Nervous in New York: My Summer of Self Discovery

I knew all of last year that I needed to spend my summer in the city to escape from the occasionally culture-starved Gainesville. Although I’ve come to realize Gainesville is more than just a college town, it lacks the excitement and beauty of a city, and it’s not exactly pedestrian-friendly. Plus, being here in the summertime is like being a mechanical engineering major: Some people love it, but, to me, it sounds unnecessarily painful.

So starting in October, I began looking for internships around New York City. I found one at the Anti-Defamation League, a large civil rights nonprofit fighting hate and discrimination, and planned to start in June.

After a relaxing but boring month at home, I flew to New York. My aunt and cousin helped me set up my apartment-style dorm in Cooper Square, near the Lower East Side. I started exploring my neighborhood (only in NYC could you stumble upon a giant street fair by accident). I learned the subway system through a lot of trial and error and began my internship, which I really enjoyed. 

New York City sort of demands self-assuredness, which I completely lacked last year. You have to be competent, aware of your surroundings and unafraid to be direct. It can be a little scary — a man followed me off the subway my first weekend there — so you have to be prepared for anything. I learned that putting on a big pair of headphones and just walking straight ahead with purpose helped me avoid weird situations. If someone sketchy walked up to me, it was of the utmost importance to not appear rattled and not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. Instead, my comfort and safety were the most important things. 

You must also learn how to plan your days and weeks. The subway is expensive, so it’s not always feasible to go home and then go out again. The city forced me to be more responsible: I was always thinking through my entire day and making sure I had what I needed, from planning meals ahead of time to budgeting reasonably so I could enjoy myself without going overboard. These are skills I hope to employ back here. Being in NYC allowed me to narrow down what I really, truly wanted to do and then make it happen. 

The city also forced me to just do things. In Gainesville, I often make excuses for just staying home on the weekends. I tend to be anxious and have difficulty planning activities thoroughly, but knowing I had a limited amount of time in this amazing city forced me to go out and enjoy it. I ended up going upstate most weekends, so it really made my weekdays matter.

Instead of coming home and scrolling through Instagram after work every night, I made a point to explore new neighborhoods, looked in every interesting store, tried novelty foods and visited museums. It was often a challenge to keep my anxiety down when I had less rest time than I usually do, but it was also enriching, exciting and made me feel as though I’d made the most of my time there. Just wandering around was a fulfilling and fun experience that brought me to some of my favorite spots in the city.

Becoming a temporary New Yorker was a confidence-building exercise. The city can be overwhelming, exhausting and stressful, but it can also be beautiful and freeing. The ability to just leave my apartment and go on a walk, not knowing what random, cool sights I’d stumble upon, was a privilege I really took advantage of.

Now that I’m back in Gainesville, I hope to apply some of the skills I learned to my daily life, like trying out more activities and planning my routines. Although I wouldn’t trade my experiences this summer for anything, it’s nice to be back in a slower-paced town where I never have to experience accidental rat sightings on the subway.

The best part of the summer was realizing I had these innate abilities the whole time. I used to think that being a New Yorker was like an extreme sport that requires decades of practice and keen directional skills. Instead, I know that even I, a true suburbanite, possess the best New Yorker qualities — it just took a hot and busy New York summer to bring them out.