14 Things I Learned During My First Year in New York

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Some romanticize New York, much like they romanticize Paris or London. “I have to go there one day!” they’ll say, or “I have to live the life of a “Friends” character!”.

“I have to fit in by strutting down the street with my to-go cup of coffee in one hand, and a menacing look on my face that let’s people know I have places to be, that I know where I am going, and that I am a big deal – I am a New Yorker”.

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Here Are 14 Things I Learned During My First Year In New York City:

1. The Confidence Is a Disguise

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The truth is, none of us know what we are doing. In the words of Frank Sinatra, “If I can make it here, I’ll make it anywhere”. But that’s the thing, most of us, are only in the process of making it. Most of us mask behind our ever so important and confident exteriors, when in actual fact we secretly unite in this little thing called fear.


2. New Yorkers Have Guts

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“If you still want to live here after six months, you belong in New York” – a homesick New Yorker.

But fear is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s what sets New Yorkers apart, old and new; it’s the courage to even attempt to try to make it here, which turns our fear into adrenaline.

New York City is a land of opportunity, but the misconception is that this opportunity will fall into our hands the minute we step into this city. Life here requires one to expect the unexpected, to be brave enough to go after what you want, and most importantly, to have the ability to endure knock-backs, laugh them off, and keep on going.

3. The City Can Also Be Quiet, Really

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I still get a little offended when people say they would love to visit but would never want to live in New York. The thing is, the people who say this, base their thoughts off what they perceive to be New York – a loud Times Square of a city, morning and night, that is over crowded with pretentiously rude people, and nothing affordable to eat or live in.

To be honest, I used to think in a way not so dissimilar to this. Yes, in many ways, all of the above can be true. But what one learns after being in this city for more than a week’s holiday, is that there are plenty of quiet spots – calmer neighborhoods, deserted book shops, and you can sit undisturbed at any spot along the Hudson river 24 hours a day.


4. People In New York Are Nice, Too

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“My favorite thing about New York is the people, because I think they’re misunderstood. I don’t think people realize how kind New York people are.” –  Bill Murray

People are incredibly compassionate. What appears as rude, is just a social acceptance of not having to talk to everyone you encounter. For the amount of people who live in this city, could you imagine everyone feeling the social etiquette to converse with one another in the subway?

People might give you an angry look if you bump into them and not say sorry, but honestly, they were probably preoccupied with their own problems and places they have to rush to, that it really had nothing to do with you personally. However, the moment you ask someone about their life, or how they feel, people, especially cute old ladies in coffee shops, will be delighted to chat deeply.

5. Things Are Not Necessarily AS Expensive As You Thought

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Things are not as expensive as you would expect. Yes, of course, New York is an expensive city with many ridiculously over priced things, but there are also so many ways of getting around this.

Chinatown has places like Prosperity Dumplings that sell 4 dumplings for $1. If that’s not cheap, what is? And if you take the subway to Target (it’s 5 minutes on the L train), you can stock up on cheap groceries and learn to affordably cook for yourself. There is also an abundance of thrift shops every which little corner one looks.

6. Sleep Is Most Necessary

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Although we all ultimately strive to make it in this city that we have always, or now recently call home, we are also just trying enjoy it day by day. Also, so maybe “the city never sleeps”, but college students sure do, or at least should.

I will never again pull an all-nighter. It’s just too much damn effort, and it’s a great help not having saggy blue bags under your eyes when you, of course, in the early morning rush to class bump into the one person you would normally dress to impress. Sure, I’ll have dinner at 1:00  in the morning, but I will also sleep my minimum 7 hours, thanks.


7. Fashion Is What You Make It

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I expected my style to change dramatically as I adjusted to the fashion scene here. I am inspired everyday by New Yorkers. However, it turns out, that New Yorkers don’t inspire me to dress “like them”, but like myself.

