Let’s see how far I’ve come

This summer has been one giant learning experience, and I’m not talking about my internship. As I’ve said before, this adventure has been one part journalism and one part New York City, and 10 weeks in New York City has taught me a lot.

Thinking back to when I first moved in, I’m amazed by how much I’ve learned about New York. I now know every neighborhood and every subway line. It’s hilarious now how confused I was that first week, how I thought I needed to make notes of totally obvious places (for example: Union Square). Today, a passerby on the street can ask me about any area or landmark, and I can confidently tell them what it’s about, where it is and how best to get there. I can give someone restaurant and dessert recommendations, tell them how to get tickets to any TV show or musical and give them a list of great places to go to get out of the city. I can picture the entire layout of Manhattan in my head.

In fact, I’ve come to really love giving people directions, and that’s also because I conquered my fear of the subway. Dominated it, really. I still don’t like the subway and likely never will, but I know every line and where it can get me. Like the neurotic person that I am, I still carry my map with me and often double-check stop locations, but I can almost always direct a tourist to the line they need and the nearest place to catch it. Perhaps because I was so scared and confused myself, at first, I now go out of my way to ask anyone confusedly staring at a map if I can help them, and the look of relief they give me when I tell them what to do is immeasurably rewarding.

My New York knowledge extends to the look and feel of the city, too, which is such a huge part of American pop culture — bigger than even I realized going in. I’m excited that — for the rest of my life, no matter where I live — I will know the setting and context for countless books, movies and TV shows. I’ll recognize buildings and understand references because I’ve gotten to know New York up and down, and that connection is so much fun, something only people who’ve lived in New York understand and something that will be a part of me forever.

Besides the city itself, New York taught me a bit that I’ll apply to the rest of my life. In the first week, I was trying to figure out how best to dress to look like I fit in, until I realized that’s ridiculous. New York is the most diverse place in the world, so no one really looks like a New Yorker. What would that even look like? So, by default — because no one fits in — everyone fits in. I decided a week in that belonging in New York is more of an attitude than any real requirements, and I think that can be said of a lot of things.

New York helped me to get over my fear of talking to people. Since elementary school, I’ve been gradually getting less shy, and I consider myself a pretty outgoing and assertive person, but it doesn’t always come naturally. Talking to strangers has always been difficult for me, but not anymore. When I was confused, the only way out was to ask someone. When I was doing things alone, the only people to talk to were random ones out and about. Nothing bad ever came from striking up a random conversation, and some of my best conversations and experiences came from these people, so now, whether I’m asking for help, offering help, or just making conversation, I don’t hesitate for a second to talk to someone new. I think that can only be a good thing.

More than anything, though, New York taught me that I can do it. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true. How many people have told me that if I can survive in New York, I can survive anywhere? (Very, very many). Well, I did. I didn’t starve or get mugged or get horrendously lost in Queens. Quite the contrary. I thrived in my internship, I made new friends, I lived it up in my free time. People also told me I couldn’t get through all the things I wanted to do, but I proved I can do that, too. I did way more than survive in New York, so I take that as an auspicious sign for the future.

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