How New York City Has Surprised Me

How New York City Has Surprised Me

It's not always the glitzy metropolis you see in the movies.
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When I decided to go to school in New York City, my coworker told me I was going to experience culture shock. At the time, I didn’t believe her. Despite having lived in the suburbs my entire life, I had this idea of New York that I thought couldn’t be changed. To me, New York was the backdrop of a rom-com. It was picturesque family-owned bookstores, and ice skating in Rockefeller Center. It was the fountain in Washington Square Park and weekends spent at the Met. I half expected to end up with a designated booth at the local coffee shop, a laugh track playing in the background as my friends and I exchanged anecdotes about our exciting lives in the city.

The first night that I spent here, my roommate and I sat on our window sill, looking out at the Brooklyn Bridge and lower Manhattan. It was breathtaking. Looking at the lit up windows, it was hard to believe that we were actually there. For the first week of school, I walked through the streets with my neck craned backward. I liked to think about the people behind the windows of the skyscrapers I passed. It was hard to fathom that so many people could be going about their daily lives, unaware of each others’ problems. It was exciting to be surrounded by so much human activity. I felt like I was in a place where I could never run out of inspiration. I felt like I was home.

But my feelings swiftly changed that following weekend, when my friends and I found ourselves in the depths of Brooklyn, walking down a street lined with police cars and potholes. The lit-up skies so often associated with the city were far behind us. Now, I was trudging along in my too-tight heels. The road smelled like trash and broken pieces of glass bottles sat in the crabgrass that grew out of the sidewalk. We’d taken a forty-minute subway ride for this? I had pictured Great Gatsby parties in large hotels and bars lit up by flashing, neon lights. I hadn’t pictured stumbling through the cool, smoggy air for a frat party.

Next to me, a girl stumbled where the sidewalk crumbled into the road. I helped her up as her pepper spray rolled in the street. The others debated whether or not we should move forward, or turn back now before we got lost in the labyrinth that was a city unknown. The verdict, in the end, was that we go back home to the safety of the financial district. We took the J train home and, despite the fact that it went over the water, and we got a beautiful view of the skyline, I spent the majority of the ride preoccupied with my aching feet, and my diminishing idea of a perfect city.

After that night, and several more weekends spent walking through the city streets with the subway rats and roaches, it became clear that the city wasn’t the place I had thought New York would be. I became accustomed to the grime, and even began to appreciate it. After all, for all of the nights that my friends and I found ourselves in cute restaurants and model-strewn bars, we spent twice as many roaming through streets that smelt like cigarettes and urine. There was something about it that felt natural. The city wasn’t all glitz and glamour; it was the home of eight million people. It was only natural that sometimes it would stink.

As time went on, I became fascinated with the culture of the city, the way people dressed and spoke. I got a nose piercing, and a tattoo (something I would never have done living in the suburbs), and I found myself sitting on the stoop of the school watching the people that passed by, thinking about how different it all was from what I knew at home. I think that moving anywhere new kind of challenges your sense of belonging.

Suddenly, I felt like I had to choose between the home I’d grown up with and the home I’d chosen. When I came back to the suburbs, there were times where I felt almost disheartened by the cleanly-cut lawns and silent suburban streets. I had gotten used to the grimy, loud, busy cacophony that was New York, and I felt like, after months of assimilating to that culture, I couldn’t be a part of my hometown anymore.

When my friends from home visited the city, they crinkled their noses when the AC vents dripped on them and looked at me through startled eyes when we took the squealing, dirty subway instead of taxi cabs. I was surprised that they didn’t understand. Couldn’t they see? Couldn’t they understand the city was so much more than their romanticized dream?

But of course, it was silly for me to expect this. I had had the same premonitions about the city before living there, and why shouldn’t they be disgusted by the trash piled up on the side of Chipotle on a Wednesday night? Eventually, my infatuation with the city began to fade. There were days when the buildings just felt grey and overbearing. People were no longer stories that needed to be told, they were just people, walking with their shoulders hunched against the rain. It was times like these where I missed the place I’d come from. Living in the city makes you realize- trees are underrated.

So perhaps, I’d think to myself, on days when the city’s horns echoed especially loudly through the narrow streets, my coworker was right. New York has given me a culture shock. Perhaps I’d be better off living in the suburbs, maybe that’s what I was built for. But every time I felt this way, something would happen that would remind me of why I fell in love with New York in the first place. Sometimes it was the sunset at Battery Park, other times it was street fairs, or strangers helping one another out on the train. Sometimes it was people dancing in the middle of Washington Square Park, and other times it was helping a friend lug furniture into their tiny apartment in Brooklyn.

There’s a heartbeat in this city, and I feel it even when my head is tucked against the cold, and steam from the subway grate is crawling up my nose. I try to remind myself to look up at least once a day and take in the buildings that surround me. Just for a moment, I take in the immensity of them and the people that are working away behind those windows, unaware that I ever thought of them or even gave them a second glance.

When I look up at these windows I’m brought back to the first week of school, and I feel inspired and at peace just like I did then. So many things have changed since I started living in the city three years ago, but it still surprises me with its’ beauty. Three years later, I am still happy to call this place my second home.

Cover Image Credit: via Flickr

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To The Girl Who Had A Plan

A letter to the girl whose life is not going according to her plan.
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“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” - William Ernest Henley

Since we were little girls we have been asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We responded with astronauts, teachers, presidents, nurses, etc. Then we start growing up, and our plans change.

