I grew up in Florida; quaint, suburban Florida. I moved to Union City, New Jersey during the summer before my freshman year of high school. The culture shock was INTENSE, but I am so happy I got to live there, before moving back to Florida.
I have compiled a list of 11 things that I learned from living in the second most densely populated city in the United States. In the 2010 census, there were 60,455 people within 1.007 square miles in Union City. Guttenberg, NJ is number 1, which is a city right next to UC, so it all kinda counts as one right?
Here we go!
1. If you run out of room to build, BUILD UP!
My high school's football field was on the roof of the enormous four-story building. I like to watch people's reaction when I tell them that I attended football games and sometimes had gym class on the roof of my school. This is not a common thing in most schools. People, especially fellow Floridians who have never lived in a city, are usually shocked to hear about UCHS's odd placement of a field and are very impressed when they actually see it. Roosevelt stadium can fit up to 18,000 people, which is greatly needed in such a populated place! It is pristine, has the school logo and mascot engraved on the grass, and has a view of the Manhattan skyline.
2. How to walk (Part 2)
I believe that you take your first steps twice in life. Once when you are a tiny toddler getting ready to venture out into your living room for the first time, and once more when you walk on a snowy/icy sidewalk for the first time. I had never seen snow before I moved to UC. I remember the first day it snowed during my freshman year. I was in the cafeteria with my friends getting ready to step out of the AEA (Academy for Enrichment and Advancement) building to walk one block across to the main high school for my geometry class. I stepped out with them and immediately resembled Bambi trying to walk on ice. I tried my best not to slip, which meant I had to walk much slower than all my friends, who were very amused by my inability to walk on the slushy white snow.
3. To appreciate the SUN
Living in Florida my whole life caused me to take the sun for granted. I grew up thinking the sun was out most of the time everywhere else in the world. Once winter fell upon UC, the sun went on vacation. The skies matched the color of the snow, and often stayed that way for days, weeks, even months, until spring came around and the skies were finally blue, and my body could absorb vitamin D again.
4. How to walk everywhere without getting tired
In UC, my step count would almost always surpass 15,000 steps. No, not because I was a fitness guru during my time in the city, but because I was an average citizen. I walked everywhere. I walked to school and up and down the million flights of stairs in school, I walked to the store, I walked to the movies, and to visit friends. The only times I can remember riding in the car were when my friends or family and I would go to the mall, which was a city over. I took buses to NYC and walked nearly everywhere else. My legs were extremely toned and I could walk for miles without complaining. Now that I'm back in Florida, driving is the norm. Kids here get their licenses when they are freshman or sophomores and drive everywhere. My friends and I did not learn how to drive until senior year (some still haven't learned) and that is okay because it is not vital up there. Now, I walk a mile and want to cry. I took my fitness for granted.
5. How to dress for the seasons
Let's face it Florida, we have no seasons. Yes, northern Florida gets slight seasons, but nothing can compare to living in the north and having to face mother nature at her extremes. I had never owned or worn a winter coat before moving. I never wore boots or scarves, or gloves. Once I was up there, I bought all these things and created outfits for each season. In the fall, I would wear light jackets because it was always breezy, but never too cold. In the winter, I would BUNDLE UP, because bronchitis is not cute. I would wear multiple layers and a cute pair of boots.
Once the sun began to peak through the sky in the spring, I would watch everyone at school basically rip off their winter apparel and wear light cardigans and jackets again, because spring mornings are pretty cold, but spring afternoons are blazing hot. In the summer, I learned that you will burn if you wear anything more than shorts and a tank top and forget sun-block. Summers in Jersey get HOT, not humid hot like Florida gets, but HOT; blazing, and unforgivingly HOT. I sat outside for 10 minutes once and got a sun-burn on my legs. Never again.
6. To love soft serve ice cream
Ice cream trucks were always stationed around the city during the spring and summer months. I remember buying chocolate and vanilla ice creams and being so satisfied with such basic flavours, because of the soft, creamy texture they had. I have yet to find a place here that sells ice cream like the ones sold in those trucks. My little brother mentions the ice cream on occasion. He vividly remembers our summer days eating the cones even though he was very young at the time. The ice cream was a trademark of the city that I miss every time I am craving ice cream on a hot day (nearly every day in Florida.)
7. The beauty of SNOW DAYS!
Hurricane days are common down here, and they're okay. You get time off school and work, but you also have to deal with the possibility of having your city destroyed (not fun at all.) Snow days are not scary. No one is getting in fights at the grocery store to get the last gallon of water. Snow days are very relaxing. You get to stay at home, watching the flakes fall outside your window as you drink hot chocolate and catch up on homework. They happen on occasion from December-April and are always a nice surprise. Yes, going out in the snow the next day is awful. I will never enjoy the snow in UC because the streets get even more crowded and the snow turns dark, but the snow days (pre-snow trek) are always enjoyable.
8. How to manage my time and how to study
I had a love-hate relationship with the academics in UC. They were rigorous. It seemed like I always had work to do. I never really had a second to sit back and feel completely relaxed, because the workload was intense every year, and only got worse as the school years went by. The amount of work I had to do led me to learn how to manage my time. I learned how to efficiently get my work done and have time for clubs like Mock Trial, which took up as much time as my school work did most days. The difficulty of the subject matter led me to learn how to study.
This is such an important skill to have for college and is a skill that I've seen many of my friends from here struggle to attain. I know that a lot of schools here had blocked schedules, meaning the students would not have every class every day, so they had more time to complete each assignment. My school ran on a 9-period schedule all day every day. My work had to be done for each class the very next day. After a while, you learn to handle it. It was not easy but it was worth it because I am better for it now and know how to study and complete my coursework.
9. To appreciate architecture
The Manhattan skyline is extremely aesthetic. I could see it from the top floors of my school, from the stadium on the roof, from a park called, Boulevard East, and down the street from Carlo's Bakery (home of TLC's Cake Boss) in Hoboken. I marveled at the picturesque sight of that many buildings being sustained alongside each other. There are so so many. They are all magnificent. I remember how incredulous I was when we first drove up to the area and I began to see the faint shadows of the city. It is a designer skyline that looks majestic during the day and glows brightly at night. I had never really appreciated architecture before living here. After seeing the endless amount of buildings across the Hudson River, and seeing such historic ones like the Empire state building lighting up in different colors on each holiday, I felt insignificant and awestruck.
10. That cultures vary everywhere
Florida is a state where nearly everyone drives. There are not many places where you can go and just walk around a city. UC is a city where everyone walks, and I guess this causes people to be more friendly, even though life is a lot faster paced. I walked around the city with my dad a lot of times and he would just start talking to people, and they wouldn't look at him like he had 3 heads, like people often do here if you randomly start conversing with them in the street. There is a much more people friendly atmosphere in this city. I learned that not all places are like Florida and got to experience just how different they can be. New Jersey does not have Publix stores, but Shop Rite has a large gluten-free food section and Rite Aid is my now my favorite pharmacy.
11. That even though things are different, they can be good
I was nervous to start a new school in a place I had never been to and knew nothing about. I was scared to venture out into a city that was so crowded by people I believed I had nothing in common with. It was daunting to leave the sheltered suburbia I was used to. I was wary but years down the line, I got to have some of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. I met incredible people, became best friends with some gems, got to be a part of a team and do something that I ended up loving (mock trial), was taught by selfless, well educated teachers and coaches, changed my outlook on many aspects of life, and can now say I have lived in the second most densely populated city in the United States.