Straight off the plane at JFK airport, my Uber driver and I joined the endless sea of traffic heading towards Midtown Manhattan where my colleague (and co-supervisor) and me shared an apartment in a neighbourhood called “Hell’s Kitchen”. The experience in Hell’s Kitchen entirely lived up to its name – it was hot and loud all day and all night long, but that is probably true for almost any neighbourhood in Manhattan.
At the end of May 2019, I had the chance to work in New York City for a little more than a week supervising six young Swiss Information Communication Technology apprentices who volunteered to work with start-up companies on “real world projects.” This opportunity, organized by TIE International, allowed me to explore both the business as well as the casual side of this bustling city.
It took me quite a while to grow accustomed to the never-ending stimulus that the city provides. Opposites seem to attract each other in New York City, just like magnets. For example, on a street corner, I walked past a banker dressed in an extravagant suit emanating a wonderful fragrance of an expensive cologne standing right next to, but seemingly unaware of, a homeless person lying in a shop entrance wrapped in filthy rags and disgustingly reeking of his own bodily emissions. On Times Square, I witnessed a group of African Americans attending a church service, while right behind them a half-naked cowboy attempted to sing country songs accompanied by a horribly out-of-tune guitar. Around another corner, I spotted a beautifully decorated horse-drawn carriage navigating its way through a crowd of dull and dirty yellow New York City cabs. In Central Park, I observed a tiny baby turtle enjoying the warm spring sunshine at a pond with huge skyscrapers looming in the background. The park serves as a green and seemingly peaceful oasis, however, every once in a while, the sirens of a police car or fire engine reminded me that the metropolis madness is only just a few steps away.
After some time, I realized that I was starting to accept and appreciate the extreme diversity of my surroundings. Things that made me cringe, disgusted me, or overwhelmed me in the beginning, simply became part of the usual background noise of the city. “There’s only one city where everyone has a PhD in minding their own business.”, was written in bold letters on the side of a bus that drove past me. I was already in the process of earning this doctorate myself, since to me it seemed to be a vital part of survival in the Big Apple.
Once I surpassed my initial reservation and culture shock, the city became incredibly inspiring. It sparks creativity on every corner manifested in the vast number of start-ups founded each year in New York. In a city where everyone practices the art of minding his or her own business, people lose their fear of failing and feel empowered to rapidly prototype and work through trial and error - especially beneficial at the start of a new project or a newly founded company.
Time flies in this fast-paced city. While in New York, I longed for a calm and peaceful night’s sleep – something impossible in the constant hustle and bustle of Hell’s Kitchen. Now that I am back in Switzerland, I sure do miss the direct, uncomplicated, and spontaneous way of life in the Big Apple.
About the author
Jonathan Meier conducted both his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Computer Science at ETH Zurich. Before his studies, he too participated in an ICT-apprenticeship and, therefore, was naturally curious about what ICT-apprentices can achieve in New York and how the business world works in the Big Apple.