In middle school, our plans were molded based on our friends and whatever was cool at the time. Eventually, we went to high school and this question became serious, along with some others: “What are your plans for college?” “What are you going to major in?” “When do you think you’ll get married?” “Are you going to stay friends with your friends?” We are bombarded with these questions we are supposed to have answers to, so we start making plans.

Plans, like going to college with our best friends and getting a degree we’ve been dreaming about. Plans, to get married as soon as we can. We make plans for how to lose weight and get healthy. We make plans for our weddings and children.

SEE ALSO: 19 Pieces Of Advice From A Soon-To-Be 20-Year-Old

We fill our Pinterest boards with these dreams and hopes that we have, which are really great things to do, but what happens when you don’t get into that college? What happens when your best friend chooses to go somewhere else? Or, what if you don’t get the scholarship you need or the awards you thought you deserved. Maybe, the guy you thought you would marry breaks your heart. You might gain a few pounds instead of losing them. Your parents get divorced. Someone you love gets cancer. You don’t get the grades you need. You don’t make that collegiate sports team. The sorority you’re a legacy to, drops you. You didn’t get the job or internship you applied for. What happens to you when this plan doesn’t go your way?

I’ve been there.

The answer for that is “I have this hope that is an anchor for my soul.” Soon we all realize we are not the captain of our fate. We don’t have everything under control nor will we ever have control of every situation in our lives. But, there is someone who is working all things together for the good of those who love him, who has a plan and a purpose for the lives of his children. His name is Jesus. When life takes a turn you aren’t expecting, those are the times you have to cling to Him the tightest, trusting that His plan is what is best. That is easier said than done, but keep pursuing Him. I have found in my life that His plans were always better than mine, and slowly He’s revealing that to me.

The end of your plan isn’t the end of your life. There is more out there. You may not be the captain of your fate, but you can be the master of your soul. You can choose to be happy despite your circumstances. You can change directions at any point and go a different way. You can take the bad and make something beautiful out of it, if you allow God to work in your heart.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Patiently Waiting With An Impatient Heart

So, make the best of that school you did get in to. Own it. Make new friends- you may find they are better than the old ones. Apply for more scholarships, or get a job. Move on from the guy that broke your heart; he does not deserve you. God has a guy lined up for you who will love you completely. Spend all the time you can with the loved one with cancer. Pray, pray hard for healing. Study more. Apply for more jobs, or try to spend your summer serving others instead. Join a different club or get involved in other organizations on campus. Find your delight first in God and then pursue other activities that make you happy; He will give you the desires of your heart.

My friend, it is going to be OK.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Beavers Photography

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Change, Change, Go Away...

Come again some other day!

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Change sucks.

I've gone most of my life convincing others (and myself) that "I love change!"

Or saying "I like to think I'm adaptable, so spontaneity is something I love."

To give you the cold, hard and honest truth: All of that is a bunch of shit. Aside from when I still wore diapers, I have never been more full of shit than when I say these things.

There comes a time in life when we grow tired of our own lies and until that point, nothing generally changes. Except, change sucks, right?

I like when the weather changes from freezing cold to invitingly warm.

I like when someone else changes my sheets for me and I don't have to jump and sprawl my 5'3" body to secure the fitted sheet onto the farthest corner of the bed (which generally ends unsuccessfully).

I really like it when the stoplight changes from red to green (because I have a need for speed).

I even like when someone asks to change seats with me on a flight because the reality is that there is no such thing as a good seat on a flight. If you're on the window, you can't get up easily (but you can rest your head) and if you're on the aisle, you can sit there and get up as much as you want, as long as you don't mind your elbow being taken out from under your head while you sleep every time the drink cart passes by.

The point is, these trivial changes are fine, expected and some can even be enjoyable.

It's the changes that we do not expect, the ones that go against our status quo and our life flow, that knock us off balance and send us into a spiral of confusion, excess chocolate consumption and challenge.

As I've mentioned in previous articles, I am a big believer that all stress is a result of something being different than what we want or expect.

Big changes are no exception to this stress.

The coolest, most amazing, incredibly awe-inspiring part about life is that change is possible. Everything around us, at all times, is constantly changing. Unfortunately, this means that we too are subject to this change.

So, what kind of change am I talking about?

Am I talking about the change in your pocket you thought you lost and then found? No.

After all, nobody likes to lose anything besides weight these days.

And to that point, our bodies are constantly changing too. Our hair, our face, our skin, everything physical about us. These are the types of changes I'm talking about. Our relationships change, our jobs, our friends, our understandings of life, all of this changes. These are the big guys, the "uh-ohs," the "I didn't want to learn another life lesson this week" kind of changes.

However, despite the fact that I am 21 and those of you reading this are a range of ages (which I am so grateful for), one of the many qualities that unite us is that we have all experienced change.

Individuals of all ages experience loss and grief. Death plays no favorites and spares no ages. Physical changes happen to all age groups too. Life changes that alter our emotions and mental states are constantly happening to everyone, at all times.

The last three years of my life have been laden with changes. More specifically, the last six months have mentally worn me out but there's a quote that I keep going back to that my mom shared with me over the summer, it says: "an arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is dragging you back with difficulties, it means it's going to launch you into something great. So just focus, and keep aiming."

If you want to rearrange it, you've got to change it.

My hope is that we realize that we don't have to love change. In fact, we don't even have to embrace it because some changes are just too tough. What we do need to do is hold on and keep aiming and acknowledge the fact that we all are constantly going through changes.

Whether we talk about those changes or not, they're present because they are a sure fact of this wildly amazing life we live. One of the few things that remain constant in this life is the fact that things will constantly change.

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