Dear New York
You were exactly what I needed.
These past two years, I’ve been underwater. I remember there was a time I couldn’t believe in who I was or what I could do. There was a time I found all my previous selves repellent, a time I thought people were too much to take, a time I couldn’t trust myself with the smallest things.
I remember there was a time I couldn’t feel.
I was completely out of my element, and I was sure that I could offer nothing new to the table. I was always morose. I was always anxious. I was always lacking in one way or another. I felt like I had no right to be here, that I didn’t make anybody proud. I felt like no matter what people said to encourage me, their words were nice and lovely for a few important seconds, after which the glow immediately faded and I went back to feeling empty. I did not feel significant or relevant or useful. I did not feel I had a purpose.
There are still days that I don’t win. There are still days that I doubt, and days that I can’t trust, and days that I don’t get through. But I think that ever since I came here, they have become less.
They are less because I am finally in a place and surrounded by people with no trace of who or what I was, and the only way to deal with that is to recreate. The only way to deal with that is to find a version of myself that could be here.
It wasn’t comfortable or easy flying 8,000 miles alone for the first time, or living on $5 a week for groceries, or having to walk 60 blocks back and forth to save on subway fare. There was nothing remotely familiar about approaching foreign dignitaries from Malta, Qatar and Malaysia to request interviews, or nervously cold-calling Chipotle and Shake Shack and David’s Tea to ask for pledges, or keeping company with diplomats and doctors from Spain, Thailand and St. Lucia. But I was buoyed by overwhelming kindness, from relatives and friends who knew what it was like to be so far away from home in a culture so different from the one I was used to. And so I learned.
I learned how to adapt, and how to be sure of myself in a place that didn’t care where I was from. I learned how to deal with personalities that I hadn’t encountered before, how to accommodate beliefs and perspectives that I didn’t share, and how to quietly persevere despite how frustrated I might feel. I learned how to see things differently, and how there is so much more to the world than the suffocating box into which I had stuffed myself. I learned how to be more confident, more caring, more grateful.
I thought I couldn’t pull myself out of that rut, but you proved me wrong. You taught me that I could do better, and that I should. You told me that I had a right to be here, and I believed you.
I believe you. I’ve had the time of my life being here, and I’ll never forget it.
I’ll never forget walking through the United Nations’ doors for the first time, witnessing the Phantom at the Majestic, book-hunting at The Strand, seeing “Moonlight” at the Angelika, or looking out over the railing of the Staten Island ferry’s deck. I’ll never forget crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, sitting on the Met steps, listening to Jimmy play The Beatles at Strawberry Fields, learning how to cook Caribbean and Thai food after work, or standing in the freezing cold for a Halal Guys falafel after visiting the Moma.
I’ll never forget being with my flat mates, who nurtured a culture of being supportive, of encouragement, of safe spaces: We talked about things that mattered, and things that didn’t; we shared insecurities and traded reassurances; we complained but we waded through the uncertainty together. We believed in each other so unconditionally. We were all at the crossroads, and we prodded each other gently through it. I’ll never forget the feeling they gave me—that no matter what happens, things will eventually turn out the way they should.
Thank you, New York, because I feel now. And I feel better now.
Thank you, because now there are days when it feels like I can do anything, go anywhere, as long as I set my mind to it. It’s as if the world is near to bursting at the seams with paths and lives that I could pursue, if I chose to. It feels like finding money is an afterthought, leaving home is an agreeable consequence, and facing instability is an adventure. There are days I can leisurely browse through grant requirements, graduate admissions, and managerial eligibilities without feeling my heart sink, and it is embarrassingly effortless to earmark them for the foreseeable future.
Thank you, because I trust and believe in myself again, and being 23 with an entire world of possibility and uncertainty to face, it is the only thing I need.
Thank you, because between your narrow streets and subway stops, your food carts and bookstore aisles, your art galleries and open parks, your museum halls and ferry railings, your bus stations and towering buildings, I’ve found what I needed.
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Kara Medina, 23, is an intern at the United Nations Women Philippine Project Office.
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