Photo: Alice Plati
New York, America’s largest city, where the streets make you feel brand new, and the lights will inspire you – as said by Jay Z & Alicia – is a grand, imposing, behemoth of a metropolis. Its streets shimmer and buckle under the weight of its own sticky humidity in the summer and glisten in frigid winters. It never sleeps, and as Liza Minelli (and later Frank Sinatra) said, “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere”.
Moving to New York can seem like an overwhelming undertaking. Between 2000 and 2010, 2.1 million people moved to New York state— and certainly many of the state’s newcomers were headed for one of the five boroughs. If you’re one of this decade’s next few million, congratulations!Before we get down to brass tacks, take a moment to celebrate. A 2007 American Community Survey found that 45 percent of people under 35—half of America—want to move to New York. You’re one of the lucky comparative few, and probably have reason to celebrate, whether it’s a new job or simply following your dreams. But see if you can finagle employment before you arrive if you haven’t!
I made the daring move myself in August 2010 for a job in publishing. I had vowed over 20 years earlier to move, promising myself that New York was a paradise where little girls could talk sci-fi with LeVar Burton and eat pizza with April O’Neal and the Ninja Turtles. (The Ninja Turtles aren’t real, but I was right about paradise.)
Here are all the things I’ve learned and wish I had known when I prepared to move to Brooklyn, New York. Plus some common sense that works anywhere.
When I interviewed for my job, I told my bosses I could find an apartment in two weeks. I did, but there was a four-day period between trips to the city that I worried I wouldn’t find a place to live. I didn’t know about Couchsurfing and Air BnB yet, which would have allayed my fears. Both sites have been fairly reliable in filling my 15-person house with roommates. Even more so than referrals from previous tenants and Craigslist, which I have also used.
Couchsurfing is a social networking travel site. Designed to offer free housing for globetrotters, the site also has forums for users offering short-term rentals, which have filled my house with tenants from Ireland, England, Colombia, Australia, Austria, Florida, South Carolina and California. Bad hosts are summarily and publicly judged, providing a preview of potential problems.
Air BnB features a similar feedback feature, and the site verifies hosts before the posts go live. The mark-up is high, but you can pay through the site and get a full preview before commitment. Like Couchsurfing, many of my roommates have come through Air BnB, and many short-term roomies have turned into full-time house residents.
Your budget includes more than rent, utilities, and groceries. It includes bar tabs, clothing, happy hours, and haircuts. In another city, that may have been “shopping,” but I live on $40 per week budget—budgeting every penny makes living and enjoying the city much easier and less worrisome. My sister wrote a spreadsheet while I hunted for apartments. I told her that was silly, “My roommates will buy toilet paper too!” They didn’t, and I’ve bought all of the toiletries and cleaning supplies. A year after I moved, I found a bar I loved to spend time in, and suddenly I had two expenses I hadn’t planned on. Include a buffer for unexpected expenditures and adventures—bar crawls with co-workers, broomball games, Thai food with your roommate—and you’ll soon find yourself seamlessly living your dreamy, fabulous New York life.
Of course, meeting new people to share fried pineapple rice with is a challenge in a new city. In high school and college we made friends through forced proximity. New York is home to over eight million people, and all of them are potential future friends. The fastest way to make new connections is to propel yourself forward and start mingling. I’m very shy socially and found myself impelling into the abyss and looking back much, much later.But since New York has everything, it’s not hard to get involved: there are groups, classes, clubs, lectures, and events for everything, from Harry Potter (we have Quidditich leagues here) to home brewing and knitting. Volunteering (Sandy Relief is still underway) and Internet dating—one altruistic and the other less conventional—are also great ways to meet more people.
Sometimes you just need to speak up. Running my mouth is how I’ve formed connections, and most often it’s been at bars, discussing politics or sports. Showing up repeatedly is what has helped me the most, and it’s also helped my esteemed roommate, who has befriended her baristas and found herself the guest of housewarming parties.
Finally, take comfort in knowing that despite its reputation, New York is rooting for you; its people are inherently kind. At a birthday party my roommate threw last month, her friend, a native New Yorker who now lives in Baltimore, rightly declared that because people live here and understand how difficult it can seem, they are more likely to reach out and help.
Making it in New York is easier than it seems when you’re packing your bags, but finding success and happiness still feels like a victory. Don’t forget to revel in the little things too, and you’ll be a real New Yorker in no time at all.