Goodbye, New York

I flew out of London on a grey and drizzly September evening, and arrived on a warm and clear New York afternoon, almost exactly one year ago. The skyscrapers towered overhead, the sun shone down and the city was teeming with people, spilling out of cafes and bars. It felt so alive, so sophisticated, so energetic, so full of possibility. All of the buildings reached high into the sky; symbols of hope, prosperity and ambition. Within my first few days, I had come to understand why New York is known as the city of dreams; it offers unlimited opportunities to make something of yourself, to try new things, to make new friends, to achieve career success, to grow in confidence and to become the person you always dreamed you could be. People flock here from all over the US and the world, seeking the magic of a city that vibrates with possibility. Some are broken by it, and soon make their retreat; others thrive and make it their home for life. Some, like me, are only temporary visitors, but in a year plenty of that magic has rubbed off on me. I came here dissatisfied, disappointed and discouraged. My twenties were not shaping up as I had hoped. My job bored me, the area of London I lived in bored me, and I was terrified that nothing would ever change. Stuck in a rut of mediocrity, I decided New York would be the answer to my prayers. I packed two suitcases, boarded a plane and took a giant leap of faith that what I would find in New York would be worth the risk of leaving everything and everyone I knew and loved behind. One year on, I am delighted to say that categorically and unequivocally, it most certainly was. New York has given me back the joy in life that I had lost, and it has given me a confidence I never thought I would gain. This city has been the making of me!

At first glance, New York is overwhelming and intimidating. Everywhere you go, skyscrapers loom over your head, people push and shove, voices chatter, neon signs glow, a ridiculous range of shops tempt you, smells either entice or repel you, sirens wail, horns blare and you are sucked into a constant whirl of noise and stimulation. Everyone looks purposeful; coffee in one hand, cell phone in the other, they charge you down as they walk at high speed down the pavements. As a newcomer, it is incredibly difficult to comprehend how you will ever even begin to adapt to the pace. However, slowly but surely, you do. The horns and shouts and chatter become background noise, you soon find your own phone and coffee welded to your hands, you roll your eyes and sigh at confused looking tourists who get in your way, you perfect the zig-zag method of crossing the street in order to avoid any period of waiting at stop lights, your patience levels decrease until it becomes physically impossible for you to wait more than thirty seconds for anything without becoming irate, and somehow your legs move twice as fast as they used to as you too develop the walk of extreme purpose through the streets, striking fear into the hearts of all tourists and newcomers who make the mistake of coming across your path. The day I knew I’d become a New Yorker was when I had to wait more than five minutes for a coffee in Starbucks. As I felt myself irrationally becoming furious at the delay to my day made by the incompetent employee who dared to take more than five seconds to make my drink, I had to laugh at myself. In London it wouldn’t have occurred to me that five minutes WAS a long time to wait. In New York, if you’re not ten minutes early, you’re already late. In an environment like this, you have to toughen up, or get left behind!

It’s been a whirlwind of a year. As it comes to a close, I am absolutely exhausted. Every day and night has been filled with work and social activities, and every weekend I have used to either explore the city or its environs. New York has enchanted me at every turn; from the cobbled streets of the downtown villages to the brownstones of Harlem, from the shady walkways of beautiful Central Park to the breathtaking views from the riverside walkways either side of Manhattan island, New York has provided endless opportunities for discovery. I have coped with everything this city has thrown at me; I have battled through a blizzard, endured 110F humidity, survived an earthquake and weathered a hurricane. I have experienced Hallowe’en, Thanksgiving and Independence Day. I have learned to say yes; to dare to try new things, to be brave, to challenge myself, to embrace difference and change and rejoice in it. I’m not content to sit back and let life go past me anymore. I’m not content with allowing myself to believe that I ‘can’t’. New York encourages you to look up, to aim high, to believe in the infinite possibilities of life. Its whole architectural construction cries out for you to reach for the skies.

I love this city. It has been everything I dreamed of and more, and it will forever be written on my heart. I have so many incredible memories of the time I have spent here that I will treasure for the rest of my days. I am so grateful for the opportunity of living here; it gave me exactly what I needed at a time when I was desperate for my life to change. However, at heart I am a Londoner, and British to the core. I will never truly be at home in New York, as much as I adore it, and amidst my sadness at leaving behind this incredible city, I am also filled with excitement at returning to the place where I was born and where I grew up, to where my accent doesn’t mark me out as being different and where people know how to form an orderly queue. I’m excited to go back a changed person, willing and able to live my life to the full and exploit all of the opportunities London has to offer. Every end is a new beginning, after all, and I am thankful for the new beginning that New York has given me the ability to enjoy.

So goodbye, New York. Thank you for giving me the time of my life!

I will be travelling for the next few days and am flying back to London next week. I start my new job straight away so I might be out of action for a couple of weeks while I get settled. See you soon!

