Stanford in New York Portfolio

When discussing my choice to go “abroad” to NYC for winter quarter, many of my friends and family were surprised that I would leave Stanford for 10 weeks to live in New York dead in the middle of winter when I’m a southern California kid at heart, but also excited for me to experience everything the city had to offer.

It would be busy they said, but you’re going to love it.

And they couldn’t have been more right.

While I probably missed a lot back on campus during my time away (riveting Math 51 psets and lots of rain!), my time in NYC with the Stanford in New York program has undoubtedly been one of my most formative experiences during my time at Stanford (probably even my whole life), allowing me to develop personally and professionally, and leaving me refreshed as I return back to campus this spring.

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I’ve always wanted to see what it’s like to live and work in NYC, and the SiNY program provides the opportunity to do just that: participating students are required to have an internship in addition to taking a full course load. We would work 4 days a week (Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday), and take classes every Wednesday in addition to some nights, depending on which classes we chose. Personally, I had class Tuesday 6:30-9pm, Wednesday from 10am-12pm, 2pm-4:30pm, then 6pm-9pm, and on Thursday from 6:30-9pm in addition to my internship, where I worked from 8:30am-5pm. So clearly our schedule was super packed all the time (this doesn’t even take commuting into account), but overall, I learned to prioritize and manage my time super well — primarily because it just wasn’t an option to slack off or fall behind. Gone were the days of being able to schedule classes after 11am so that I could sleep in, bike back to my dorm for a quick power nap, skip the occasional lecture for the hell of it, or even just “not do anything”. You can’t just ditch your job if you feel lazy, and for our classes, all of them only met once a week, so if you didn’t go to a class meeting you missed a lot of content that would be hard to make back up.

I feel like everything you do in NYC has purpose to it, and that you become more efficient as a result of that. For example, most days I would wake up at 5:30am and not get back to where we lived in Brooklyn until after 10pm. It was a huge adjustment, but something I appreciate having to do now that I’m at the end of the program.

Every Wednesday we had our seminar class with the director, Rosina Miller, where the 19 students in this quarter’s program would convene at the Stanford center in Flatiron to discuss NYC and our internships. Occasionally we would have field trips to different companies (we visited PayPal and Bustle media) or have workshops about professional development (how to network, resume building, how to negotiate and navigate office politics, etc.). This class was especially cool because everyone got to discuss their internships, as basically all the students were interning at different companies (with the exception of American Express, where I interned, which had 4 SiNY interns). I got to learn a little about what it’s like to intern at places like the United Nations, CNBC, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, and New York and Company. For the most part, we were largely on our own in this program, so it was nice to reconvene and see what everyone was up to.

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I learned a lot during my time here in New York. I learned how to navigate the subway system. I learned how to budget and meal prep most of my meals. I learned that Barry’s Bootcamp is a hard workout. I learned about the significance of contactless payments in the transit industry. I learned that some people define success through 100 hour work weeks. I learned that the tap water is fantastic in New York. I learned where exactly I should wait for the subway at the metro station so that I’m optimally positioned to get dropped off right next to the stairway to the exit. I learned how to do a discounted cash flow. I learned the art of “coffee chatting”. I learned that I actually can survive weather under 60 degrees. I learned that I could see myself living in NYC post grad (at least for a couple of years).

I learned this and so much more. However, I’ve written down some key learning insights that I’m going to take away from my time here, which answered some questions I had coming into the program, and also brought to light some things that I didn’t expect would actually be relevant to me:

My commute from the American Express tower to the Park Place subway station

My commute from the American Express tower to the Park Place subway station

  1. You don’t have to major in finance to work in financial services.

    In fact, many full time employees in this field haven’t. At my job and as I networked with others in the financial services industry, I met people who majored in political science, classics, international relations, history, and even english in college, yet are doing the same work as someone who studied math or quantitative finance. Something I think many people in college (especially first and second year students) have is this notion that you need to major in something relevant in order to land a job in the future, which is becoming less and less true.

    When I first got my acceptance for my internship at American Express, I was surprised, but excited! At first I wondered why they would choose someone who majored in International Relations with specializations in the Middle East and International Security, which I quickly brushed off. But closer up to my internship start date, I became a little nervous. Would I be able to contribute to the company and my team? Did I have the technical knowledge to understand my work? What would I wear every day?

