What I Learned Working in New York

A Glimpse into the City that Never Sleeps

For a little over two months, I interned at a PR agency in the heart of big business: Wall Street! Well, technically we were located on Broadway, but on a hot day you could smell the sweat of overworked traders wafting out from the NYSE.

Wall Street

Full disclosure: Though I was born in the City, my family moved out to the suburbs while I was still young. As a consequence I didn’t actually know anything about New York until I began my internship. That is to say, if a visitor were to ask me to show them around I’d have to consult a guidebook, same as everyone else. To be perfectly honest, when I first began I couldn’t even point out the Empire State Building with 100% certainty. Hey, it looks different from up close!

That quickly changed as I got into the swing of things. I absorbed some of that collective energy which New Yorkers swear exists as they defend their crowded barge in the bay from criticism.

More importantly, I learned about life in the City and what it means to be a New Yorker.

Charging Bull New York
The Charging Bull on Broadway, an iconic symbol of Wall Street. I took this picture around 7:30am. If I had been here at 8:30, there would’ve been busloads of tourists.

New York is expensive

With the high cost of living in Manhattan, most people who work in the city must brave the 5am wake up call and commute either by car, bus, subway, or rail. Fortunately, NYC is well connected from almost every direction.

I was lucky enough to live a neat one and a half hours from downtown by bus and subway, if I caught the right connections. Yet there were still reasons that I had considered finding an apartment.

New York City Skyline
The view from my bus each day.

Moving closer to the city would have been a boon for my daily commute. There are plenty of options, both on the New York side and New Jersey sides. However, I quickly came to realize that living somewhere with a 20-30 minute commute would be too costly. Expand out to a 45-60 minute commute, and you’re starting to get reasonable. As a rule, the closer you are to the center, the more expensive everything will be.

The issue then becomes how much you value time over money. I had to look at the type of lifestyle I wanted. Was it worth paying half (or even a third) of the cost in rent if it meant an hour or more commute each day? Or would I prefer to have that extra time, but not have any money?

Stone Street
Stone Street, a great place for Wall Streeters to grab lunch. Though it’ll likely run you about $15 a person.

Another issue with a long commute was that staying out after work became a hassle. Sure I could go out for dinner or some drinks, but if I didn’t catch the last express at 7pm I had a long two hour bus ride ahead of me.

Thankfully, most non-intern positions in New York have acknowledged the high cost of living with increased salaries in comparison to other parts of the country. Additionally, positions on Wall Street make much more than their counterparts.

New York is pretty

While taking walks on my lunch breaks, the first thing I noticed was the diversity of architectural styles. I’m not going to pretend to understand the difference between Victorian and Post-Renaissance (if that’s even a movement), but I was impressed by the uniqueness of the structures I passed just walking along Broadway. Heading North from Battery Park up to Chinatown and beyond is quite enjoyable.

Click on a picture to view a larger version.

Having a map is almost unnecessary in the City; the streets are a grid and almost all numbered. The numbers get higher as you go North and West. At least, this works above Houston Street. Once you go lower you’ll likely need a GPS to find certain streets. Even so, I found it impossible to get lost in New York.

world-trade-center-new-york

Everything was so compact that I would stumble upon monuments and parks accidentally. Walking aimlessly through downtown and midtown Manhattan will more than likely drop you right into the midst of attractions like the World Trade Center, the Charging Bull, Central Park, Wall Street, or Times Square.

There is one notable exception. If you’re used to the pristine conditions of subways in Asia, you will be out of your element. NYC doesn’t do conveniences like air conditioned stations, clean floors, or paint which doesn’t peel off the walls. Also, sometimes subway stations get flooded in heavy rain.

New York has energy

Perhaps it’s a combination of events, the multitude of places to eat, and the sense of being in the center of it all, but the city seems alive with purpose.

The adage Time is Money really seems to ring true in Manhattan. On line for food? You better know your order when your turn comes. Just taking a walk, looking at the architecture? You better be walking fast.

Ticker-tape Parade NYC
Yes, they actually do throw heaps of shredded paper onto the street during parades.

The people walked faster, talked faster, and overall were much more aggressive than I was used to. New Yorkers aren’t necessarily rude or combative, but overall they seem like the type of people who know what they want and are prepared to defend their right to get it.

At times downtown feels a little like a pressure cooker. Occasionally, I found myself annoyed at those who walked slower than I on the sidewalk. I donned a scowl so as not to look too inviting to beggars. With so many people in one area, tensions sometimes can grow thin.

On the plus side, there is always something happening. That summer our women’s national soccer team won the championship. The next Friday they had a ticker-tape parade going up Broadway. It was such an amazing feeling to walk through the doors of my office and be in the middle of all the action.

Parade in NYC

New Yorkers work LONG hours

I’ve heard tales of interns at Bloomberg and Goldman Sachs who have stayed in the office until past midnight on a regular basis.

Rooftop Event Overseeing the Empire State BuildingI assume it comes with the territory. I always felt hesitant being the first to leave. Though the clock may have said 5:30, I still found ways to prepare for the next day, whether it was organize my email box or scan for last minute news coverage.

Because I was an intern, I was allowed an hour lunch each day. Technically, I suppose everyone else was allowed one too, however I saw most people eating at their desks.

There was one night our company hosted a networking event which the employees helped to organize. It was a great learning experience, but it was also a long night.

Of course, with all that work we did have our fair share of perks, including free lunches. The company even paid for drinks after work twice.

Drinking on a rooftop
Just sitting at a rooftop bar with a popsicle in my drink, no big deal.

Practical Living Advice

1. Research where to live before you arrive
Take into account the neighborhood, the commuting time, and your budget. You probably won’t find any amazing deals, but it always pays to do research ahead of time. And keep in mind options like house sharing and subletting.

2. Get a monthly bus or rail pass if you’re commuting
Getting a monthly bus pass saved me over 40% on the normal ticket price. Do some research and find out if it’s worth it for your route. Also, keep a copy of your route’s timetable and make special note of the last departure for your line. You don’t want to be stranded!

3. Get a metro card if you take the subway
Along the lines of Point 2, there is a slight discount on tickets if you use a metro card. However, depending on how much you ride, it may not be worth getting a monthly pass. So do some quick calculations. In my case, I found that even though I rode twice a day, 5 days a week, getting a monthly card wasn’t worth it.

4. Walk with purpose
Even if you’re lost, try not to show it. Walk confidently so as not to attract pickpockets or criminals who target those who appear naive or timid. Try to blend in with the locals. This is a safety point, but don’t be too worried. The same rules apply in all cities. Avoid suspiciously quiet or dark areas, especially at night.

The recommendations in this article are based on the personal experience of the author. Share your own experiences and opinions in the comments below!

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