Truth be told I put myself into considerable debt to qualify for the US Graduate Visa Program. And I'd do it all again in a single heartbeat.
January 2012 saw me welcome in my 30th birthday. A big year for every girl and I was no exception. Unmarried and no career to speak of, my lifelong dream had always been to live in New York City. Even before F.R.I.E.N.D.S. or Sex and the City appeared on our TV screens giving those of us who lived in rural Ireland an intoxicating taste of bright lights and big city living, I had always dreamed of taking Manhattan whilst walking her pavements (Lady Liberty makes her female right?) drinking coffee from an Anthora cup. Of course I didn't know they were called Anthora cups back then but I had seen them appear in enough New York-based films to know they somehow represented the essence of the city. America does indeed run on coffee, but it tastes undoubtedly better from an Anthora cup. It just does.
So unmarried, with nothing or nobody to answer to, I forewent the big 3.0. birthday bash and hightailed it to NYC for four weeks, touching down in Newark airport on the last day of my 20s. It was while sitting chatting to a couple of Irish girls in an Irish bar on West 59th Street that I found out about the graduate program and eight months later I found myself back in Dublin armed with a new student card and a great American dream.
Cut to October 2014 and I'm back walking those pavements, having completed my master's degree, graduate visa in the bag.
Two things that strike me as unequivocally New York (along with Anthora cups that is), are Central Park and The New Yorker magazine. Perhaps even more New York-esque is reading The New Yorker on a Central Park bench and Anthora cup in hand but now I'm just being twee.
A month after arriving I moved into my own apartment which happened to be the first apartment I found on Craigslist. Sitting two blocks from Central Park on the 14th floor of a 90th Street building with unobstructed views of One Trade Centre, the Chrysler and Empire State building, I congratulated myself on scoring real estate gold. However, it was Central Park that gave me solace and life. Regardless of the weather it was my go-to place for everything...to read, call home, picnic, listen to lunchtime jazz, drink wine, meet friends, organise dates, the odd bit of exercise I managed, see the first of the New York winter snow, chat to strangers, the list could go on.
Central Park was designed by the landscape architect and writer Frederick Law Olmsted after winning a design competition alongside Calvert Vaux in 1858. It was then built with the help of Irish labourers. Olmsted's own democratic belief stemmed from the idea that a park could play host to a commonplace civilisation. As noted in a March 1997 issue of The New Yorker magazine, there is a distinct lack of orientation within the plan of the park but yet it "remains a place where the limits of tolerance and coexistence between park and playground are tested and retested in each generation, sometimes tragically but most often successfully". In short, Olmsted's vision sought to create a common ground whereby a liberal society could come together allowing space for a commonplace civilisation to breathe and where people could simply be, free from any form of discrimination.
Adam Gopnik, the writer who penned The New Yorker piece noted that "Olmsted wanted to make an American park, and he did, and to walk in his Park is to walk through a particular kind of American experience."
But that's precisely the thing I found with my experience of New York - that although we all grow up watching it on our tv screens and venture to the neon beast that is Times Square on our holidays, New York offers everybody their own little unique taste of it. It abides by no man and is constantly switching itself up so that you never experience the same city twice. Restaurants open and shut; neighbourhood bodegas get pushed out by national stores; cafes and cocktail bars move with the trends as the art and music scene evolves to match the taste of contemporary society. But boy, is it one heady tale to live amongst, if even for 12 months.
They say travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. Well the journey I embarked on to realise my NYC-dwelling dream cost me a pretty penny but coming home has only seemed to whet my appetite for further US adventures. Still footloose and fancy free, this rootless vagabond has a great American coast-to-coast road trip planned for this summer/autumn. I'll be arriving back in NYC just in time for pumpkin pie season, to be washed down by an Anthora cup of coffee of course.
Life itself is the journey and the biggest lesson of all is learning to take the highs with the lows and appreciating it all the while. So I'll be back out there blazing the tar getting my kicks on route 66, notching up more stories to keep me amused while I smile at the memories on my deathbed.