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Cassie Pena

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Cassie Pena

Cassie Pena - Stanford in New York

Major: Management Science & Engineering
College year while abroad: Sophomore
About the photo: This photo is from my final day in New York City, during which I decided to take one last walk across the Brooklyn Bridge. I definitely developed a major affinity for the bridge during my time there, crossing it a couple of times a week either on my morning run or an evening stroll. It was incredible to have such an iconic and stunning structure so close to our residence!

Questions and Answers with Cassie

Why did you choose to study off campus in New York?

The holistic combination of cultural, academic, and internship opportunities that SiNY offers is exactly what I was looking for. After a few quarters on campus, I could feel myself yearning more and more for a total switch up in surroundings from the usual Stanford environment, but I still wanted to focus on my academic and career pursuits. When I learned that the SiNY program offered students the opportunity to simultaneously take classes and participate in an internship of my choosing, I knew it was right up my ally. On top of that, I was craving adventure and new experiences! I had essentially never been to New York before and was fascinated by everything I had heard about it for as long as I can remember. Plus, having little experience in big-city life, I wanted to find out if it was the kind of environment I could see myself living in after college or some time in the future!

What were your expectations before you went and how did those change once you arrived in New York?

I tried hard not to set too many specific expectations for my time there, but I can definitely say I thought New York would be generally much more intimidating (and unsafe, and dirty) than it was. I was super pleasantly surprised by how quickly I became comfortable navigating, exploring, and being on my own most of the time. Before the program started, it seemed like every person I mentioned my upcoming time off-campus to had their own set of must-know “rules” about surviving in the city, and while a handful proved to be true, it was nowhere near as harsh of an environment as many tried to convince me it would be. Also, since it was winter when I participated in the program, I totally feared my South Florida blood was going to freeze over within seconds, but I’m proud to say I actually got acclimated to the cold quite quickly!

What were some of the academic benefits from studying abroad in New York?

A characteristic of the SiNY program that I really appreciate is its different emphasis on specific areas of study during each of the quarters! I participated during the Winter Quarter, which focuses on media, business, and finance. As someone undecided about her future but with major interests in exploring academic and career paths in all of these areas, this was the ideal opportunity for me. As far as media and finance go, New York is one of the best cities in the world to witness both firsthand, and this was definitely reflected in the instructors, speakers, and class trips we had the chance to encounter throughout the quarter. Beyond the unmatched direct exposure to these fields of study that New York provided, it was also super beneficial to get a feel for attending school in the heart of a big city, something I found super helpful for my considerations regarding further studies after undergrad.

What did you learn about yourself while you were studying abroad?

One major aspect about myself I was able to explore was figuring out how I function best in the independent, day-to-day, post-college working world, which revealed itself in a plethora of ways. I discovered how much I value the balance between structure and spontaneity in my schedule, as well as in my work (I interned at a live and special events production company — please reach out if you want to learn more about my time there)! I learned just how much I value regularly surrounding myself in nature and/or open spaces, and more so, the toll it takes on me to go too long without doing so. I figured out that actively scheduling in time for relaxation (for me, this often meant yoga, meditation, and going on destination-less walks) regularly is super effective for de-stressing and keeping my mind clear. I also uncovered many things about myself I could still improve on. For example, I found I could use more experience developing my confidence in communicating my thoughts and ideas, especially in the work environment. All of these little facts came together to help paint the pictures of both where I am right now and where I hope to be as I continue to constantly improve myself.

What was the most challenging experience you encountered while you were off-campus and what did you learn from it?

Finding the balance. Time-wise, health-wise, socially, academically, everything. New York City is in many ways a sensory overload, overflowing with endless opportunities and adventures, which was frankly overwhelming for me to handle initially. I wanted nothing more than to make the most of my months there, which I thought meant making sure I was doing “something” (whether it was social, academic, work-related, cultural, etc.) every waking second. This pressure I put on myself quickly became super exhausting and consequently lowered the quality of these experiences I straining myself to have in the first place. So I swiftly learned how to allocate my time in order to maximize both productivity AND happiness. After realizing the time I spent working and learning, going out with friends, or exploring the city, were all incredibly more valuable when paired with necessary downtime staying in or practicing some form of relaxation, I developed a confidence and strength in making decisions on how to spend my time based on my own genuine interests rather than unnecessary self-imposed obligations.

