I visited New York with my family for a two-week vacation when I was 12. New York spellbound me upon arrival. Venturing on the subway from bustling Queens to Manhattan felt like a scene from a movie. My sister and I glanced up at skyscrapers in astonishment, squealed at celebrity sightings, and gleefully accepted fliers from street performers ushering us to see the latest show – all while avoiding the hustle and bustle of business people on-the-go.
A close family friend and NYU alum gave us tour of the city and the University. I can’t say my pre-teen mind grasped his academic jargon, but I was captivated by his passion. And despite my family moving to Florida from New York when I was only three, I felt a kinship to this eclectic community of people. We spent our last night in Times Square, riding the enormous Toys ‘R’ Us Ferris Wheel and I returned back to Florida with one lingering dream – I had to go to college in New York.
I wish I could say this introduction led to the hit-show, The Thrilling College Adventures of Dash in NYC, but at 12 years old, I didn’t know what college had in store! Still, in 2013, I was accepted into an Masters Program at the NYU School of Professional Studies. I soon discovered that navigating New York as a tourist is far more idealistic than inhabiting it. The reality is, I’d barely left my comfort zone, even though I had already spent 4 years in college.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There were plenty of amazing moments, like meeting Lin Manuel-Miranda at the NYU Bookstore, or Beyoncé’s concert chair-maker at a Ukrainian restaurant in the East Village. But I had also taken my hometown lifestyle for granted – driving my own car, a washer and dryer in my home, wearing flip flops all year round, and yes, grocery trips to Publix (where shopping really IS a pleasure).
Even the new landscape left me #shook. South Florida cities are built outward, but New York cities are built upward like a Tetris game. For all its astounding beauty, it felt disorienting to navigate around neighborhood blocks.
But it’s been 6 years since I moved to this concrete jungle, and I confidently call it home. However, there are few things I wish I’d been told about pursuing a college education in New York before my plane touched down, and a few pieces of wisdom I’ve collected along the way.
1. Patience is not only a virtue, but a necessity.
It is no simple task to move to a new city, navigate adulthood, and pursue a college degree. You may get lost on the subway, sit in the wrong classroom on the first day or feel like you’re not making friends, but you will eventually figure it out. I know this because these were all my own experiences. It’s easy to place pressure on yourself, but there’s no timeline for adjusting to a new way of life. Give yourself a chance to make mistakes and learn from them.
I have a 5-minute “buck up” rule. Vent, cry, complain, explain for 5 minutes, but once that time runs out, “buck up” and find a solution with a clear, patient mind. Also, don’t assume the person next to you is doing better than you are. Trust me, we’re all trying to figure it out! Cut yourself some slack, especially on rough days.
Side-note on making friends: Finding your squad may be non-traditional. While I didn’t bond with my classmates, I found friends like no other at my work study job at the NYU Bookstore!
2. Pursue as many passions as you want, unapologetically.
And I do mean YOUR passions. It might feel over-eager to join organizations, or extracurricular activities your first semester, but college is about discovering who you are outside of pre-conceived ideas. In college, I spent a lot of my time subscribing to the expectation of others, versus my own. So in graduate school, I did the opposite. I interned at the Broadway League, freelanced with start-ups and even worked at a Himalayan-Buddhist Art Museum. Some were hits and others were misses, but none were regrets.
NYU is in the middle of a buzzing metropolis and there are numerous benefits to that. Don’t limit your learning to a college classroom and don’t measure your dreams by the limits of others. If there’s a project you’re interested in pursuing or a cause that you believe in, blaze a trail or find like-minded leaders to explore an area of interest with.
3. Put your mental health at the top of the list.
College can be stressful in general, but New York can take it to the next level. Case-in-point: I went from driving my own car to sharing my personal space with 8 million people on public transportation. At times, it may feel exhausting to balance classes, work, internships, and relationships. You’re bound to pick up someone’s bad energy or get a short fuse. And you may feel like you’re in over your head.
All those feelings are valid, and should be acknowledge before moving forward. Take full advantage of mindfulness resources on campus, including counselors who are available to help understand your state of mind. Prioritize making time for yourself, create healthy boundaries and a self-care routine. Which, by the way, doesn’t have to be in the form of hot yoga or meditation. My happy place is a movie night at the Alamo Drafthouse, accompanied by my favorite date, bottomless popcorn.
4. Penny Pinching is not a fun idea, but it’s a good one.
Even with a meal plan and on-campus housing, New York isn’t cheap to live in. While there’s a lot worth saving your dollars for, from concerts to museum exhibitions to sample fashion sales, you’ll thank yourself down the road if you create a budget and learn to stick to it.
Achieving disciplined purchasing habits felt tricky for me at first, but over time I’ve learned how to find incredible free outings around the city and its surrounding boroughs. Plus, as an NYU student, there are plenty of savings available to you in retail stores, coffee shops, restaurants and even on Broadway show tickets! Save your coin and learn about financial literacy.
Side-note on investing in the right things: If you’ve never experienced a winter season comparable to Frozen, one thing worth spending your money on are quality jackets, gloves and boots. You’ll thank me when you realize looking cute in the snow is only meant for Elsa.
So you might be feeling a bit... overwhelmed at this point.
That’s fair, because college can be overwhelming at times. There were moments where I wondered if I was cut out for New York. But here’s the thing. That’s perfectly normal. Teetering between ambition and doubt is a natural part of moving somewhere completely new, whether you’re from across the globe or a 3-hour flight away!
So the last piece of advice I’ll share is this: Don’t lose your sense of wonder as you navigate this new home. I’m reminded what attracted me to this concrete city every time I host a friend from Florida. It was New York University. It was a college that embodied diversity, eclecticism, and evolution in its people and its mission.
I truly can’t predict how your college experience will turn out, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I could tell you if that’s true or not, but that’s up to you and New York, New York.