Being Part of a Community

One of the fastest ways to make a new place feel like home, I believe, is to get involved in the community. Volunteering is a great way to see parts of a new city you might not normally get to, and often a way to meet new people. When I first arrived in New York, someone suggested joining the Canadian Association in New York (CANY) when I arrived – as a good way to meet people who might be new to the city and have some common ground. Through them, I helped out with the Terry Fox Run in Central Park in early October. There are so many different organizations in New York, it can be overwhelming to know where to start as a person looking for volunteer opportunities!

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Source: bcgcharityday.com

A few weeks ago, I got a last minute from CANY looking for volunteers to help prepare meals at God’s Love We Deliver. I was free that day and decided to join. To be honest, I didn’t know much about the organization and assumed it was a food shelter.  Regardless, I was happy to help out and meet new people. One I got there, I learned that God’s Love was a meal delivery service for those with severe illnesses. I was amazed when I learned more about the organization. Each way, they deliver 4,500 meals free of charge – thanks to a huge group of dedicated volunteers and donors. Because their clients’ illnesses may require food restrictions, many meals are tailored to individual needs. None of the food they use is donated food, all of it is bought with donations to ensure quality control. And they have never turned anyone away! I had a great time packaging over 1600 meals with a group of friendly people. The time honestly flew by, and it was nice to think about someone receiving the healthy food that we packed for them, and that it could help sustain them through illness.

On my way back home, I walked to the subway with two women who were volunteering that day through New York Cares, a platform I have never before heard of. I thought it was genius! The site links hundreds of charities in New York, posting their need for volunteers each day. You can sign up for whatever projects you want to, when you want you. And you can test of different charities too, learning which ones you would like to focus more of your attention on. As a newbie to the city, it’s great to have the guesswork taken out. In trying to find a sense of home, it’s a great feeling to help create a better community in a new place!

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Family Time and Some Cabaret

Well there is less then two weeks left until I go back to Edmonton for Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been loving New York – but the rush of final projects and exams, along with three months away from my family has spurred the countdown clock to start ticking fiercely. Little snippets of home have followed me here though! A few weeks ago, a former work colleague from Canada sent me a message: he was coming to NYC for work and going to see Cabaret on Broadway – would I like to come as his guest? How could I pass this up? I think my favorite thing about New York so far is access to amazing theatre. Being able to sit and watch talented singers and dancers makes me feel at home with myself. It transports me into a story, and a new world for a few hours. And I would highly recommend Cabaret! Emma Stone was playing the lead role of Sally Bowles and I thought she did an outstanding job. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but she really delivered. It was a funny feeling, watching a celebrity in real life like that. I know it sounds odd, but I think we forget that they are real people sometimes. I actually find it kind of inspiring to realize that we are all people, and we all have chances to live our dreams – some of us do, and some of us live wishing we could.

A few days after the play, I also ventured to Scarsdale to visit some family for American Thanksgiving. I can’t tell you how nice it was to be in a home, surrounded by baking and conversation. We actually celebrated with the relatives of a family I often have Thanksgiving at home with too, so it was full circle. And it certainly made my countdown clock tick a little more loudly!

Up State Of Mind

This past weekend, I was invited by a group I’m part of, the Global Shapers, to join their annual retreat in upstate New York. About 16 of us were able to attend, and we piled into cars and headed to a little cottage house in Red Hook. The ride there, as with most road trips, was full of lively conversation. There were two transfers members, from Hubs in different cities: me from Edmonton, and another from Rome. When our driver stopped the car at Target to get groceries, both of us were so excited as we had never been to one before!

The weekend was a ton of fun with lots of new experiences. We spent time getting to know exciting new people, cooking meals together, going on long walks in the leaves, and doing some planning for the year. It was amazing how much people opened up in that kind of environment. For me, being in a house with that many people was great. I’ve lived on my own for such a long time, but I still really cherish a feeling of community. This house felt like home so quickly, as everyone added their stories and laughter to it.

For some reason, one of my favourite things is to cook a meal with a big group of people. Sharing just seems to happen as each person is slicing away, and it’s wonderful to ate a meal that has been created with many hands. It was also the first time I had been out of New York City since arriving, and it was so cozy to get away outside of the city. We shared thoughts about life by a fire, had a few too many glasses of wine, and sang out hearts out around the piano one night too. It made me think again about this concept of home. Is a big part of feeling “at home” just finding people who are willing to include you? If home is where the heart is, does a big part of belonging come from people deciding to show you what is genuinely inside their hearts and including you in the process?

Home Within Yourself

I think we all struggle at times to feel worthy of our own accomplishments. While I would consider myself a confident person who goes after what she wants, I also get plagued with self doubt. I never want to be a person who is overly confident and cocky about their abilities, but I also hate feeling like a fraud, even when I know it’s not true.

I recall times as a singer, getting up on stage, I would think to myself: “This is the time people are going to figure out I can’t actually do this.” And yet, people have seemed to enjoy my singing, and I get up there because I truly love doing it. I have read articles about Oscar winning actresses thinking, while their name is being called from the podium: “Are they sure they didn’t call the wrong one?”

I really am a person that loves to challenge and push myself, even through the doubt. One of my strategies is just to try for every opportunity that I can. If someone says no, then I don’t have to worry about it. If they say yes, I deal with the fear then – but moving forward is easier when you know you’ve been picked to do a job. I recently went on a conference to China, where I was invited as a World Economic Forum Global Shaper. After coming back, I often thought about the way I reacted to other accomplished delegates and decided (in one of my efforts to throw things out there and see if I would get a “yes”) to pitch my ponderings to The Globe and Mail – the national newspaper of my home country, Canada. And they did say yes!