What was the biggest cultural adjustment you had to make?

Growing up in a relatively unhappening, relaxed suburb my entire childhood and subsequently attending school in the college-y cultural “bubble” of Stanford’s campus, I had very little experience with the more fast-paced lifestyle that New York is admittedly so well-known for. I quickly developed a constant heightened awareness of my surroundings that I previously never had. Whether I was on the subway, walking around, or even just sitting in a coffee shop, people tended to move faster than I was used to. I learned to stay spatially aware because there were simply a lot more people around that I initially found I was often in the way of. I think this can often be misconstrued as unfriendliness, but I came to realize it’s just part of New York’s culture to be a lot more straightforward and showing of how busy or preoccupied they truly are rather than hiding it away as I had always been programmed to do — refreshing, actually!

What was your favorite part of your everyday life in New York?

I absolutely loved trying out a new coffee shop each morning and walking through the city with my daily dose of A.M. caffeine to keep me warm (Yes, literally. I would go out of my way to find a different spot nearly every single day)! I’ve always been huge on walking, even back on campus, so it was awesome to be in an actual walking city for once with seemingly endless corners to explore.

What was the most memorable experience you had while you were in New York?

Although I truly had innumerable remarkable experiences during my months in New York, I don’t think any of them can match the night I saw Glass Animals perform live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. GA has been my favorite band for ages, but they were on an indefinite hiatus from touring in recent years. So, naturally, when they suddenly announced a surprise mini-tour of a couple of the tiny venues they used to play at during their early years, I pounced at the opportunity to finally see them at such an incredibly intimate venue, having only ever seen them perform at large-scale festivals. Not only did I end up dead-center in the front row of the crowd, but I was lucky enough to get one of Dave’s (lead singer) guitar picks at the end of the show! The entire night was unbelievable, and as the last concert I went to before the COVID-19 outbreak put a pause on live events, I cherish it even more every day now.

What 5 words would you use to describe your experience?

Broadening, self-determined, unscripted, liberating, and delicious!

What was your favorite food you had in New York?

As a self-proclaimed foodie, this is probably both my favorite and the hardest question for me to answer about my time in New York. I ate my way through countless pizzas, dumplings, lox bagels, ramen bowls, bakery confections, poke bowls, dumplings, food halls, and farmers' market offerings, to name a few. I’m talking from the world-famous classics to the hole-in-the-wall local joints. Not to mention all the cuisines I explored in each of the cultural neighborhoods! I’ll simply say ONE of the many, many standout dishes I had was the tteok-bokki (spicy stir-fried rice cakes, which as I learned, is a popular Korean street food) at a spot called The Gochujang inside the Koreatown food hall, Food Gallery 32! I vividly remember sitting down with this unassuming bowl and suddenly being so blown away but its insane flavors. It was then that I actively realized for the first time just how many cuisines are readily available to explore around New York that I never before had the chance to legitimately experience. (And please feel free to ask about my dozens of other food/cuisine experiences and recommendations — I love sharing about all my favorite finds!)

What was the most valuable item you took with you on the program?

I don’t think I left the dorm a single time without my journals. I’ve always been really into documenting and reflecting on my experiences. Needless to say, I always had a ton I was itching to jot down during my adventures. Along with recording the day-to-day highlights of my time abroad, I kept ongoing lists about my favorite (and least favorite) foods, coffee shops and restaurants, study spots, sights, neighborhoods, parks, shops, venues, you name it. It’s one of my absolute favorite items to look back on now when I want to reminisce about my time there!

What was your favorite music/band that you discovered in New York?

Without a doubt, EDM. I’ve always been a casual fan and have been to a couple shows here and there, but I really hadn't tried out the rave scene until I decided to go with some friends during my time in New York! I had a blast exploring the genre, and my favorite show we went to had to have been NGHTMRE. For someone who loves live events as much as I do, I can’t believe I hadn’t dived very deep into the scene sooner!