2,830 MILES FROM HOME: On Moving Across The Country

WORDS AND VISUAL BY ALYSSA GENGOS / @ALYSZSA



Google Maps says that the driving distance between my house, in a suburb of Los Angeles, and Columbia University, in the City of New York (that's the official name - I'm not being pretentious) is exactly 2,830 miles. I've never travelled that far by car before; I've been across the globe from Tanzania to Shanghai to Turkey, but something about those 2,830 miles seems exceptionally daunting. 'Moving across the country' is a strange term. It could mean making the move from Dublin, Ireland to Galway, Ireland (a driving time two hours and ten minutes) or, in my case, a five-and-a-half hour flight.
          I guess I should explain my situation at this point. I'm a seventeen year-old high school graduate about to leave the state I've lived in my entire life for a place where winter actually is a thing. Putting my life until this point into perspective, it shouldn't be difficult: I've spent quite some time exploring New York City over many visits. Some of the people that will become my peers have never been to NYC, let alone the United States. They're from New Zealand, the Bahamas, even Kyrgyzstan - a country I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even know existed until a couple of weeks ago. In comparison to other students, my transition to the East Coast will not be a difficult one.
         This really should not be such a big deal. Like I said, I've visited the city countless times. I've been across the globe and back. Nevertheless, I've been in a tiny bubble my whole life; I was fortunate enough to attend the same private school from Kindergarten through twelfth grade, and I've lived in the same house since I was four. Los Angeles suburbia is strange. A couple months ago in an interview for Pitchfork, James Blake described Hidden Hills (a neighborhood of Calabasas, the suburb of Kardashian fame) as "almost like a celebrity resort, with a gate and everything." This really struck me, because I'd never thought of Hidden Hills like that before. While I didn't live in a gated community, nearly all of my friends from school did. That's when I had a thought: the Los Angeles I experienced for thirteen years of my life is weirdly perfect.
          The weather never changes here. We go to the beach to celebrate the end of first semester final exams in early January. Everyone is fit, healthy, and beautiful. Even in our water shortage, the lawns are perfectly manicured, pools filled up, and fancy water fountains running. Private school rivalries consist of insults like "Your gym is small!" and "Well, your field has real grass, not turf!" People get brand new, matte black Mercedes G-Classes for their sixteenth birthdays after their parties on the rooftops of fancy hotels. Where most people would get starstruck upon seeing Kanye West in their local Starbucks, we all have a sort of numbness to celebrity. Father John Misty touched on this phenomenon in his song 'I'm Writing a Novel', saying how "every time [he goes] to West Hollywood / It's full of people pretending they don't see the actress, and the actress wishing that they could." I've found that everyone I know that grew up in Manhattan had much more freedom; the subway and taxi systems allowed them to go off on their own without having to wait until they were sixteen and had a license. People of New York seem to always look more put-together and on trend. Trust me, I've been in an apartment in the Upper East Side, and they're just as nice as the biggest, suburban, LA palaces. Private schools there are much older and more prestigious. New York has its share of perfection, but there's something so authentic to the city that's always attracted me. It all seems so much more real to me, but still somewhat foreign. Nevertheless, I always feel a strange sense of coming home when I fly into Newark Airport and see the Manhattan skyline.
          I've always planned to end up in NYC. I've written a blog since the sixth grade called Visions of New York City, but I never thought I would be moving there so early. I never thought I'd get into Columbia. I never thought I could be this excited and paralyzed with nerves at the same time. I counted down my last one-hundred days in Los Angeles by forcing myself to go everywhere I'd never been and try anything I've always wanted to try, all while documenting it on Visions of NYC. I spent one of my last nights with a group of my closest friends (all of whom were living in different states for college during this past year) watching the sunset from the top of a mountain road overlooking the ocean. I've cried to 'Hannah Hunt' while driving home on the 101. I've finally appreciated the beauty of the Hollywood Sign. I've done everything I possibly can do to make myself feel like I've completed my time in Los Angeles, because I'm terribly afraid that when I return, it won't feel like home anymore.
          Even though I've lived in the suburbs, I still consider myself an Angeleno, no matter what any Westside-raised person says. Coincidentally, all of my first-year roommates are from California, which gives me a sense of comfort. I've already bought my winter coat. I'm excited to never have to drive in traffic. On August twenty-third, I'll be leaving my side of the country for the other side, and I hope that soon enough, I'll be able to say I'm a New Yorker too.

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