Mikaela Ortega (she/they) - Stanford in New York
Major: Product Design
Minor: Studio Art
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: This is a photo my mom took of me on Little Island, NYC on the weekend of my birthday.
Why did you choose to study in New York?
Diversity is one of the most important qualities to me regarding community; New York provides a worldly characteristic which allowed me a vigorous, all-encompassing lens through which I was able to learn about an array of different people, perspectives, global issues, the arts, and myself.
What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in New York?
I had visited NYC for a month before, so I knew more or less what to expect in terms of city-life. However, being in a much more independent and mature state allowed me to explore components of myself, others, and the city in an active and zealous manner I would have never anticipated. This, paired with all the city had to offer, created experiences that were very honestly life-changing.
What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in New York?
A vast amount of issues present around the world as well as the forces which combat them can be found and are emphasized within NYC; it truly is a global city. Many who have the greatest passions to create change (in a variety of ways) call New York City their home for this reason. Because of this, people are beyond willing to connect and share their knowledge with those who seek it.
What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?
I learned how to trust myself in NYC. With this came a confidence I had never encountered within myself before -- it is one that has allowed me to perform in an assured manner that I now apply to every aspect of my life.
What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were off-campus and what did you learn from it?
I have always been a planner, but stepping out of my building and into the city usually meant not being able to return at any point throughout the entire day. This forced me to be much more responsible and prepared -- I learned how to prioritize and plan ahead of time at a level I had never before needed to. This put my time back home and at school into perspective, and I have carried this responsibility back with me.
What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?
Communication; representative to the culture and a large part of interaction and experience, I was forced to learn early on how to carry myself and speak to others.
What was your favorite part of your everyday life in New York?
Accessibility; anything I could need, want, or do could be found 15 minutes away from me -- food, clothes, parks, museums, and everything beyond and in between was just down the street or a couple subway stops away. This allowed me to gain a variety of experiences at an exponential level. I would also include how impactful the everyday connections I made to strangers were; I found myself speaking to others and learning so much about people who have had very different lives than me and different lives from each other.
What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in New York?
I had been walking one morning from the dorms in Brooklyn Heights to the DUMBO Flea Market (a short, 10 minute walk). I normally walk along the popular Promenade (waterfront) in order to see people and strike conversation. However, on this day I subconsciously decided to walk through a more remote route in order to avoid others. As I began to realize what I was doing, I recognized that the interactions I was attempting to avoid were the same ones I came to NYC to experience -- I changed routes. As soon as I turned the corner to the Promenade, a dog ran to greet me. I found out through a dramatic and teary-eyed conversation with the owner that the dog, Shakra was rescued nearly 3,000 miles away from my small hometown where I worked with rescue animals. I was miraculously recognized by Shakra. Had I chosen to escape what the city was offering me, I would never have made such a beautiful connection. Even though this exact experience is one of a kind, I think it is beyond representative of the kind of rare, heart-to-heart connections you make with people in New York City due to the characteristics the city so uniquely possesses.
What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?
Invigorating, Inspiring, Enriching, Impactful, Explorative.
What was your favorite food you had in New York?
What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?
A stuffed animal named after my childhood cat, Simba.
What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in New York?
My favorite artist I discovered in NYC is John Conn -- a photographer I met from the Bronx.