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