63 comments

  1. I just recently found you and have been enjoying your posts. Your farewell to New York gives me a different way of looking at it. I don’t know that I will ever visit it and I’m pretty darn sure at this point in my live that I will never live there, but you illustrate well the reasons for the love and attraction that this city draws from people. I hope you have a smooth, easy flight and transition back into your London world. It might be a little tough at first, or then again it might feel like you are pulling on a very comfortable pair of old leather gloves. Safe journey.

    1. Hello and welcome, Barbara! I’m glad you’ve found me! New York certainly isn’t for everyone but I’m pleased that you can appreciate it even if you don’t have any particular desire to visit.🙂 Thank you very much – I anticipate slotting back in but I have no doubt it will be a little strange at first!

  2. A lovely post, Rachel. I have really enjoyed reading about your experiences in New York over the last year and I’m so glad that you got everything you hoped for and more out of the experience. Safe travels and see you in a few weeks!

  3. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have shared all this with you, Rachel. Who could have made better use of the fabulous opportunity and who better than you could have described it all with such eloquence and good humour? Thank you!

    I envy you returning to England. I know just what you mean. All the best for your return!

    1. Thank you for your such lovely words, Chrissy – I am so grateful to have you as one of my readers! I’m glad I have entertained you this year!

      I think no matter how happy you are where you end up, there really is no place like home. Thank you🙂

  4. Rachel, you’ve given America as much as you will be taking away, with your enthusiasm, ambition, and joie de vivre. I’ve loved reading your travel posts; I wish you could see London with the same “foreigner’s eye” so that I could continue to enjoy the freshness of your vision! Best of luck with your new job. I envy you, going back to London – have a cup of Costa coffee (white) for me.

    1. Oh Mumsy, you are too lovely! Thank you so much! I think I will go back to London with fresh eyes – being away made me realise how little I had ever stopped to truly appreciate it. So I hope to bring a new perspective even though it is my home town. Thank you – I will!

  5. Beautifully expressed, Rachel. As all your posts have always been. I definitely think that this should be part of the introduction to the book you will write. The book you must write.

    Thank you for sharing all your experiences, observations and photos with us, and for taking us all along on the brlliant journey you’ve been on this past year. New York will always welcome you back, with open arms – of this I am certain.

    As is said here as you head out for home, slan abhaile!

    1. Thank you June, you are so lovely! I fully intend on having a go at writing a book so we’ll see…

      Thank you for sharing it with me and for being such a generous and interested reader. I hope you get to come back to your beloved home city one day soon.🙂

  6. Well, Rachel – this is the beauty of the internet, and particularly, blogging; that you will come back soon to this space, and things will continue even though you’re living across the pond!
    I’m sure your family are glad you’re coming back.

    1. Indeed it is, Lisa! I am looking forward to having a new place to write about. They are – and I am glad too – I have missed them all very much, especially my little nephews!

  7. I’ve been following your entire New York adventure, Rachel, and your post today was such a lovely and loving farewell to a city that gave you back your spirit (though, I do believe it was always there within). Reading about your explorations and discoveries of that densely populated and incredibly varied isle of Manhattan and beyond have been inspirational. With open heart and mind, you faced the overwhelming and made it yours. You are quite the lady in my book. I can’t wait to watch what happens next! All the best and safe travels. Cate

    1. Thank you, Cate – how kind you are! I am touched and flattered and very thankful for your words – I am so glad you have enjoyed my adventures and that they have been an inspiration to you. I hope the next phase of my life doesn’t prove a disappointment!

  8. Hy Rachel
    I have really enjoyed following your blog. I hope you continue it once you settle back in London and your new job. good luck with that. Don’t forget to let us know when we start reading Persuasion? I hoping to get my copy over the weekend now that September is here. Have a safe trip home. Thanks for all the New York news. I have never been but through your blogging it feels like I know it now.
    thanks Rachel
    Nora
    Ireland

    1. Thanks Nora – don’t worry I most certainly will be continuing, it will just be nice photos of London rather than New York! I am going to start posting about Persuasion on the week of the 18th so any time around then is fine. I look forward to your comments! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed experiencing a bit of NY through me – hopefully you’ll get to see it yourself one day!

  9. Hope your few days of travel are fulfilling and restoring. Best wishes on your move. Somehow I think London will seem quite different on your return, if you dedicate to it the same adventuresome sense of discovery that you marked your sojourn in New York.

    1. Thank you Liz – I’m going to be in Washington with two of my dearest American friends so I am looking forward to some downtime with them in the sunshine. Oh yes, I think so – being away from it made me realise how little I took advantage of it before, and I don’t want to make the same mistake again, that’s for sure! I will be getting up to plenty of adventures!

  10. Safe travels, Rachel. I have so enjoyed reading about your experiences in New York and watching you grow personally through them. And I can’t wait until you’re back home and writing again!

  11. Safe travel, Rachel, through the weekend as you see what else there is to see, and as you travel home.

    It has been an absolute pleasure to see New York and its environs through your eyes and your spirit and the read of all the books you have experience, many new to me. How very well you bring the spirit of what an American is on the great North American continent. Thank you.

