My entire life, save my years spent at college and in Spain, I have lived an hour and a half drive from New York City. I grew up with friends who made the trek weekly, usually to attend Broadway shows or bougie acting classes. However, my experience in the Big Apple was limited to the occasional class trip or tag along, probably totaling less than a dozen by the time I reached my twenties. And I had reason for this: I hated the city.
Growing up in rural New York, my experience with large crowds occurred once a year during my town’s annual Applefest, when thousands of tourists flock to our streets to eat apples in various forms and varieties. My concept of close neighbors stemmed from the five-plus farms within a mile radius of my house. My idea of a noisy atmosphere came from the dogs down the street who barked incessantly at every squirrel or deer that darted out of the surrounding woods.
It is probably a result of this that I chose to attend college in a town pretty similar to mine; one where students often complained that there was nothing to do for miles. Even though I considered schools in NYC and Boston, the thought of being on my own in a large city was not very appealing, especially at 18. Geneseo, although objectively a great university, was a five-hour drive into the same comfort zone.
So I spent the first 22 years of my life living in small towns, where most everyone knew each other and it was likely you’d see at least half of them at that one bar on a Friday night. And I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything, because I thrived in that sort of environment. As someone with anxiety, I needed the space to breathe.
Then, after graduation, I moved to Spain. And not only did I move to Spain, but I moved to Spain’s fourth largest city, Seville. And while it by no means holds a candle to the pack-of-sardines that is NYC, it is definitely more metropolitan than the towns of 30,000 residents (or less) where I had lived prior. And at first, it was disorienting. I got lost (a lot). I got overwhelmed by crowds. I anxiously tried to figure out the metro system (these nerves were baseless, really, considering it is literally one line). But after a few months of finding my footing and establishing myself in my new city, Seville started to feel a little different. It started to feel…small.
It had taken that experience for me to realize that it wasn’t big cities that I disliked so much, it was the unfamiliarity of them. After adjusting to the size of Seville, I found that I actually thrived in a larger environment. There was always a new restaurant, bar, or art gallery to visit. I was constantly meeting new people with different perspectives from around the world. I had the space to breathe that I always craved, but I also had space to grow with all the opportunities that were at my fingertips.
After a cumulative year in Seville, I had outgrown it, much like I did my college town. So I returned home ready for my next adventure, and ready to give my own city another chance. I can now see past all the things about NYC that in the past made me hesitant, and instead feel the thrilling current of possibility that runs through the veins in the concrete. It’s not an unfamiliar narrative–the small town girl who searches for renewed purpose in a big city–but I’m ready to embrace it as the next chapter in my own.