- After the immediate excitement of landing in a new place, it's very normal to miss your home campus in your first weeks studying away
- Stop and notice the little, magical things about your new city
- Don't be shy! Play tourist with your new classmates
“Just a small-town girl, livin' in a lonely world. She took the midnight train going anywhere...” – "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey
Only for me, on my trip to study away in NYC, it was the early morning flight across the ocean – actually, two flights.
Having arrived at the hustling and bustling JFK, I was overwhelmed by a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I guess all the best things come from a fusion of those two feelings. I took a cab into the city and could not believe that my next four months would be spent amidst skyscrapers and fire escapes. It was only when I arrived at my residence hall that my exhaustion caught up with me. Feelings of intense fear and a hint of imposter syndrome washed over me. Looking back, I know I was just scared to be in such a huge city, more or less all on my own.
But, for the past two weeks, I cannot stop being grateful to be in this beautiful city. I step out of my building and suddenly my face is adorned with a smile and my life gets a tiny bit sweeter. In the lines that follow I will tell you how to get from point A – fear and anxiety – to point B – an inability to withhold excitement over feeling like a semi-New Yorker.
In short, how did I make this huge, sometimes uncomfortably cold city feel like home?
Goodbye, Abu Dhabi. Hello NYC.
A year and a half at NYU Abu Dhabi have allowed me to feel like both the city and the campus have become my home. One key element of that process was a coffee shop. I had always been my most productive self while working amidst the hustle and bustle of a café.
Whenever I moved around, my first instinct was to look for my working spot that would host my essay-writing sessions, my mornings of meetings, plus my casual cappuccino-sipping days. There was one place back home in Moldova, one in Tbilisi where I spent my high school years, and, finally, in Abu Dhabi. (There, even the baristas started feeling like family after a while!)
However, New York posed a problem. The more places I tried, the more upset I became. It would either be the “no laptops” policy, the lack of bathrooms or WiFi, or, if I were to be very picky, the poor lighting. I started to fear my dream of finding that one perfect coffee shop was going down the drain.
Then I Realized...
…that having a coffee shop was part of my routine. I needed a similar routine while constantly having to change addresses. My routine was basically going to the gym, strolling around or visiting certain cultural sites, and, as you might have guessed, finding the one place for all my needs – conversation, relaxation, and work.
A lesson I learned from being in New York is that routines have to be adaptable enough so that we do not crumble under the pressure of the unfamiliar.
For me, that adaptability had to come from being flexible enough to move through cafés rather than have one particular one. I also had to learn to see the beauty in exploring various gems of caffeination across town. It was also a lesson to enjoy my own space a bit more. For me, it was a learning curve to start enjoying my own desk, far away from the noises of an espresso machine and people’s chatter. I found that comfort by getting myself flowers and setting them up on my table. Or, sometimes I’d go on a quick stroll for my daily cup of oat-milk latte, get it to-go, draw the blinds open, and play my favorite Spotify playlist. These practices were so simple yet so rewarding.
Your routine might look different but at its core, the idea remains – the fear of change is just that, a fear. Once you identify ways to personalize any changes in your life, they will no longer seem so dreadful.
It’s the little things…
Another lesson stemming from this is to make the conscious choice to notice and appreciate the little moments. For me, it was taking time for myself and learning to appreciate my own company. I came to New York largely by myself, since most of my sophomore friends from NYU Abu Dhabi made the choice to study at other sites this semester. It terrified me at first. But the more I spent time on my own, the more I saw it as a beautiful invitation to get to know myself better. I would take my book and read at the park, watching squirrels rummaging through the heaps of leaves on the ground, going around bookstores just to explore the city.
However, the need for socialization was bound to kick and when it did, I learned not to be afraid to reach out to other students in my classes. In Abu Dhabi, everyone knows everyone. We do not have to make plans, we can just meet up on the Highline and decide to get dinner together. In New York, intentionality is key. Surely, the fear of rejection is valid but, more often than not, other people go through the same anxieties and fear as you.
It takes a while to get out of the mindset that everyone is either criticizing you or would not want to talk to you in a million years (especially in a city like New York, popularized for inspiring people into career-driven and egocentric individuals). When being on my own started feeling like loneliness, I would tell the voice in my head to “take a break” and send that text to the girl I talked to in my class, or that New York-based friend I have not spoken to in months. Guess what? It has always paid off. I encourage everyone embarking on a similar journey, to practice disregarding that little voice in their head.
Fast-forward to the Present
It has now been several months since I came to New York as a petrified student whose entire world was about to change: from her daily routine to her social life to her academics. But now, sitting in Madison Square Park, writing this article, I look up and see the Flatiron Building to my left and the Empire State building to my right. And I am so happy. Life is good in New York City!