Why I, a New Yorker, Am Glad I Didn't Go to College in NYC
October 7, 2015
Jules Greene ’19
I don't know if it's because my mother is a born and raised New Yorker (she graduated in the third co-ed class from the illustrious Brooklyn Technical High School), or that both my parents are architects based in the City, but I'm more or less obsessed with almost everything about New York. The City is something I feel incredibly strong about, and whenever I see or hear someone launching a diatribe on New York or the characteristics of its inhabitants, I get personally offended. It upsets me that people think that New Yorkers are like the android replicants of the Ridley Scott film Blade Runner, who possess no capacity for compassion or empathy, when I've seen firsthand the kind of sweeping collaboration and humanity demonstrated in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Sandy, for instance. But I've digressed.
I wanted to go to Barnard College not only because they kept talking about feminism in all of the admissions functions I went to, but their campus is also nine blocks away from my apartment in Morningside Heights, on the West Side of Manhattan. As someone who loves spending time thinking and studying about the history of New York, I thought this would be a perfect situation. I mean, why ever leave the place where my home, and more importantly, my cat, is located? Barnard seemed to be feminist enough, though I hoped their beliefs wouldn't be centered exclusively around white women, and I knew if the school turned out to be oddly a bit conservative for New York, I could always escape to the corners of the City that I know aren't like that.
I was shaking when I submitted my Early Decision application, and I was shaking when I opened up an email a month later informing me that I had been rejected. My initial reaction was that of confusion, I attended their Pre-College Program that summer, then interviewed with them later on, and did everything exactly how their workshops told me to. My internal monologue then got a little angry and a little childish: "Who do they think they are? I bet they've never even listened to Marquee Moon by the band Television! I wasn't alive yet but I still remember the bad times of the '70s and the '80s! They don't know who they're dealing with here, I am the reincarnation of Basquiat!"
I was still at school, so I told an art teacher about what happened, cried a little, and then, naturally, watched Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (a great Brooklyn movie if you've never seen it) and ate pizza. On my way home from school that day I melodramatically listened to LCD Soundsystem's "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" on repeat and felt a little better.
In the end, I'm glad I didn't go to school in New York. Given the proximity of my apartment to Barnard's campus, I essentially would have just stayed my high school self, going to the same record stores and music venues, choosing to go all the way downtown to eat Chinese food with my grandmother instead of using the meal plan, doing the same activities that I've always done. Now that I'm at Oberlin, I wouldn't have to worry about getting annoyed when my classmates didn't know how to ride the subway, or completely had the wrong idea about a certain aspect of New York, or couldn't walk fast enough for me. Knowing me, I would totally do things like decide to go to Brooklyn on a school night thinking that I'll have enough time to do work afterwards, then get stuck between subway transfers, and arrive home much later, and much more tired, than I had planned to.
I realized that you can take a New Yorker out of New York, but you can't take the grit out of a New Yorker. I don't need to physically be in the City to read up on Ed Koch's mayoralty or to even maintain my identity as a person from here. That said, there isn't a day that goes by where I don't crave a dollar slice of pizza, and nor is there one where I don't ask myself why so many students here walk on the left side of the sidewalk, instead of the right. But being at Oberlin has truly made me engage directly with my school community that I most definitely would have circumvented had I stayed in my city, where I would've relied on my own pre-existing knowledge of my surroundings to find something to do. Going to college where some back home refer to as "the middle of nowhere," (which is not true in my opinion, as Cleveland is 35 minutes away and the town of Oberlin has a life of its own besides the college and conservatory) does not mean that there will be nothing to do on campus. Most Friday nights I've found something exciting to attend, so if there are any other New Yorkers or urbanites reading this and wondering how they'll be able to make the transition from city life to suburban life, don't worry. I thought I was going to be constantly looking to go to shows at the Cleveland House of Blues before I arrived, and now I can't really imagine going off campus in order to find something to do. For instance, the local cinema in town, the Apollo Theatre, screened the new Arcade Fire documentary, The Reflektor Tapes, last week (it was fantastic). The idea of a Sunshine Cinema or an Angelika Film Center is not limited to New York or any major city by any means, and as a lady who does film, it's like a gift to me that Oberlin has an institution like the Apollo.
Ultimately, studying and living in suburban Ohio has taught me a few things about New York that I wouldn't have otherwise picked up if I hadn't left in the first place. These things range from the topography of the land (the lack of hills in Ohio makes the wind especially powerful), to the price of a donut or an LP, and I anticipate that there'll be many more to come as the year unfolds. For now, I couldn't be more happy to be here, even if I do miss bothering my cat.