    Turns out I had nothing to worry about! I was able to complete my financial services internship, and exceed expectations for myself. Sure, in the beginning I definitely had to catch up on some technical terms, and I had to learn a lot about payments cycles and movements within the transit industry, but honestly, once I got past that, I didn’t have any issues. My intern project was about contactless payments in the transit industry, and researching multimodal convergence solutions. I’m just going to go on a limb and say that no one is rigorously studying this in their undergraduate career (I sure as hell am not). However, I learned that though you might not have prepared for this specifically in your academic endeavors, how you approach the issue and ultimately adapt and overcome it is what defines you. Turns out that my knowledge of the Middle East was extremely helpful as I was able to incorporate relevant discussion points about developments in transit infrastructure and world events (like the World Cup in Doha or World Expo in Dubai) in the region, which enhanced my research and provided insight into very specific developments that guided my final product. Compare that to someone who is studying management science or economics — they probably wouldn’t have had the same depth of knowledge that I had on the topic.

    Furthermore, some technical skills I got to apply to my project was data visualization. I created a map on Tableau of different contactless fare collection projects going on in the world, which I was able to add to my project. This wasn’t a requirement to get the internship, but I was able to hone my skills and make use of them which showed me that everyone has something to give, and ultimately made my final presentation as aesthetically pleasing as it was packed with information.

This is a map I made which I included in my final presentation at AMEX. It represents contactless fare collection projects that have been launched or will launch in the next 5 years. The size of the bubble denotes daily ridership volume (bigger bubbles mean more riders, and vice versa).

This is a map I made which I included in my final presentation at AMEX. It represents contactless fare collection projects that have been launched or will launch in the next 5 years. The size of the bubble denotes daily ridership volume (bigger bubbles mean more riders, and vice versa).

Overall, I’d give my self assessment of this outcome statement a 1. Furthermore, I can definitely see myself working in financial services in the future, which has really reinforced my motivation to try new things, as sometimes the thing you least expect can drastically change your trajectory in life.

2. There’s more to New York City than Manhattan.

In the beginning of the program, a SiNY student asked if Brooklyn was in New York City. While the question was asked sincerely and with good intention, I’ve come to learn that many other people think that Manhattan is the end-all-be-all of New York City. And while SoHo or the Upper East Side or Harlem are iconic areas that define New York, there’s so much more to NYC than “the city”.

New York City is one of the most diverse cities on this planet, and I wanted to explore that for myself. In my time here, I was able to explore 4 out of the 5 boroughs (sorry Staten Island, maybe sometime soon), and I know I’m not even close to seeing all of NYC. Through exploring some lesser known parts of New York, I’ve come to appreciate it as a large melting pot of languages and cultures and backgrounds, creating a united whole under a single “New Yorker” identity. One of my initial goals in my learning plan was to photograph NYC every day that I was here, and exploring the city allowed me to achieve this goal.

During my time here, I explored Rockaway Beach, ate legit Dominican food in Washington Heights and Inwood, meandered through the “original Chinatown” of Flushing, saw hipsters in Williamsburg and Bushwick, tried Oaxacan food in the South Bronx, walked the streets of Harlem, heard various dialects of Hindi and Punjabi in Jackson Heights, and spent a large chunk of my time in Woodside, Queens, for my photography assignments. These aren’t even all the neighborhoods I visited, and I know there’s still so much more I haven’t seen.

A way that I made exploring a priority was by choosing a lesser known neighborhood for my final portfolio project for my photojournalism class. Choosing Woodside as my neighborhood forced me to get out of my comfort zone and really dive deep into a place that is lesser known yet quintessentially New York City at the same time. I’ve progressed as a better photographer through this project and have become more comfortable approaching people and asking to take a photo of them. I think that there’s this stereotype that New Yorker’s are unfriendly (and honestly, many are), but there’s also more to New York than the fashion designers who dominate New York Fashion Week and the investment bankers on Wall Street. Each neighborhood has its own personality, and I enjoyed exploring a lot of them.

Furthermore, exploring these lesser known neighborhoods were very integral for me in dispelling stereotypes of “dangerous” areas of New York. By and large, NYC is an extremely safe city, and even when I was alone exploring “the dangerous” parts, I did not feel in danger. That being said, I did see some violence on the subway and encountered some shady people, but many times it actually happened in the more mainstream neighborhoods in Midtown, where tourists are. If I were to give a recommendation to people visiting New York, is to explore the other boroughs. You never know what you’ll find until you see for yourself.

