The Lessons We Learn From Traveling: A Week in NYC

A few weeks ago, I had the incredible opportunity to take my first-ever (weeklong!) trip to New York City on account of business purposes, with the secondary focus of sightseeing and exploration: as the Social Media Director for my parents’ tech company I was to attend an annual tech conference that takes place in NYC -- my first ever business trip! -- with the task of covering the conference on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Apart from my responsibilities as social media director (and caretaker for my brothers who were also in tow), I was told my generous freetime could be spent sightseeing and exploring the city of New York for the very first time.

I jumped at the offer in spite of the three days of classes that I would miss, confident that my brief hiatus from the classroom would be worth it in the long run. Because, in my personal experience, travel is not only enriching to one’s studies, but often crucial to them. Mark Twain said it best: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And with Twain’s words of wisdom spurring me to do so, I set out to learn everything I could from the Big Apple during my 6-day stay. Here is what I found:

Times Square

“To love America is to love all Americans. Because love has no labels.” John Cena

After a long day of traveling, we finally arrived at our hotel in Times Square in the late afternoon. Our SUV pulled up amidst the throng of tourists, taxis and New Yorkers, and I stepped out of the car, marveling at the bustle of humanity buzzing around me. I saw suave black men in their mid-twenties, dressed to the nines in suits and ties. I saw leggy, trendy young girls strutting knowingly through the crowds. I saw gaggles of teenagers giggling and goofing off as they migrated across the square. I saw older gentlemen -- white, Hispanic, black, Asian -- stationed outside our hotel dressed in sharp black peacoats, poised to take our bags upstairs. I saw packs of tourists of all ages and creeds taking selfie after selfie as they too marveled at the glowing dome of American consumerism that we had inserted ourselves into.

And standing among this congregation of humanity in the snow-globe that Times Square had become, I realized that diversity is our greatest strength. Humans are humans, and the ones who look differently than you are just as valuable and worthy of good things. This -- I feel -- is a fundamentally significant life-lesson that must be continually reinforced: that humanity is one.

Central Park

Take time to relish in the simple joy of walking. Don’t be afraid to get lost.

On one particular day we -- my two brothers and I -- decided to spend the afternoon in Central Park in order to ensure that Brady (our youngest brother, 5 years old) burned off the hyperactive energy for which he is notorious. Using my phone as navigation, I took us 6 blocks in the wrong direction until I learned that Central Park was in fact north of Times Square; apparently the east-west roads increase in number as you travel north. The more you know, I guess. After our lengthy journey throughout Manhattan, we finally arrived at the park. We spent the next hour and a half meandering the winding paths, playing on the playground, and climbing the rocks. With Brady’s energy properly diminished, we set out on the walk home.

Technically speaking we did literally nothing that afternoon. But it was a marvelous nothingness that made me value togetherness and the joy of just walking. I highly recommend.

Empire State Building & Top of the Rock

The next day we made an early morning trip to the Empire State Building (11 am is early for my family). With mom at the helm, we took a taxi to the Empire State Building to take in some #views. The air was bitterly crisp, visibility at an all-time high with the sun illuminating the skyline for miles. I had never observed such an expansive city. I had seen Chicago and Detroit, LA and Las Vegas, Amsterdam and even Paris. But there was no skyline that had ever come close to comparison. New York… it just captured my heart, I have no words for the brilliance of the city in all its grit and glory. I was simply taken by it.

And by standing in the clear daylight, braving the cold to admire the center of the world as some may say, I was reminded to enjoy the view.

Later that evening, my oldest brother and I ventured off once again to reach new heights and take in those #views. We returned once more to the Empire State Building to take advantage of the day/night passes that we had purchased. The city was even more enchanting in the moonlight. Then we hopped into a taxi and rode the elevators to the Top of the Rock, just to get every possible angle.

I was reminded of my insignificance, and yet thrilled by the expansive concrete jungle that lay before me.

Museum of Modern Art (MoMa)

“The world fascinates me.” Andy Warhol

I am no artistic expert, nor am I particularly apt for artistic expression. But I do, however, get an exceptional sense of satisfaction from perusing the corridors of an art museum. My experience at MoMa affirmed that inherent appreciation for art I possess; as I dreamily walked the halls of MoMa I had no concept of time, no desire to leave or and no restraint to stop gorging my eyes on the works that were all at once so thought-provoking and beautiful. I gawked at Starry Night, Andy Warhol’s “Campbell’s Soup Cans,” and Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.” I was so entranced by the works that my brothers got bored and insisted we leave already (whoops). I left feeling invigorated and curious about the world.

I was reminded that art is a pouring out of the heart, a highly personal method in which we -- as humans -- communicate. I was reminded to always create and to admire creation.