Trends come and go, but one thing that is very clear in this city is that people dress like they want to. On my left I’ll see a blue haired tall guy with a pink bow-tie and leather shoes, and on my right I’ll see a 70 year-old woman with skinny jeans and an elaborate flower-woven, what I can only assume to be, hat.

8. Starbucks’ Are Everywhere, But You Have To Be Ridiculous To Go Into One

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Unless you want to be surrounded by wide-eyed Frappuccino drinkers, maybe try a local coffee house, or even a chain that is uniquely from New York. There are just so many other places you can get yourself a great cup of coffee, but you will never know without stepping away from the Starbucks’ that haunt every corner.

People working in smaller cafés, also just tend to radiate a lot more expertise and passion for that delicious and lucky thing that get’s to touch your lips the first thing in the morning. What or who else could you possibly care for more? Okay, no worries to our tea drinkers. We love you too, you adorable weirdos.

One thing that took me surprise was the way most coffee places close around 6:30 p.m., or latest 8 p.m. Is this not the city that never sleeps? There are a few that do stay open all night, however, but like I mentioned before, sleep is too important everybody.

9. Not All Homeless People Are Scamming You

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Although yes, you should be aware of the occasional emotive story that ends in a plead for a mere $100, the homeless are people too. I learned to not ignore someone’s “Good morning” in hopes for some cash, because people in general do not deserve to be made feel worthless.

I have learned to remember to at least make eye contact, even if it’s a quick head shake or a “Sorry, I don’t have cash” excuse. The worst you can do to anybody is make them feel inhumane, and although most people ignore the homeless, many are very kind, and that’s something I didn’t expect from (apparently) icy New Yorkers.

10. Accidentally Healthy

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Access to food 24/7 is so easy I half expected to put on the pounds as soon as I settled in. Turns out, we walk way more than one might initially realize. Daily walking is better for your health than a power hour at the gym once a week. So, if you’re someone who does both, congratulations! Also, walking is the perfect way to be integrated with this city.

Although taking the subway doesn’t get more New York, ending up from one destination to the next means you miss out on the beauty of exploring the streets. I feel like I already know New York better than my hometown because I’ve committed to walk almost everywhere.

11. You Will Not (Necessarily) Immediately Have F.R.I.E.N.D.S.

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Depending on your situation, friends will come both from random circumstances as well as convenience. If you’re new to the city, and are struggling to find someone you connect with, even though it feels like the people are infinite in number, do not fret. You will find your people.

The best way is to be more active in areas that specifically interest you. For example, if you’re into cooking, join a club or class and, boom, there’s some people you have at least something in common with.

My friends are mainly coincidental. I met my best friends through a random array of other people, but I really think similar auras end up finding each other in the end, and even if not, those people who are so different from you are perfect to learn from.

12. Time Flies

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Summer is hot, first everybody loves it, then they complain about it, then all of a sudden it’s fall and it’s back to work or school, until whoa! it’s October next week which means Halloween is coming up, and before you know it, it’s already Thanksgiving and – bam – hello Christmas.

My theory of why time seems to go by so quickly is because we are constantly distracted. Due dates, city events, trying to make time to see that one friend you haven’t seen in weeks, and then also trying to find me-time, all make days, weeks and months soar by. But hey, time flies when you’re having fun… Right?

13.  Never Go To Times Square, Ever.

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The only good time to go to Times Square would be at 5 a.m. where the least amount of people will be roaming around, although even then, mysteriously, it’s always busy. Not only is everything around Times Square busy and full of tourists, it’s expensive.

14. It’s The Greatest City In The World

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“One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” – Tom Wolfe

And finally, I found myself loving and feeling like I belonged here, more than I ever expected. The city is a home for people of all different backgrounds. New York has this way of making you feel like you’re apart of a community, even if everyone behaves more independently than most cultures.

However,  I definitely also learned, that New York is not for everyone. It is a city where everybody will at one point feel loneliness at least once if not many more times. But then again, something has to make up for us being allowed to be a part of this incredible city.

This article was written by a regular Big Appled contributor, Ilona Tuominen.

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