During the Fall 2021 semester, I had the life-changing opportunity to study off campus in the heart of New York City. The off-campus opportunities offered at St. Lawrence University was one of the central reasons I decided to make this place my new home, and a chance to live in the city for four months brought this dream to fruition. Over the next couple of months, I balanced an internship at the office of U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand with classwork in an entrepreneurship elective and a director’s course titled Tasting Culture where myself and my classmates learned of the diverse culinary history represented by various immigrant communities that make NYC such a vibrant place to explore. We traveled across boroughs with cultural history and delicious food on our minds: savoring the flavors of hand-ripped spicy oil noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods to the delectable injera and berbere of Ethiopian cuisine at Lalibela in Harlem. We each took our classmates on final ‘food tour’ presentations where I led us to Veeray da Dhaba, a Punjabi street food restaurant on the Lower East Side, marking the culmination of the semester with roti flatbread, tandoori chicken and an exciting discussion of the distinct Punjabi population in Queens.
As a fall semester senior, I was also working toward completing independent research for my Senior Year Experience (SYE) as a Global Studies major. My research focused on the institutional role of education and how female elementary teachers, as racialized and gendered beings, navigate these spaces. I undertook data collection with the generous assistance of the Sol Feinstone International Study Prize for travel research, conducting interviews with female educators in the area, traveling to public schools to glean insight into the possibility of becoming a teacher myself, and I even had the opportunity to observe and participate in a Women’s March in early October. It was enticing to now be able to contextualize the courses I had taken at SLU, from my studies in cultural theory courses in the global studies department to masculinity in film in the gender studies department, to the lived realities of those who call the city home. This research experience, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, gave me a taste of the dynamic, stop-and-go nature of research and how important planning ahead and balancing my time was. My success during this semester was propelled by my incredible research mentors, Dr. Collins and Dr. Wong, both of whom kept me motivated, supported, and constantly curious!
While the learning I did in the classroom and during my field work was transformative, I learned just as much from curious conversations with city locals as I did anywhere else. With a place as densely populated as NYC, each person caught up in the bustle of everyday life, stopping to share conversation with a fellow subway rider on the 6 train reminded me of just how connected we all are--if only we took these chances more often to truly see one another! My experience off-campus in New York City contains moments of laughter, memories of closeness, and experiences of awe that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Having now returned to St. Lawrence University for my final spring semester, I can finalize my SYE with a new wave of invigoration, embrace the complexity of authoring my own research, and move forward with a much clearer sense of the limitless opportunities available to me come graduation.