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Some of my photos from my final project are here, just to showcase that I’ve been to the neighborhood multiple times and that I really had to get comfortable in the area. Since it’s a very residential neighborhood, I had to walk a lot, but with this I had a more intimate relationship with the area rather than a very transactional point A to point B one if I had taken a subway or Uber. Overall, I rank myself 2 for this outcome statement because while I did push myself to explore, there’s so much more out there for me to explore.

3. Sundays are sacred.

While I grew up Catholic, and went to a Catholic elementary, middle, and high school, I’m not talking about Sunday in this context. Sundays in the SiNY program were essential for me in preparing for the upcoming week. It was the day I spent meal prepping, going to the gym to foam roll and do active recovery exercises, finishing homework assignments, and planning my week to come. If I did not have a day to recuperate and mentally/physically prepare for the busy schedule ahead, I’m unsure if I would be able to successfully do the things I did in this program and balance everything if I had not.

As my evidence for this outcome statement, I’ll write out how my Sundays usually played out in order to demonstrate my development in time management and financial planning.

My Sundays usually went like this:

7:30am - Wake up (yes, even on weekends I woke up this early)

8:00am - Breakfast. I make overnight oats every day so all I have to do is open my mason jar and grab a spoon.

9:00am - Grocery shop for the week. Trader Joes was only a subway stop away, so I would go here for my groceries. Overall, TJ’s is much cheaper compared to other chain stores and even bodegas. It’s also super crowded, which is an adjustment from the Palo Alto location, but it’s still pretty efficient. I would always write down what I needed for the week in my notes app on my phone.

10:00am - Come back to the dorm.

10:30am - Gym. Sundays are “rest” days, so I will spend most of my time foam rolling and doing active recovery like jogging on the treadmill.

12:00pm - Lunch

1:00pm - Complete homework assignments for the week

5:00pm - Dinner

7:00pm - Meal prep. I cooked things in bulk and packed them in Tupperware so I could just grab and go before work or class. I became pretty good at mastering the single sheet pan recipes: my favorites have been either chicken or salmon with roasted vegetables.

9:00pm - Make my overnight oats for breakfast the next morning (literally takes 5 minutes)

9:15 - Lay out/pack my gym clothes and work outfit for the next day. I woke up at 5:30am every day, and the last thing I wanted to do in the morning was pack everything for the day when I’m all groggy. Preparing this the night before was key because it takes minimal time but saves a lot effort for the next morning.

10:00pm - Catch up on emails and square away final tasks before going to bed

10:30pm-11pm - Bedtime

Overall, I would rate myself a 1 for this outcome statement. I was really nervous I wouldn’t be able to handle the busy schedule, but small adjustments to how I planned my day really helped that. It’s something I’ll definitely bring back to campus moving forward (though the early wakeup call, probably not).

4. New York City isn’t for everyone, but it could be for me!

A large motivation for doing this program was to see what it’s actually like to live in New York, and also just to see if I would want to live here in the future. I’m from a more suburban beach town so wondering what it’s like to live in a large urban city like New York was something I couldn’t even really wrap my head around prior to this program. Sure, I’ve visited a few times, but the longest I had been in the city for a period of time was a week. I wanted to actually live, work, and experience what a New Yorker thinks is normal. And I definitely got that experience with the SiNY program.

After living here for 10 weeks, I can definitely envision myself living here post grad, for at least a few years. I say for at least a few years because I’m not sure if I could live here forever. I think that the constant hustle that is inherent in the city is an alluring aspect that attracts me to it, but honestly, when I’m older, I don’t think I would be able to maintain this rigorous lifestyle (however, if I’m living in a Classic Six overlooking Central Park on the Upper East Side, that would be a different story, but let’s be realistic here). The reality of New York is that you’re constantly making negotiations with the city. For every great apartment, there’s an expensive price. If you find an affordable apartment, it could be small and not offer laundry. You could move into an outer borough for more space and a cheaper price, but your commute to the city will be longer. Having to finesse your way in literally every interaction and transaction may turn people off from New York, but it’s something I’ve come to love.