American Museum of Natural History

“The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm.” Aldous Huxley

After our morning escapade at MoMa, we -- the sibling crew -- ate lunch. We had a gametime decision to make: Brady was getting stir-crazy, as he always does right before he needs a nap. We had to either (1) push through his fog and hope that he still had some energy left for the remainder of the afternoon (it was only 2 pm), or (2) throw in the towel and put him down for a nap, more or less sacrificing the remainder of the day to his sleep, as he would probably sleep until dinner time -- effectively ending any further adventures we could have. Together, my brother Zach and I decided that we would make the gamble and take Brady to another destination: The American Museum of Natural History. When we arrived, Brady was absolutely star-struck: as soon as we opened the front doors to the museum, we were greeted by a gigantic dinosaur skeleton that dominated the spacious lobby. He was giddy with excitement to see the entire collection. Our first exhibit at the museum was actually a movie -- we entered a colossal, dome-like theater (built to resemble a spaceship) and watched a documentary narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson about space and the exploration thereof. My brother Zach was completely fascinated with the documentary -- although he already knew most of the material. He was reveling in the documentary, buzzing with excitement that his passions could be admired in such a public forum. After satisfying Zach’s quench for scientific theory and outer space, it was next stop, fourth floor: the dinosaur exhibit. We took the elevator up several floors and exited. Brady inched up to the doorway through which the exhibit stood and peeked his tiny head around the corner: “THE DINOSAURS!” he shrieked. He started to run a little and then stopped himself at the first dinosaur; his jaw nearly fell to the floor as he took in the magnificent sight of an entire room filled to the brim with such cool creatures. He insisted that he personally show me every dinosaur skeleton. We stayed at the museum until close marveling at dinosaurs, gemstones, marine wildlife, and everything else under the sun.

In seeing Brady’s pure and heartfelt reaction, one of unadulterated joy and enthusiasm,  I am reminded that the world (and life) is awe-inspiring. Life is more fun through the eyes of a child. 

Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island

Recognize the sacrifices others made to get you where you are today. Know your history. Practice empathy. Practice humanity.

I come from immigrants; my family is a creation of immigrants. My maternal grandparents were post-WWII German refugees -- they came to this country with nothing, devastated by the war, speakers of German and little English. My paternal great-grandparents came from Ireland and Italy; of their stories I know much less, but the sentiment stands: they had very little and came to this country with nothing but dreams and resolve to make a life for their families in America.

I had the privilege of seeing the Statue of Liberty during my time in NYC. We took the ferry out to the island on a bitter January day -- chilled to the bone but desperate for a glimpse of that beautiful beacon of hope, Ms. Lady Liberty. I imagine that many thousands of immigrants who arrived in the cold grip of winter may have felt the same: desperate for warmth and eager to lay eyes on the woman who lifts her torch beside the golden door.

The poem by Emma Lazarus -- “The New Colossus” -- that stands on the base of the Statue of Liberty brought me to tears, as it embodies the heart of my country -- the reason I am alive and prospering as a second-generation German-American. It reads:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuge of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” I could not be more proud to hail from a nation founded on these morals: compassion, refuge, support, love. 

When we visited Ellis Island that day, my mother insisted on searching the museum’s database for records of her parents’ arrivals in the country. Although we could not find documentation of her father's arrival, we found the manifesto of her grandmother’s 1956 arrival by airplane, with two of her four children in tow. Upon discovering the document, my mother cried tears of joy and gratitude.

Know your history; shape your future.

My America is made of immigrants; my America lifts its lamp beside the golden door.

9/11 Memorial Museum Ground Zero

Remember the fallen: for their service, for their bravery, for their love, for their legacy.

I was very young on September 11, 2001. In first grade, only 7 years old. I have no tangible memory of that day other than seeing burning towers on the news and feeling very sad, mostly because that’s what the adults around me were feeling.

I do not like to feel sad; nobody truly does. But I felt it was important to immerse myself in the utter tragedy of what happened at the World Trade Center that day.

At the memorial's museum, I read about brave fire-fighters and policemen and women; I read about ambitious executives, loving husbands, kind mothers; I read about innocent janitors; I read about so many intricate and beautiful lives that were lost. And I wept.

There are no answers, no solutions, no quick-fixes. Only dutiful and reverent remembrance.

“No day shall erase you from the memory of time.” Virgil

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

On the final day of my stay, I woke up early (again, 10 am, early is a relative term) to squeeze in a visit to the MET before flying back to Michigan. I took my first taxi alone -- big girl moments! -- and rushed up the steps to savor every moment I had in the gargantuan art gallery.

I didn’t even know where to begin in the gallery, and I very quickly got lost, so I decided to accept it and simply admire whatever gallery I happened to land myself in. While aimlessly observing the prints in the Asian art gallery, I happened upon a young girl who fascinated me. She couldn’t have been more than 12 years old, still a great deal shorter than me, and she stood -- resolutely -- in front of an elaborate Japanese print, diligently sketching in her note pad that was nearly as large as she was. She was wholly engrossed in her work, very clearly a student of fine art and diligently so.

I marveled at her for a good minute or two; she didn’t even notice my presence.

I was reminded to be passionate and dedicated; stay in awe of everything because life is so beautiful and so short.

New York City had a great deal to teach me during my very short visit.

Travel is crucial to developing an informed, compassionate, and vibrant view of the world. And while I look forward to traveling the world as I gain more independence and mobility (hey graduation!) in the coming months to see the world as I please, travel has also taught me to appreciate home.

Because Dorothy was right: there’s no place like home. Cherish the people and things that surround you every day; don’t romanticize the rest of the world so intensely that you forget to value everything you have right now, today, wherever you are in the world. 

So whether it's your hometown, your college town, or an exotic new locale, always stay in awe of your surroundings. Be intentional; look for the opportunities to learn from everything around you, and practice a lifestyle that is vibrant, full, exciting and full of curiosity. 

 

Photos courtesy of vernevaronaphotography.com and Britt Boyle.