In my mind, I pictured groomed, pristine streets overflowing with fashion-conscious, fast-walking citizens. I’d been to cities before, I knew what to expect—but the moment our cab arose from the tunnel into sunny Manhattan, I was practically in shock. The portrayals I’d seen on television were completely inaccurate, and with the infinite traffic, determined residents, and seemingly endless storefronts I instantly wondered what I got myself into.
Checking into our hotel as the only Americans at the reception desk set the tone for our travels. I no longer felt like I was in America—the various cultures and languages we were constantly surrounded by transported us into some sort of super-country, where nothing or nobody was questioned and everything and everyone was embraced and learned from.
Leaving the quiet serenity of our hotel lobby, we are quickly bombarded by noise and an influx of stimuli on the streets of midtown Manhattan. The aroma of garbage baking in the hot August sun filled the air, and vacant storefronts appeared before me at a rapid pace. I am constantly reminded that this is not the picture-perfect scene I imagined my vacation would be, yet I adapt to the realities that follow a city inhabited by eight million people.
Our first few days are occupied by stereotypical tourist activities– Empire State Building, Times Square, a Broadway show. But soon we adapt into the city’s lifestyle and become more comfortable with our diverse surroundings. A personal favorite of mine was dining in the cozy, yet insanely hectic neighborhood delis and bagel shops offering endless options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The sidewalks offer a never-ending show—a display of our fellow humans whom we walk with side by side. I remain infinitely fascinated by how the city works, and how so many people from so many diverse backgrounds can be integrated into one ginormous community celebrating both their own distinct cultures, as well as the culture of the city they all share. I know I will remain only a tourist from the outside looking in, but I cannot help hoping that someday, I can call this small strip of densely populated land overflowing with new ideas, new places to explore, and new people to meet, home.
The city presents several contrasts within itself. Specifically, this contrast depends upon the serenity of Central Park opposing the fast-paced, vibrant streets that dominate the city. Surrounding the Park are the characteristic honking cab drivers, but walking through the gates of Central Park is like reaching a safe haven. It doesn’t lose its “New York touch”—countless performers serenade us in the Mall, a band plays loud music on a stage, and the opportunity for people-watching is definitely not lost. But just seeing grass and trees is refreshing, and reminds me a bit of my home back in Minnesota.
There are more people in this city than there are in my entire state. I cannot grasp the enormity of it all—the fact that I walked those New York streets remains completely surreal. Sometimes encountering something that has so much hype surrounding it—“The Greatest City on Earth”—can turn out to be disappointing. However, this city did more than just fail to disappoint—it delivered an experience with value still difficult to put into words. I discovered New York is a place where everyone is represented, and everyone can be someone—anyone they choose to be.
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