Optimizing NYC Life: Making Time to Leave the Bubble

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Morningside Heights is a lovely place to live: the many colleges in the area give it that university-town vibe, it’s safe, there are restaurants, bookstores and parks aplenty, and it’s pretty easy to navigate. But, for us out-of-towners who were lured by the excitement of New York City for our college years, we probably had something a little different in mind, i.e. walking among skyscrapers in Times Square, trying cannolis in Little Italy, and pondering artworks at the Met. Unfortunately, as classes, jobs, and clubs get more time-consuming, reality becomes clearer and getting out of the library and into shows, museums, and cute bakeries is a tough challenge.

That’s why I’m setting a new personal goal for the semester and beyond: to get out of Morningside Heights each week. And I invite every Barnard and Columbia student to take this on as well.

 

Why to Do It

This might sound pretty easy, but for someone like me who’s new to both the city and to college, it requires some thought. How can I justify going all the way to the East Side for some dessert when I know I have two papers to finish before the weekend is up? Isn’t it so much easier to just waste time in JJ’s with my friends and go to a party rather than try to figure out how to get back from Midtown with enough time to finish all my readings?

The answer? Well… yeah, it is “easier” to stay on campus, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have a better experience. Getting away from the neighborhood gives you a break from the stress culture at Columbia and a few hours to clear your head to make you ready to work when you return. Learning the city bit by bit can also help you gain some comfort and make the city feel more like home. Self-care is extremely important, and it goes beyond a midday nap or some exercise; having fun and exploring is a form of self-care you should be thinking about, too!

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How to Get Started

Maximizing your fun off-campus without neglecting your on-campus duties obviously requires time management skills. I’d recommend setting aside the same time each weekend, whether that’s Saturday afternoons, Sunday mornings, or Friday nights. Blocking out a specific portion of time helps make adventures part of your routine, so you always know you have enough time to hop on the subway and go out wherever you desire.

Once you’ve got your time picked out, be sure to plan ahead. As fun as spontaneity can be, it doesn’t always work out. My friend and I once sat on my floor for half an hour trying to think of something to do and came up blank. Also, if you know the hours of a certain museum or restaurant you’re going to hit up, you won’t accidentally show up to closed doors. If you need inspiration, there’s usually some kind of food festival or free event happening somewhere in the city, so you can always start there.

Don’t be afraid to make this time for yourself! I’m all for recruiting a buddy to join on your escapades, but don’t rely on that friend to motivate you to go. Going out solo might not sound super fun, but having some “me time” can give your brain a break and help you gain some confidence and independence. I’d recommend only going alone during daylight hours, and let at least one person know where you’re going and when you plan to get back. Safety first, always!

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The Takeaway

Don’t fall victim to stress culture, and don’t get too caught up in the bubble of Morningside Heights. Creating space in your schedule for exploration - to try new foods, to see a performance, or visit a landmark - makes your week less monotonous, your street smarts sharper, and your college experience a thousand times better. I know for us first-years especially, the sheer amount of things to do is overwhelming, however, the more you expose yourself to what’s out there, the less daunting it will feel.

And, of course, when somebody asks what you did this weekend, you don’t have to admit you spent the entire time either holed up in Butler or binging yet another series in Netflix (even though these are both valiant activities).

 

Still unsure about how or where to explore? Don’t worry; I’ll be back with more installments of “Optimizing NYC Life” to tell you all about riding the subway, how to find out when events are happening in the city, and more. See you next week!

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About The Author

Erica is studying English and creative writing at Barnard, and hopes to write a few novels of her own someday. She's still figuring out life in New York City, but so far she's just glad that the pizza is better here than in her home of Orange County, CA.