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New York: Round Two

Five years later, and I'm back.

A 17-year-old with curly hair and a nose too large for his face cranes his neck upwards to see the skyline from Rockefeller Plaza. He’s wearing a hat like the one they wear in Newsies and, for the first time in his life, suspenders. His friend and he are speaking in Russian accents, as they had been doing for three days already. This quirk came to the city in a tour group to see Broadway shows and talk to equity actors. It’s an investment in his eyes. After all, he plans to be an equity actor one day.

"He's wearing a hat like the one they wear in Newsies and, for the first time in his life, suspenders."

That was my first time in New York. This weekend, I went back for round two.

At 22-years-old and on the cusp of adulthood, I am walking down 50th street at dusk. My hair is now closer to the popular buzzed sides look and the nose is more or less proportional to the rest of my facial features. The hat and suspenders are replaced with thick-rimmed glasses and my standard cardigan plus button up combo. This time I am traveling alone, suit bag and all, for a big job interview. I’m missing three days of school for the trip, but it’s an investment in my eyes. After all, the call for adventure must be answered early and often.

I round a corner and there it is: Rockefeller Plaza, right where I left it. The plaza ice rink is full of heavily bundled families who dared to have fun in sub-freezing temperatures. I smile, allow myself a moment of tourist-like awe, and crane my neck once again upwards toward the skyline.

I’ll break down my experience into three brief sections: the interview, the sights, the people.

The Interview

Have you ever sat down at a table where the person on your left is a former Fulbright Scholar and the person on your right is one part chemistry student one part nonprofit consultant? (These are the students, not the judges). Welcome to the Venture for America interview. Now get comfortable, because this will be the next nine hours of your life.

This is easily the most intense interview I have ever sat. I spent three hours out of the nine in front of judges analyzing case studies, building low-tech products, and walking through some tough group exercises. I’ve been in a similar interview before, but that one last 20 minutes and did not require multiple water breaks to complete. It felt like riding a roller coaster for three hours, hands up the entire time.

The other candidates were fascinating. In the downtime, I had conversations ranging from Korean culture and society and how 20th century politics influenced the modern state of affairs in Chile to what it is like being in a Canadian a capella group. Everyone was not only incredibly intelligent, but congenial and curious to swap stories with students from across the country.

Regardless of the results, the interview itself was a thrill. It’s not everyday you are judged for three hours straight by a Shark Tank-successful entrepreneur.

Meet David Heath. He's Shark-Tank famous.

The Sights

The last time I came to New York I was tied to a tour schedule. This time, I could explore the city at my leisure. Once I figured out the metro system, I was off to see the city. My time was limited, but I still managed to snag a few good spots.

Columbia University

Top of the (Blurry) Rock

Rainbow Room

I also nailed some pretty good food; Irish, Indian, and of course some good old fashioned Chinese dumplings!

The People

The fun thing about going to a huge city like New York is the people diversity. I practiced my Chinese with an old Taiwanese taxi driver one day, and the next day I listened to a Pakistani explain how his kids fared in the public school system. I lost track of the number of languages I heard around me (Chinese, German, Korean and Japanese to name the ones I could distinguish).

There were moments that made me feel like such an Oklahoman. At times it felt like everyone spoke faster than me; people stared funnily when I used expressions like “ma’am” or “sir.” One guy I met, upon finding out where I was from, said, “Woah, you’re nothing like what I pictured Oklahomans to be like!”

Sorry, I left my overalls at the hotel.

It’s a reminder of how big the world is and how many places I have yet to explore; but it also served as reminder of how small the world is. I got to catch up with an old friend from Columbia University I had not seen in more than two years. However you spin it, between taxi drivers and friends both old and new, I think the people are the best part of this trip.

Travel Limbo

I’m finishing this article 1:00 AM local time at LaGuardia airport's hotel. Snow pushed back my flight 36 hours, bringing reality crashing around my ears as midterms approach along with a Chinese speech due in six days. Sleep deprivation puts a damper on my nostalgia, but even still: I wonder what things will be like when I come for NYC round three?

Here’s to many sleepless nights and red-eye flights to come.

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