    Safe home!

    1. Thanks Penny – I’m on my way to DC as I write this and then back to London next week. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed my New York adventures and I am honoured to be considered as a possessor of American spirit!

  12. Welcome bac to the land of the queue! I’m very glad that you won’t have to spend your first few weeks in the job seekers version of that British cultural phenomenon (although as I was saying the other day it’s not really a queue because they let you sit on sofas). Good luck with the return journey and adapting to the new job.

    1. Thank you! Yes, me too – that was a situation I was particularly eager to avoid at all costs – I am so grateful I don’t have to go through that! Thanks – I’ll be glad when I am back and have a minute to breathe!

  13. Hurrah! What a brilliant post! It’s an amazing thing how New York can change people mentally, phyically and emotionally within a year. I’ve seen it happen several times and I’m always amazed. So glad you were here with us, and am sad to see you go, but going back to London is something to be excited about and something with which I’m envious!

    1. Thanks Daniel – I know, I never really imagined that it would change my life as much as it has, but it really has been just the most incredible experience! Oh yes, I can’t wait to be back in London – you’ll not be far away though – a mere train/plane ride! You should come on over!

  14. Your confidence to strike out and grab hold of an opportunity will take you far, Rachel! And I have no doubt you have made more than a few friends who will have you to stay if you have the urge to return to NY for a visit. But for goodness sake, get back to England and posts full of trips to bookshops, your nephews, Victoria sponge and cups of tea!

    1. Thank you so much Darlene! Indeed I have, and that is lovely to know – friends all around the world are a wonderful gift! All of those things are coming right up, don’t you worry!

  15. Rachel, you have such a talent for sharing time and place. What a writer you are! It is hard to believe that you ever thought yourself mediocre.
    Enjoy your return trip and going home. You felt richer for your experiences in New York and I’m sure you touched many who were richer from experiences with you. Have a wonderful trip home and try to relax and enjoy a bit.

  16. Great post as usual and I’m so glad you got a job after your rather depressing initial setback. Great to see what you look like, too. Hope we will be able to meet now you are hading back to the UK. Best of luck with it all.

  17. Thankyou so much for your kind comment on my blog re my mum. I so enjoyed reading this, you certainly do write well! Welcome back to the UK and what a wonderful experience you have had in NY. I visited many years ago and am in the minority as I hated it!

    1. You are welcome, Ruth. Hope you are doing ok and taking care of yourself. Thank you so much – I have indeed had quite a year, though I’m sorry you didn’t love NY as I did!

  18. 🙂 I’m glad New York was everything you wanted it to be and more! I’d really love to work there for a bit in the future too.
    I can totally see myself in this post when I was coming back from France, I really enjoyed Paris but I knew I’d never be able to live there permanently. Russia, on the other hand, was a whole different ball game. I was so totally blown over by how hard I fell in love with her that I literally didn’t want to leave. The UK suddenly didn’t seem like my only home anymore. I really think you learn so much about yourself and your own country when you leave it, I would recommend living abroad (if possible and affordable) to everyone!

    Hope you settle back in nicely and welcome home!🙂

    1. Thank you Jessica! I hope you can manage to go to New York yourself one day – check out the Mountbatten Internship programme website if you’re interested in going within the next two or three years. How amazing that you have lived in France and Russia – I am jealous. I love both countries and it really does knock you for six when you realise how you can feel totally at home somewhere else other than your native land. I absolutely agree – living abroad is such a life changing and character building experience and I think it’s a rite of passage everyone should go through!

      Thank you very much!

  19. Hi, I’m so glad that I saw your post because you totally spoke out what’s on my mind. I just finished my 6-month internship in New York yesterday and moved back Philadelphia. I love New York and I feel so inspired by it everyday that I grew a lot as a person. I learned to make the best out of every second and to set higher goal and learn vigorously. New York is truly a life-changing experience.

  20. “where people know how to form an orderly queue”

    Indeed.

    And we get mad when the rule is flouted, and are entitled to do so.

    Because its just not cricket to break that rule.

    I actually dislike the UK, R.

    For reasons I won’t articulate, because it will distract from your lovely post at your blog.

    However, within that dislike, I recognise uniquely magical aspects to Brits and this country, which moisten my eyes. Stoicism. Sharp wit. Kut the krap subversion. A sense of justice and fair play. A tolerance of eccentricity. A capital city with an awesome unique blend of history, power, culture, and heritage; nowhere else like London in the world. And humour – yes, the dry, penetrating, ironic twists and amusing observations of the British. Chaucer did it. Shakespeare did it. Monty Python did it. We still do it.

    Yay.

    But damn the skies are so grey here (and that’s the proper grey, not the incorrect gray).

  21. You’ve just perfectly summed up exactly what I’m feeling and why I’m looking to make an exit from the City and you’ve managed to write it so eloquently. So much to love here and so many lessons to learn, but eventually you come to understand if this is truly home or a launching pad for the rest of your life. I’ll be reading through your blog now that I’ve found it. Bravo!

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