New York City is 302 square miles of jagged buildings, unfamiliar faces, and experience. The city is littered with ambitious businessmen rising in the ranks, Eastside socialites, and downtrodden, broken people trying to carve a living from the unforgiving streets. Every origin, every ethnicity, every culture, residing in one place.
At least, that’s what I had heard from the movies, and that was all the experience I had going to the Big Apple this
Cindi Nadelman, a Professor of Business Administration, has just celebrated her fifth year taking students to the big city for her Democratic Values in a Digitally Connected World class. An LAS 2 course that all students need to take some version of during their time at NEC, “Democratic Values” explores human rights and how technology has affected the fight to further them.
During the first trip, Nadelman said students were unable to visit the United Nations because it was in session, “Instead, we went to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, and stopped to see the Reflection Pools at the 9/11 Memorial.”
This year, I was happy to discover that the UN was part of the visit. However, as a Boston-native, going to New York held a lot of different expectations. Even though I had been able to escape the rivalry between sports teams, I still looked at NYC as competition. Not only could it never live up to Boston, I was scared that it would.
9:50 AM – Grand Central Station
After driving three hours from Henniker to Connecticut, we took a two-hour train ride to Grand Central. Watching the city materialize from telephone wires and swathes of factory buildings into glass and steel beasts is jaw dropping. I hadn’t imagined NYC as much different from the crowded Boston bay. Tall buildings and zero manners; I had been trained in that. You don’t make eye contact, you don’t get lost, and you don’t walk too slow. But New York City is a horse of a totally different color.
South Station, the Boston equivalent, is my most-frequented stop on any MBTA transit. I thought that must be what Grand Central Station was like: crowded with commuters, speckled with coffee shops, slightly dirty.
I was wrong.
Grand Central should qualify for its own zip code. It stretches on in every direction, tunneling down into a near-mall on one side, and a food court three-times the size of South Station’s on the other.
But down isn’t the only direction the station moves, it also goes up many stories to catwalks and hallways that we didn’t even get to scratch the surface of. Looking up, the ceiling, painted in white constellations and ancient Greek characters, winked down like real stars.
12:30 PM – The United Nations
We were gathered back into our group and given a mission: make it to the United Nations. The building is lined with flags from the 193 countries that are recognized and participants, plus two “observer” countries. We went through security, emptying our day-bags into grey bins and sending them through metal detectors; it felt like boarding a plane, but you can’t blame them, it is the UN after all.
We made our way through the revolving doors and into the atrium. It was filled with art: statues of founders, gifts from countries to the organization, and an entire exhibit of art speaking out against sexual violence made by students across the world.
Our guide led us through council rooms, letting us stop for pictures and questions. Most of them were empty, save the one meeting that was ending as we walked through, discussing how to make international law more accessible to the public. Relics from bombed Hiroshima were displayed in glass cases. Tapestries commemorating the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and murals to honor the victims of the Holocaust covered most walls.
The enormity of the building, both physically and metaphorically, was not lost on us. The floors seemed to stretch on forever, weaving through chambers and historically important artifacts until we were inundated with the role these pieces play in the world. International law, human rights campaigns, and relief work that has changed not only the European countries after World War II, but all countries, were created within these walls.
That awe was exactly Professor Nadelman’s hope when planning this trip. “I am a supporter of human rights for all. [The goal for this trip] is about understanding the role of the United Nations and its importance in peacekeeping.” Nadelman also wanted to make her students understand that these things do matter, “Whether it is human rights or politics, it matters because it directly impacts your future.”
2:00 PM – Times Square
Our tour ended in the gift shop, but after we had explored all the flags and knick-knacks, our free time unofficially started. Some New York-natives left to visit their favorite places or people, while the tourists stayed with Professor Nadelman.
Leaving the UN, we made our slow but sure way to Times Square, bouncing between monuments and famous tourist attractions. In New York, things sneak up on you. St. Patrick’s Cathedral emerges from behind a corner, giving no indication that it’s near. Rockefeller Center can only be seen from behind skyscrapers when you’re standing in the plaza.
But even if you can’t see Times Square coming, you can feel it. The congestion of the street tightens a little more, it gets brighter, the cars move slower. Just before turning the corner, Professor Nadelman turned to the group, “You can tell you’re close when it gets crazy like this.”
Boston doesn’t have an equivalent when it comes to Times Square. Newbury street can remind of Madison Ave, Central Park and Boston Common come to mind together, but there is nothing like Times Square. It looks like a camera zoomed out, like everything is too big to be seen.
6:00 PM – Empire State Building
The group came back together at six, after souvenirs had all been bought, for one final activity. By then, Times Square had become a swirl of color, with the billboards truly doing what they were meant to, and we headed for the Empire State Building.
The ground floor of the famous building looks like it had been trapped in time. The first few floors are a labyrinth of exhibits telling its history from construction to the present. Even more rooms were dedicated to the many appearances the Empire State Building has made in various movies, including King Kong with the perfect photo opportunity to look like a damsel in distress.
After finding our way through the history, we boarded the rocking elevator that shot us up the 84 floors to the observation deck. Stepping out, the city unfolded in a sprawling blanket of light. Professor Nadelman wanted us to make the most of it, “I absolutely love sharing these experiences with students, especially with those who have never been to New York City. Once you have traveled with a group, you will feel more comfortable doing it on your own.”
Looking through one of the binoculars, you could see the blurry figure of the Statue of Liberty illuminated by the spotlights, but just a speck in the middle of the water. It seemed like the entire world was in the streets just below, and in some ways, it was. With every type of person living in the city, it felt like I had gained a better understanding of how the world worked.
9:50 PM – Grand Central Station
After descending the same wobbling elevator, we made our long walk back to Grand Central Station to catch our train back. As we all boarded, thoroughly exhausted, I found my loyalty coming back. I started thinking of the differences between Boston and New York, comparing their strengths and weaknesses until I realized that neither city can be compared. They are both larger-than-life places where every type of human exists together. Both serve their purpose, neither more than the other.
I thought of how important trips like these are, and how much experience and knowledge I gained by spending 12 hours in another city. Professor Nadelman had the same thought: “Immersion travel is the best way to learn and we are quite fortunate to have an administration that believes in funding these experiential trips. Anyone who has traveled can attest to the benefits of walking, breathing, and experiencing events first-hand. Even though our trip was only 2 days, we covered so much.”
For next semester, Professor Nadelman plans on taking her next group of students on the same trip, “Every semester as long as the college is willing to support our funding needs!” She explains that the importance of this trip is that it perfectly exemplifies the objectives of her course, and that teaching through experience is the most effective way.