Another thing people talk about when discussing New York City is that it’s truly “the city of strangers”, meaning that there’s a lot of people here in New York but you don’t really know anyone. While this is true to an extent, especially if you move here and not know anyone, the way you go about in creating your community is what makes New York such a great place to me. Given the amount of people here, you can really create your community; there’s every type of person here! You can be as quirky and weird and professional and healthy and cigarette-loving and spend-$40-on-a-workout -class and eat-a-bagel-every-day type of person you want to be. It’s up to you, and that individualistic emphasis is something I really like about New York. It might not be for everyone, however.

Earlier in the quarter we visited the Museum of the City of New York in East Harlem/the Upper East Side and the tour guide explained to us how the transit system and layout of the city lent itself to “the ballet of the city” — that is, that although everyone has their own routine and ways of life, this routine often lines up with others. So you’ll see the same investment banker on your way to morning kickboxing, then take the same subway to work as someone who works at the coffee shop near your office building, and on your way home from work you take the bus with the high schooler who’s coming back from their varsity soccer practice. It creates this sub-community that you participate in almost unintentionally, and you become embedded in the lives of people who live such different realities than you do, and to me, that’s the true beauty of the city. Personally, I run into the same yoga teacher at Lahore Deli in SoHo every Sunday afternoon because we both know that their $2 masala chai tea is the closest thing we’ll ever get to chai that’s in Pakistan and India. Different lives, but united under a common thread that’s woven into the fabric of NYC.

One huge reason I was apprehensive about living in New York was the lack of green space. Honestly, I didn’t think much of it prior to coming because nature has always been in the background of my living spaces, and living in New York was the first time that nature was essentially devoid in my life. The “concrete jungle” is, well, concrete, and nature isn’t really present in Manhattan. However, part of my routine here in New York was to get some sort of exposure to open nature in any capacity every day. So whether that meant going for a run in Central Park, eating a meal in Prospect Park, or even taking the A line all the way to the top of Manhattan to Inwood, I made it a point to get exposure to green space as much as possible. Below are some pictures from a park I visited in Inwood — it was my favorite park I’ve been to because it felt like I wasn’t even in New York: there weren’t that many people and the hustle of the city disintegrated into the background as the nature took the foreground with full force.

I definitely rate myself a 1 for this outcome statement. I not only learned that I love New York, but I am excited at the prospect of living here in the future.

Oh, and another reason New York might not be for everyone: you’ll walk A LOT more than you’re used to.

This was normal for me. I enjoyed walking more rather than biking/driving but again, not for everyone!

This was normal for me. I enjoyed walking more rather than biking/driving but again, not for everyone!

Overview and Future Learning

Overall, this experience has been one of the most busy exciting, and formative experiences of my life. The fact that the city was, in a sense, our classroom, gave me a different perspective than if I had stayed on campus for winter quarter. I was confronted with realizations that I take many things for granted at Stanford. For example, laundry here wasn’t free, nor were things like toilet paper or utensils. The lack of a meal plan forced us to eat out every day or cook our own food. They say that college transitions you into adulthood, but SiNY really does a good job with making that an inherent part of the program.

External evaluations of me have taught me that I really am good at adapting to different situations. This program puts you in sink or swim mode, and if you can’t keep up, you’re going to sink.

Something I think I could work on is budgeting a lot more. I’m very grateful that my internship paid me for my work, but many students on the program had unpaid internships. NYC is EXTREMELY expensive and if I had an unpaid internship, I truly don’t know how I would have been able to afford anything past the essentials. But, I know that perfecting this skill comes with time and is not mutually exclusive with doing a 10 week program.

I was able to accomplish the goals of this program in part, by being able to adapt to a different environment. Whether it be the literal environment and weather, adapting to a 40 hour work week on top of a 20 unit course load, or adapting to a career field that I had not academically prepared for, I fully immersed myself in the concept of “learning by doing”. Experiential education is important, and honestly can’t really be fully appreciated until you actually go through it. It equips you with skills that you can’t get in a classroom, and ultimately prepares you for the real world.

I would recommend any student who has the ability to do a program like this to take advantage of it! It’s a unique experience that you’ll never forget, and the development you’ll experience personally and professionally is unparalleled the classroom, even if taught by Nobel laureates. I will never forget my time in New York through SiNY and will be forever grateful for the opportunities and learning experiences it provided.

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Noah Cortez