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Art by Anna Espinola

As I pack for the new academic year, “taking advantage of New York” is a phrase that I am happily omitting from my suitcase. As a host for prospective students last fall and for both Days on Campus weekends this past spring, I often found myself fielding the same irritating questions concerning the frequency of my trips downtown.

The phrasing itself has always troubled me a bit, for it implies New York is simply a resource waiting to be exploited. This does not give enough credit to the city we live in. I have spent far too many late nights trudging from 96th to 116th streets after finding the 1 is not running to think I have any sort of control over this metropolis. The city is more a ferocious pet than a resource—sometimes you might be able to tame it, but you must never forget that it has the power to chew you up and spit you out again.

However, the real reason this question annoys me is the implied assumption that I should be “taking advantage” of the city—and that if I'm not, I'm somehow disadvantaging myself. Looking back over my first year here, I've done a myriad of things in the city: gone to concerts, eaten at incredible restaurants, relaxed in parks, gone to museums (and not just the Metropolitan Museum of Art, American Museum of Natural History, or the Museum of Modern Art). However, these are not the memories I find myself treasuring; the ones I find myself returning to again and again all take place on campus. Yes, I had a great time seeing Bastille in Williamsburg last year, but I had an even better time watching my friend's (awful) band play in Dodge Hall. I ate some of the best food I have ever had in the East Village, but it failed to live up to many of the nights I have spent crowded around a table in John Jay with a dozen friends.

While I certainly think there is value in going out into the city on a regular basis, I want to dispel the commonly held notion that people are not “taking advantage” of their time here by choosing to stay around campus on weekends. A good number of us are going to be here after we graduate, and we'll have plenty of time for getting to really know the city then. (And let's be honest—with its high prices, strict bouncers, and young professionals, this is a city arguably best suited for people further into their twenties than us.) What we do not have a lot of time to do—and I am sure the graduating class can vouch for this—is spending time with each other in this small community.

This quote from a Yale Daily News article a couple years ago really gets at the experience of being at college that we will never have again: “We won't live on the same block as all our friends. We won't have a bunch of group-texts.” Marina Keegan, the writer of the article, died less than a week after its publication in a car accident after graduating Yale earlier that month. This tragedy only underscores her message about how limited and precious our time is. The fact that we get to be around so many amazing people our own age seems to me what we should really be taking advantage of. Sure, go out and catch that band coming into town or hit up that big warehouse party in Queens—just don't feel like you are somehow missing out by opting to hang in a friend's tiny single and play the House of Cards drinking game, for it is in fact the latter that often presents itself as the rarer, more precious experience.

The author is a Columbia College sophomore planning to major in English and statistics. He is an associate copy editor for Spectrum.

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Columbia Bubble New York City downtown first year experience
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