Here is the article: How Young Leaders Can Overcome the ‘Imposter Phenomenon’

Meet At the Clock

Last week, I had my first visitor from home come to New York to see me. At 9 pm on Thursday evening, I waited at our set meeting place, the clock in the middle of Grand Central Station for my boyfriend to arrive from Canada. I hadn’t seen him in 8 weeks, and yet, there he was – smiling as he rolled his bag into the station, smiled at me, and gave me a big hug. Now, no matter how much like home a place starts to feel, you can’t help notice a different kind of completeness when someone you care about gets to be part of the mix. We had a wonderful five short days together. We walked and walked and walked. From my apartment in the Upper East all the way to Brooklyn, chatting all the way. And then all the way to Harlem. We went to see the New York Philharmonic and bought greasy pizza on the way back home so we could watch movies. And the time zipped by. So quickly, in fact that a few days later, I passed the clock again on my way to catch the subway, with a heavy heart because he had gone. It was a funny thing, having him leave – though I knew it was coming. All of a sudden, all these little places that I’ve created to feel like home in a new city, my coffee shop, the places I like to stroll aimlessly, my favourite spots in Central Park – they all suddenly felt shared. I couldn’t help but feel, for a few days after he left, the exact same lost way I felt the day I moved here alone. And so the next time I passed the Grand Central clock, I stopped and stood there for 10 minutes, watching the sea of faces swim in and out of the room – each of them, I’m sure, with their own exciting stories and lives. And yet, I didn’t know any of them. They weren’t the face I was hoping to see. I couldn’t help but wonder, on the day of our reunion, if anyone else in the station was standing there, missing someone. With that in mind, I said a silent wish, that someone else in the room at that moment was being reunited with own their piece of home.

A Thanksgiving Community

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There are few things that make you miss home more than knowing you will not be there during a big holiday. This past weekend was Thanksgiving in Canada, and I knew that while my family was carving the turkey and devouring the stuffing, I would not be joining them this year. I knew that I had two choices. I could drown myself in homesickness and a finish off a tub of ice cream, or I could create my own Canadian celebration in New York.

I was lucky enough to meet a lovely group of girls on my very first day at NYU. All of us had arrived a few days early to participate in the international students’ orientation. During one of the sessions, we were asked to stand up when our country was announced so that we could get a visual feel for the countries represented. There were only three Canadians who stood up, but I connected immediately with one of them! She had been chatting with a few other students that morning and we all decided to spend the lunch hour together. The little group has continued spending time together, and we jokingly call ourselves the “United Nations”- there are Canadians, one from Venezuela, one from Columbia, one from Switzerland, one from France, one from Hong Kong, one from Germany. It’s easy to see why that name stuck.

Now, can you believe that of all the “United Nations” members, only us two Canadians had ever celebrated Thanksgiving. So I decided to host one, and cook my first turkey! All the girls were so excited, and everyone pitched in by brining a dish to compliment our bird. And so, 10 giggling girls gathered in my apartment to feast. A few came early so that they could prepare their dishes before dinner was served. At one point I looked over at the dining table — multiple hands were chopping away at veggies while stories were being exchanged and laughter was vibrating everywhere. This, I realized, felt like home. In my family, we have a cheesy tradition of going around the room and each saying one thing we are grateful for before beginning to feast. I decided to start the same tradition with the group and almost each girl said: “I’m grateful for meeting friends that I can laugh and celebrate with.”

And though I certainly did miss home, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly joyful this weekend. Not only was it a true gift to have 10 lovely humans grace my apartment, only slightly a month after moving to a new city, but I was also able to help them experience a new holiday for the first time. Each of these new friends were a million miles from their own families, but we were able to create a sense of belonging by including each other. So while it’s true that home is where the heart is, I think home might also be where you decide to share your heart.

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PS: In case you are wondering: my first turkey turned out great! And I put all the leftovers in a delectable turkey soup the next day too! 🙂

Roots and Wings

How important is having roots? Can you create roots in a brand new place?

A few years ago I was writing a song with my lovely friend Lisa Nicole Grace. We would often get together to talk about different writing ideas, and see if we could set some music to them. Lisa was pregnant first baby (who ended up being a delightful little boy named Asher), and found a quote that struck a chord with her: “The two most important gifts we can give our children are roots and wings”. We also had a mutual friend going through some personal ups and downs at the time, and so we decided to write a song based on both the poem and our friend’s own need for finding some grounding while in her confused head space. This is what we came up with that evening, we called it “Roots and Wings”:

I’ve been thinking of the song and of the concept of having roots, especially since my previous post about creating a sense of home in a new city. There is no doubt New York is an extremely fun and busy city. I love exploring and seeing new things, though I sometimes feel overwhelmed with all the different activities you can do!

I’ve noticed myself longing to root into a few places I feel I can call “mine”: a coffee shop I study at every day (where staff are starting to recognize my face), a little yoga studio (where people know my name), and even within my little apartment. Does the ability to fly and have the wings to explore and enjoy things depend partially on also having roots? Are the two mutually exclusive?

It would be an interesting question to ask the adventurous backpackers of the world, or the people that always seem to be bravely shifting from place to place. Within all that movement, is there still something that remains consistent? A book you read every night? A bracelet that’s always on you? I have done some solo globe-trotting, and I always felt the need to write in a journal. To me, even if everything was different around me, that was a root.

A friend, and psychologist once told me that rooting is extremely important for human beings. Even if roots are family members who live a million miles away. It may just be that even the most seemingly fearless and free-spirited people still need their own version of consistency in order to be truly free. Or maybe it’s just me who does?