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New York City: A Student Reflection

A view of the New York City skyline.

Sarah Saba, a Furman senior from Charlotte, N.C., was in New York City during the summer as one of two inaugural recipients of the Furman Metropolitan Fellowship, a program established by Furman alums “to create a bridge between Furman students and New York City internship connections and community.” Saba, who is majoring in piano performance and pre-medicine and is not sure which interest she will pursue after graduation, had an internship with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. In a reflection on her 10 weeks in New York City, she writes about how the experience changed her world view and made her appreciate what’s around the next corner.

 

Ten Weeks of Complete Living

By Sarah Saba

A daily concert on the corner of Wall Street.
A daily concert on the corner of Wall Street.

There is an old Chinese man that plays an ancient Chinese violin on the corner of Wall Street in the Financial District, one block west of my train stop and one block east of my office. This little old man caught my daily attention – not because of the brittle sounds emerging from the old horsehair on his violin bow, but because of his constant appearance during my morning walk to work. Every day in New York City, my surroundings dynamically and constantly change, and so the little old man on the Wall Street corner in the midst of a chaos of tourists and police and stock exchangers became a sublimely welcome recurrence in sensory absorption of detail around me.

As time went on, I realized that it became fundamentally natural for me to recognize what did not change surrounding my experiences in the city. More importantly, it was this recognition that taught me the most about myself and about the people around me, allowing my world view to grow, my perspective to deepen, and my ability to live life fully transition from a daily practice of intentionality to one of natural freedom.

New York City is a city in which you do not have to try to keep your eyes open. Whether you intend to or not, you will learn something new each and every day, which in honesty is one of my favorite aspects of living in the city. The second I thought I knew which flower or coffee shop or restaurant became my favorite, I would turn the corner and experience something new and arguably improved. No subway ride is ever mundane, as the people that surround you within the train car change every two minutes. No walk in central park, no restaurant experience, no night out, no work day, and no moment in time can ever be replicated as people, contexts, situations, and priorities dynamically change. As a friend of mine once said, no hand of cards will ever be dealt twice to you in New York, making the act of living here—as opposed to simply visiting the city—exciting, overwhelming, challenging, and complete all at the same time. It takes a specific propensity for flexibility in experience but rigidity in core values to live here, two aspects of my identity that I have come to walk in confidence with.

A quote that caught the author's attention.
A quote that caught the author’s attention.

Along a more practical line, my work experience at JDRF has been challenging, full of joy, incredibly motivational, and a huge step forward in preparing for a future career. I have learned to appreciate the work that goes into preparing research—whether wet lab, pharma based, or clinical—on both administrative and scientific sides. As I have worked in the pre- and post-award approval process of grant funding, I have learned how much I take the research headlines we see on a daily basis for granted. My collaborations with senior scientists from a multitude of backgrounds—PhDs, MD/PhDs, MDs, and MD/MBA degrees in the US and abroad—has opened my eyes to career path possibilities that motivate my passion for learning and desire to find a career that I can fully commit to. Between research committee and core program team meetings, I have been exposed to in-depth portfolio reviews of the six lines of research that JDRF strategizes, including Artificial Pancreas, Encapsulation, Metabolic Control, Immune Therapy, Prevention, Restoration, and Complication research, which has opened my eyes to what holistic clinical research looks like. I have prepared summary reports and aided scientists in publishing reviews of their scientific research and learned more about type 1 diabetes than I could have ever anticipated. My time at JDRF has been completely fulfilling and I am already so thankful for the doors that have been and continue to be opened given my experience.

At the halfway point marking my time in the city, I was wandering around The Village and stumbled upon the following quote: “A hundred times I have thought New York is a catastrophe and fifty times: ‘It is a beautiful catastrophe.’”

Sarah Saba enjoyed her summer in New York City.
Sarah Saba enjoyed her summer in New York City.

There are no truer words that I have experienced in describing the city. The diversity of the people and the cultures that NYC represents brings to the forefront a deep understanding of the social factors that divide us. Catastrophe in its negative sense is a force that remains too present in the lives of those around us and its reality is no clearer than it is in the streets of the city. Our world is broken, but New York makes our broken world beautiful as it brings together passion and diversity and competency in such a way that makes the impossible possible and motivates those of us that are confident in our abilities to make a difference. Never in my life have I been surrounded by more people that are kind in their passion for life—even in the absence of a southern smile or comforting eye contact—and strong in their drive to make a tangible, quantifiable, and realistic difference. Simply living here is motivating and leads me to understand why “if a man can live in Manhattan, he can live anywhere.”

Surrounded by a strong Furman community, supported by my colleagues at work, and challenged by new relationships and hard conversations, I have grown in my understanding of people and possibility and I am so thankful to have “had my Furman bubble popped,” as Peter Griffin put it. My favorite part of life in the city is ending each day with a smile on my face knowing the day was complete—complete as defined by my ability to contribute knowledge or guidance daily in a community I am passionate about at JDRF; a fully experienced social component, whether a spontaneous concert or sharing experiences on a summer rooftop; and at least one moment where I am reminded how small I am and how dependency on relationships and people is empowering as I continue to learn. I knew that I would love my time here, but I did not realize how much of myself I could see reflected in a city and how much at home that would make me feel. Perhaps this is a result of New York’s diversity as it offers a complete array of aspects that in combination may cater to a variety of individuals, or perhaps this is a result of who I am reconciled with what New York stands for. No matter which way you try to explain it, one reality remains clear: I will be back.

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