There is a strange sense of ease being back in New York for the start of the school year. As I observe the illuminated cast of first-years clothed in their ill-fitting, white “Class of 2022” T-shirts, I’m reminded of my own Welcome Week moments from last year. There is, of course, the time my roommate and I were hauled into a subway station with a stampede of other students and deposited in mob-like fashion at the Barclays Center for the Presidential Welcome — a Welcome Week rite of passage.
I remember feeling acutely embarrassed that the first impression I was making on the great city of New York was as part of a throng of hungry-eyed students blocking foot traffic from Washington Square Park to Atlantic Avenue. And just as I’d started to feel a little homesick (or was it just a combination of the claustrophobia and crippling humidity?), an overly-excited upperclassman, who more resembled one of those inflatable flailing balloon men outside of a car dealership than an actual NYU student, glared in our direction and hollered at us, “Are you having fun?! Make sure you’re having fun!” When we giggled unenthusiastically, he raised his pom-poms and declared slightly more aggressively than before, “You’re paying too much not to be having fun!”
He might have been right, but his proclamation encapsulated exactly what had been troubling me about Welcome Week all along: having to make a conscious effort and force myself to have fun. Not that the Presidential Welcome wasn’t crowded with good energy or that it wasn’t wonderful to meet new peers, but I endured orientation with the notion that if I wasn’t having fun, it was my own fault.
When I think of Welcome Week, I don’t even remember many events unless I actively try to. The whole week consisted of being spliced into haphazard groups and playing name games. It did less to make me feel welcomed and more to make me feel like another N number in a sea of other N numbers.
What I instead recall is being wide-eyed, maneuvering through my new neighborhood. I went to Big Gay Ice Cream with my parents, and I endeavored to communicate with my suitemates over any shared interest we could find (“Do you want to watch the season finale of Game of Thrones together?”).
But coming back to New York this time around for my sophomore year of college, I felt a stark contrast to the immensity of last year’s ominous welcome. I spent this last week roaming through the East Village rather comfortably, and my feet easily fell back into step on my routes to the closest Trader Joe’s and my preferred neighborhood restaurants. I assemble my apartment with friends I know and love, and slowly we’ve begun to build a home.
It’s intriguing to consider how much agency one gains from feeling at harmony with their environment. It’s not just familiarity — it’s also a sense of assertion. Living in a place like New York can be all-consuming, but it can start to feel pretty incredible when you realize the city belongs to you as much as you belong to it.
And New York has not stopped being New York — it’s still as unbelievably stimulating every moment of every day. But despite the fact that I came back to New York with no time period specifically devoted to welcoming me back into the city, I sure do feel a lot more at home than I did before. The first week of of my first year was so jarring I could not stop wondering whether my return would feel the same time and time again, but I can guarantee it does not. The true welcome comes along when you can embrace the place you’re returning to, just as it embraces you.
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A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 4 print edition.
Email Hanna Khosravi at [email protected]