Updated: Jan 31, 2021
Italicized lines are lyrics from “Snow” by Sleeping at Last.
“The branches have traded their leaves for white sleeves.”
Each day, I am greeted by the trees of Washington Square Park. Amur cork. Green Ash. American Birch. Kwanzan Cherry. Star Magnolia. Silver Maple. Red Oak. Honeylocust. Goldenrain. Locust Black.
Each week, I watch as time passes through their leaves, turning them red, orange, and brown before blowing them to the stone path.
Each month, I reminisce about the golden summer rays of Houston as they turn to black winter nights of New York City.
“All warm-blooded creatures make ghosts as they breathe.”
The wind bites. The frost numbs my hands.
But the cold is merely a distraction, and the darkness merely a canvas for the bursting colors around me.
Neon signs warm the alleyways, trains blaze through subways, and cars paint trails down pathways with their red taillights. The Empire State Building casts a protective glow down 5th Avenue; I can see it from my dorm room window: a beacon for home, a beckoning to the rest of restless Manhattan.
“Scarves are wrapped tightly like gifts under trees.”
During the week, I wade through seas of heather-grey peacoats and plaid scarves, mustard-yellow Tims and distressed jeans as the smell of coffee, exhaust, and cold steam carries me to class.
NYU buildings are scattered around the city, so I’ll walk anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes down 4th Street, 8th Street, Mercer, and Broadway to get where I need to be.
Each day is memorable—I’ll run into friends I haven’t seen in 2-3 years, take a train to Canal Street in Chinatown, watch Madonna give an impromptu performance at the park (this happened the night before the election), or maybe even run into two Breaking Bad actors (go to Serendipity 3 if you want to meet famous people while enjoying a $1000 sundae).
Each night is colorful—I’ll smell halal trucks before I see them, listen to heels clicking to jazz trios improvising Katy Perry, and eat 2 A.M. unagi don, ramen, and Dallas BBQ burgers with sleepless college students on St. Mark’s.
Life in New York is truly a gift, a sensory heaven, a memorable haven.
“Christmas lights tangle in knots annually.”
The Christmas lights at Rockefeller Center are indeed worth seeing, but the ominous mass of tourists swimming around the tree is enough to make anyone’s heart skip a beat. The same feeling washes over me when I stand on the steps of Times Square or in the holiday pop-up shops at Bryant Park and Union Square.
Navigating to the heart of the city, then, means getting tangled in its knots. Finding shortcuts is not really possible, so instead of trying to part the seas, I ride the waves. I make the detours a part of my journey, cruising down numbered streets with strangers swimming alongside me.
In college, too, “shortcuts” have not been an option. I found myself tangled in knots amidst a chaotic schedule. The only way to disentangle myself was to embrace the elusive fluidity and limiting nature of time.
Looking back at my first semester, I can say that time management was both my most valuable friend and my worst enemy. I, like many other freshmen, thought that college would be about exploring everything and everything it had to offer.
But this is only a half-truth.
On top of my classes, I took on leadership positions in two Stern clubs and joined several more, tried a hand at social impact consulting and advisory, performed and competed with two different dance teams, went out for food and sightseeing trips each weekend in the city . . . the list goes on.
I loved and was simultaneously exhausted by it all. I didn’t want to give anything up, but I knew I had to: getting sick four times within 2 months was not okay. It was not healthy. It was my body’s way of screaming expletives at me.
It wasn’t until the end of the semester that I came to terms with that fact. The goal of freshman year should not be to “explore everything and everything college has to offer.” Rather, it should be to “explore everything and everything college has to offer—as long as your life does not turn in an all-you-can-eat buffet in which the plates are piled so high that things start to a) blend together or b) fall off altogether.
Portion control—literally and metaphorically—is what really makes a happy, healthy freshman.
“Our families huddle closely / Betting warmth against the cold.”
I ultimately turned out a happy, healthy freshman thanks to everyone who took time out of their own chaotic schedules to huddle close to me. I am forever grateful for my friends, new and old, who kept me warm this semester, who always made me smile so hard my eyes disappeared into tiny crescents.
“Our bruises seem to surface / Like mud beneath the snow.”
My friends back home know that the Stern School of Business was not my first choice for college. In fact, I didn’t even consider applying for the program until my dad pestered me into submitting a transcript application for NYU after my high school deadline had already passed.
“Just in case,” he said.
The day I received my acceptance letter, I was heartbroken. Not because I got into a school I knew very little about, but because I was rejected or waitlisted by every single other college that had also released its decision that day.
I felt beaten. Scared. Confused.
Was I a failure?
It was hard to hide the bruises.
“So we sing carols softly, as sweet as we know / A prayer that our burdens will lift as we go.”
And yet, it was precisely because I couldn’t hide them that I was forced to face them, deal with them, own them.
“Like young love still waiting under mistletoe / We’ll welcome December with tireless hope.”
And own them I did.
Because looking back at all the crazy, wonderful, sometimes stressful, always worthwhile adventures I have had in just this one semester, I could not imagine myself anywhere else but here.
Call me idealistic, cliché, or hopelessly romantic. Call me all three, because there are times I definitely am. I’ll be them all any day if it means I can stay as content as I am now.
NYU is my school, NYC is my campus, and 35 5th Avenue is my home. This is real life, and I am so very lucky to call it my life.
2016, I waited long under the mistletoe for memories I’ll now always cherish.
2017, I’ll wait with tireless hope for many more.
Elaine and my parents
Wendy Chang, Russell Hardin, Warren Rawson, Rachel Weissenstein, Dwight Raulston, Linda Carswell
Stella, Kelly, Alice, Elizabeth, Zein, Rebecca
Gabe, Lauren, Natasha, Chris, Nancy, Kara
Big Cat, Wes, Sandra, Steph, John W., Steph
Professors Dean, Simon, Laren, Leif
Connie, DK, David, Kathie, Christie, Tristan
Alexis, Alex, James, Weilun, Ben, Joey, Nellie
Jun, Damien, Justin, Torin, Jane
Synchronic (grass), yosfam
Asian Fusion Dance, ICC, Net Impact
House of Movement
Thank you for moving me.