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Arriving in the Big Apple

Student Profile: Jew Ryee

On August 29, I was standing in the middle of New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport with four giant duffel bags and one shredded yellow New York City guidebook in my hands. I was alone and trying to look like I knew what I was doing and where I was going.

I arrived in New York one week before the start of my classes in order to figure out how to get settled and to understand how life works here in this socially and ethnically diverse city. I walked for miles and miles around Manhattan dealing with the many things that one needs to live – phone service, bank accounts, embassy locations, cheap groceries. I was alone – no relatives or friends lived nearby. Some things I would have done in an hour or two back home took hours or days to figure out here, because I did not know the process for getting things done.

I was here to study in the master’s program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts for dance and arts administration in NYU’s School of Education. What it means ‘to study’ in America, however, was one of my biggest challenges. With everything being so new and different, it was all I could do to keep my head above water with my studies, and carefully observe how my American classmates immersed themselves in college life.

What I observed was such a surprise! It was so different from the way I had been raised in Korea’s educational system. In my American classes, the idea of an interactive dialogue between teacher and student surprised me. Listen-ing to my fellow American students argue with the teacher at first almost made me blush. The idea that I could make a point that would be critical of the teacher’s point of view was a concept that took a while to appreciate. I remember the thrill that went through me in one of my arts administration courses when I said, “I do not think that is right, I think it should be this way” and no one in the class saw
this as being rude. I was, as they were, participating in a team learning environment. Finding my own voice – that is perhaps the greatest thing I have learned from my American education.

One thing I learned about Americans’ attitude about their lives here is the strong sense of independence and self worth. Students working long hours in even the lowest-paying jobs do not complain about their fate in life due to a lack of financial resources. Wherever one goes to find work, the most important question always asked is “What sort of experience do you have?” America focuses on real-world experience and knowledge first, before the prestige of the university that one has attended.

Working towards reaching my professional goals, I have experienced these characteristics of life here first hand. During graduate school, I worked as a waitress at a restaurant and moved on to work with various arts organizations before starting my own business. In every situation, I found that people were interested in me for who I was personally and my level of work experience – being young and female has not been important or defined what kind of position I can obtain. Anything is possible in New York!

As a student working my way through graduate school, I have been very appreciative of the multicultural life here and the incredible opportunities that I have had to enjoy in this city. Yes, it is an expensive city, but there are so many opportunities for attending free cultural events and for learning about one’s own career path through numerous internships. There are also many places where students can live relatively cheaply and not rely on expensive graduate housing. Taking subways and buses, walking through the streets of the city – getting around town is easy to do for very little money.

This city is not a dangerous jungle at all! Yes, every morning New York does give me a slap in the face as I walk out the door and face the world of the tough Big Apple. But, with what I know now about this place and life in America, I roll up my sleeves and dive back into it for another day.

Author: Jew H. Rhee, President, JHR Student Services, Inc.


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