Cultural Experience | New York City

A Newbie in New York City

How I Fell in Love With the One and Only NYC.

By Sarah Bennett, Muhlenberg College

I’ll admit it: I’m the type who’s a sucker for cheesy, inspirational sayings and words of advice, the kind that tween girls buy on refrigerator magnets and display on their Pinterest boards. I guess I just never grew out of it.

Well, one of my favorites circling around is,

“If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.”

And I think I’ve taken it to heart.

A few months ago, I was offered an opportunity to intern and live in New York City. I was excited and intrigued – and nervous. I had only visited the city a handful of times, barely knew anyone who lived there, and despite everyone vouching for how great it was, I didn’t know if it was the right place for me. When I thought of the city, I could only picture Broadway, an overcrowded bustle of cars and pedestrians, enclosed by mammoth, flashing advertisements, and the Manhattan skyline – beautiful, but imposing, with steel, impersonal buildings that seemingly lacked any form of entrance. I could picture throngs of faceless people, but never individuals. All I could see were the crowds.

And then I moved here for the summer. And I realized, almost immediately, how wrong and absolutely foolish my former image was. To narrow New York City down to a street and a snapshot is ridiculous. And, while New York is a crowded city, New Yorkers do not, by any means, simply “go with the crowd.” It is a city of creative, independent individuals – all here for their own personal reasons, with their own unique stories. And that goes for the different boroughs, as well. While Broadway might be one of the most famous places, it is far from the most important.

sunset new york city imge

How did I ever have any doubts about coming here?

Instead, if you asked me where to spend your time, I’d send you to Washington Square Park, where you could lie in the grass with your face up to the sun, listening to an endless stream of music from talented performers. Or, I’d tell you to go to one of the millions of free events – concerts at Celebrate Brooklyn, readings at secondhand bookstores in SoHo, outdoor movies at Bryant Park. At night, I wouldn’t send you to an expensive club with a dress code and a cover charge (my former idea of New York City nightlife), but to Pianos or The Woods to dance, or to low key bars where beer’s cheap and live bands play in the corner.

Or, I’d tell you to think of anything at all that you personally would want to do, because in this city, anything is possible. The best piece of advice I could give to someone moving to New York is to find – or create – your perfect version of the city. Whether you’d rather spend your time clubbing or at a book club, there’s something here for everyone.

Sure, you’ve heard all this before – and are wondering how in the world it took me so long to get on the same page. (So am I.) But, if by any chance, you’re reading this and the thought of the city overwhelms – or if possible, underwhelms – you, and you’re wondering why everyone always talks about it as if it’s the greatest place in the world; I’m telling you, it’s because it is. You can’t understand how amazing New York is until you’ve actually been here. I know I didn’t. All of the stories you hear and the pictures you see can never measure up to the actual place. You need to experience it for yourself.

A few months ago, the thought of living in this city was nothing more than an intimidating mystery, one that I almost let pass by because of my nerves.

Looking back now, I can’t believe I ever had a single doubt.

I no longer see New York as a series of flashing lights and steel skyscrapers. Instead, I’ve replaced these images with the faces of all of the amazing people I’ve met, and the little, wonderful places we’ve discovered along the way.

And, somewhere between learning the gridline and how to scout for dollar slices at any hour of the night, I also learned how to live independently, how to balance nights out with an internship in the “real world,” night class, and a part-time job, how to get by on an (insanely) small budget, and most importantly, how to trust myself to take new risks and embrace new challenges.

(I warned you that I could be cheesy.)

In a month, I’ll be packing up my bags again and heading to London: a new city, and my new temporary home. I’d be lying if I said I weren’t a little nervous, but I think that only makes it better. This summer, I discovered my New York, and what living in the city means to me. I can’t wait to do the same with London.

Sarah Bennett

Muhlenberg College | 9 stories

Sarah Bennett graduated from Muhlenberg College in May with a double major in English and media and communications. She spent her fall semester studying abroad in London, making her inner English major and Shakespeare nerd pretty pleased - or as her British roommates said, chuffed to bits. She loves writing, good books, theater, and travel.

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