live there?” I often find it impossible to answer this question in a few sentences.
New York is so many things to me: It’s the city where I’m achieving my first full-time professional experience. It’s the city that taught me how to be independent. It’s the city that has so much to offer that I feel like I’m missing out even by staying in just one night. In the meantime, the answer can also be incredibly simple: Unlike any other cities in the world, New York is one of its own kind.
Flash back to one year ago. My first real experience in New York was Thanksgiving break in 2016 when my friends and I rented an apartment on Airbnb that looks five times more spacious in the pictures than in reality. “Welcome to city dwelling,” I said to myself at the time, still inundated with the excitement of being here.
I still remember the surreal feelings when I stood in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” at the Museum of Modern Art, when I looked at the reflections of buildings in a peacefully quiet pond in Central Park, when I bought the book “Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York” at the iconic Strand Bookstore, so eager to grasp the love-hate relationship people have with New York. Back then, the city didn’t mean anything more than another tick on my list of travel destinations.
I never thought I could come back so soon, this time as a New Yorker-to-be, which is a title that I don’t dare to give myself quite yet. As I’m cherishing every minute of it, a question that hovers around in my head is whether New York is the real “American” way of living. Many people, myself included, would say no—because 40 percent of the country lives in suburbs, and the majority of my friends grew up in small towns instead of high-rise apartment buildings.
Yet, I still find it compelling to argue that New York does represent the values that are quintessentially “American,” at least to a non-American: Hard work, diversity, inclusivity, individualism and competition. It is the land where millions of immigrants first landed their boats, and today, it flourishes as a result of those people. Without sounding cheesy, New York has been and still is the dreamland where everything is possible.
My dilemma remains unsolved. That’s okay. I’m giving myself time to appreciate New York and its contradictions just as they are. At the very least, by the time I leave and look back, I will still remember the feeling of being so driven and empowered to give everything I can at work and to learn everything—history, music, art, literature, theatre, finance, architecture—and, most importantly, about myself.
Everyone has their own version of New York and the city that they feel they belong. So why would you care about a college student’s musing on living in New York? I invite you to think about the last time that you felt so motivated and driven to work in your city. Oftentimes, we become so zoomed in on our goals that we forget to appreciate the “personality traits” of the city that we live in. After all, tourists will still be rubbing shoulders with New Yorkers who walk like they are all late for work, LED screens in the street will still glow 24/7 and New York drivers still won’t stay patient for someone who runs the red light.