The rumors of New York were true when I arrived: it was loud, there were lots of people, and I never felt alone. I had found myself in a new place, one that I was quickly adjusting to, but failed to find a space that felt familiar starting at the NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study.

I began to understand the difference between space and place. No matter how fast you adjust to the nuances of New York, it takes more than just navigating around campus or establishing a routine to truly find your way. Those attempts at finding comfort in the place, do not provide the comfort of space also integral to transition. What space could feel like my own?

Moreover, the freedom of Gallatin excited me before my arrival, but as the semester went on, my excitement became apprehension. Initially, I wanted to study urban design, but now that single discipline felt limiting. What else was I interested in studying? How could those disciplines intersect? 

The space I needed was a favorite park. A place I could go that felt like mine. Somewhere familiar I could revisit time after time. With a class schedule that finished midday every day, my afternoons were often spent alone. My camera was a companion on these trips, as I found myself on new subway lines, in new neighborhoods, and talking to new people.

A man sitting on a gate at Tompkins Square Park
Tompkins Square Park
A person sitting in the sun at a park
Washington Square Park
A couple sitting on a bench at a park
Child and parent walking in a park
A child and parent at the park

The Search

Making a place my space proved difficult. I took photos of everything I saw along the Hudson River Park and Highland Park. Rather than dwelling on my uncertainty, I thought about shadows from the sunlight. I found my way through my camera. I wanted to understand what I was seeing by capturing it, maybe as a way to remember or reconcile with my new environment.

While I was trying to find a space for myself in the city, I also found that my interest in design was interdisciplinary. That is, I wasn’t interested in just focusing on urban design. True, I was interested in each train line, the frequencies between lines, and why some intersected with others. I still looked at the resources of different parks. Why did some had table tennis? Why did others have squash courts instead of basketball courts?

But, more often than not, documenting my experience was more interesting to me than seeing the actual parks. That made me curious about what I could share through my photos. 

Girl reading book in Washington Square Park.
Washington Square Park
Man laying down in grass at park.
At the park
Two feet on a blanket at a park.
Fall in the Park
A man sitting on a bench at a park
At the park

The Reward

Slowly, my city exploration helped me explore my concentration. The anxiety I felt about my concentration dissipated. I knew what I wanted my concentration to be: design as a tool for communication through photography, writing, and graphic design. 

Also, I ended up finding a space for myself—the East River Park. Today, it is very close to demolition and far from what it looked like when I began college. Nearly every day, I ran to the park and did laps around the track, finding refuge near the water and in the comfort of a space that felt like my own.

My Gallatin Arts Workshop, Site-Specific Performance with Martha Bowers, focused on how to create performance/art works that take place outside of conventional venues. My project was about the East River Park, it blended my interest in urban design with photography and video. For another project, I completely focused on design and created The Nothing Project, a combination of graphic design, writing, and photography. 

My Gallatin story is not unlike my peers. The flexibility of Gallatin allows for experience—what happens to help you rethink and recreate your concentration. Gallatin is meant for exploration. Students find connections between subjects in unconventional ways, with trajectories that are meant to zigzag. I find the same excitement in this freedom as I did when I first arrived, pushing me a little farther and challenging myself a little more.

Zoe (she/her) is an undergraduate at Gallatin studying Design. She’s interested in blending design, photography, and writing to produce work through a documentary lens. Intersecting her journalistic inquiry with different mediums of art, Zoe often finds herself working on a range of projects anywhere from small zines to developing her own games. When she’s not designing a new type of word search, she can be found somewhere along the river running or playing tennis at a squash court.