Some Serious & Not So Serious Things I Learned Interning in NYC

During my summer this year, I interned abroad in New York City and it was my first time visiting, working and living in America. Asides from the borderline obsession with ice water and freezing cold AC being more common than your ex, here are a couple of things I learned about being a New Yorker along the way!

1. It’s possible to live a life outside of your 9 to 5

This is different to having an actual job as opposed to interning, where your free time will likely be taken up by work. But here, I mean in the sense of not going home, lying on the couch and sticking Netflix on. I only had 8 weeks in New York City to explore and see as much as I could, so I planned my evenings (roughly) through the day.

I used Time Out Magazine to find out if there was anything on, and kept note of recommendations made by people in the office! Your 9-5 is what you make of it – I didn’t put any pressure on myself to try to see everything, as this lil jungle of concrete is mahoosive – if there was something I wanted to see, I’d go that evening, and sometimes I’d just take a different subway home and get off at a new stop!

2. You can’t do a number two in complete privacy

There’s this thing about New York, or America in general maybe. You just can’t pee in private. I don’t know if it’s me being British and awkward, but every bathroom stall had this….. gap. A gap just about big enough for someone (who’s bored enough) to peek through. Whilst I never experienced someone directly staring me in the eye while I relieved myself, it was weird enough for me to notice it everywhere I went (to pee), and I also did my number 2s rather uncomfortably for the entirety of the 8 weeks.

3. It’s also possible to not be broke all the time

When I first arrived, I was shocked that buying vegetables to cook a meal at home ended up costing what I’d pay for a meal out (or a small mortgage). For example, I remember popping into a market near my subway stop in Chelsea, thinking I could pick up a couple of greens for $5-6. I left with broccoli, having spent $7 on ONE HEAD OF IT. So naturally, I had to pick up some tips and tricks to survive in this jungle of a city:

  • Trader Joe’s is a LIFE SAVER (and a foodie heaven)! I bulk bought oats, dried fruit, PB and the like for breakfast (smoothies, overnight oats) and pre-cooked/frozen chicken and rice for lunches or dinners, which can be microwaved in 5 mins – great for meal prep
  • Chinatown is great for cheap produce!
  • Living with others, it was handy that we could buy things and split the cost – sometimes cooking together makes meals cheaper, and the same applied to cleaning products, kitchen utensils and the like
  • Groupon was also great for random but handy deals!
  • Make the most of snacks and drink provided by your work

By meal prepping, there would be weeks where my meals for the week costed $20 max, at less than $4 per meal including snacks.  You read that right, INCLUDING. SNACKS.

Asides from food, I limited how much cash I would take out with me. Habits from uni helped too, like drinking before going to a bar (cocktails were steep but the rooftops were worth it). However, there were no $5 bottles of wine to be seen (#unay), just overpriced alcohol everywhere – although, 3 litre bottles of wine exist.

The first point – planning what I wanted to do each day – also helped me to gauge how much spending money I’d need. There’s a recurring theme here – preparation is key! Also, another intern’s friend made a very detailed list of every happy hour, every cost involved and that came in handy too.

4. Although, you probably will be.

So another thing about America, the tipping. LORD, THE TIPPING CULTURE. It was dreadful. I can happily estimate that 50% of what I spent probably went towards tips. Now I’m not saying that they weren’t deserved, sometimes our servers were ace and they really did deserve the extra $$$. But when you put 0 effort into the customer, and slap a fat service charge on the end of the bill, I’m like no. The culture of it is what bothered me (and my bank account). So the point of this point, is that anything you save by pre-cooking your own food will probably go towards tips. Boo.

5. It’s really important to understand your office 

This one’s important in any professional situation. When I walked into my host company’s office on my first day, I was actually surprised to see an open plan office. The VP of Finance and Operations and the Head of Legal Counsel were in and amongst everybody in the chain of command, senior and junior. I was seated in Operations, across from my mentor – the senior accountant. I was thrown into having to speak up and take part in the general chatter and discussion throughout the day – and being an (extroverted) introvert, I was nervous during the first few days! I had to speak loud enough for the whole floor to hear me at times – and I actually had to talk (shock). But this brings me to the point of this point – understanding the personality of the office is so important to work as a team. Making jokes, complaints and raising important points should feel easy! Personally, I was lucky that everybody in the office were on the same wavelength regardless of age, life experiences and department – it made lunchtime chat that little bit easier.

Another point I should make is that you should also understand the culture of the office in terms of working habits. During the first couple of weeks I was confused as to why everybody would ‘ping’ each other on the IM system instead of just speaking, after all we were working in open space with the ability to speak to anyone. Then I was reminded – I was working in New York City, the city that never sleeps. You would ping someone with a query so they can do what they’re currently doing without having to come over to your desk, i.e. multitask! Saving time = more time to spend on different activities = efficiency = woooow. Such productive. Much efficiency.

6. Work hard no matter the task 

Partly due to my personality, I won’t stop with something until I think it’s been done thoroughly and is kinda perfect. It can be annoying and time consuming. So even when I was given small tasks, I always made sure they were accurate and I had done my absolute best on it before having it reviewed or handing it back in. At times this did mean I was pressuring myself unnecessarily, but this is a good habit to keep up, and it’s a habit that will not go unnoticed in the future – who wants to be known as a slacker?!

7. You’ll never get lost

And anytime you do, someone will be able to read the look of confusion on your face and will help you out anyway. I can’t tell you the amount of times I either got lost, couldn’t read a sign (yeah I dunno either) or just plain looked confused, someone would come up to me – give up THEIR time – just to help! I’ve had homeless people help me, people with briefcases who look like they’re definitely late somewhere (yep, straight out of the movies) and they’d even walk me to somewhere I needed to be, like a subway stop or something.

It’s amazing isn’t it. Polite people. I.e., not British people. Also, people smile a lot more at you across the pond – if they don’t come over to help, they’ll at least brighten up your day (a little).

8. There are really never any stupid questions

So this really just relates to having a bit of confidence. For me, I had an unusual request for one of my line managers (involving a future post here!) and it took me a good week to build up the confidence to ask. But in my office, I could have asked for anything – had I wanted to shadow someone for the day, sit in on meetings I thought would benefit me, it was all doable. Don’t just sit there, do what you’re told and leave. If you have some personal (professional) goals or requests, ask – there’s no harm in doing so. I asked so many questions and subsequently learnt a lot! These would be about abbreviations I wasn’t familiar with or software I couldn’t figure out – of course I did attempt to find the solution to my problems at first, but when you need help, ask. It’s key to becoming the world’s biggest smarty pants!

Whilst I learnt a lot more working in NYC (keep your eyes peeled for future posts!) these are my main giveaways for now, and I hope this post was interesting! And not boring. I would hate that.

Hope you enjoyed reading,

Devamsha xo

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