BFB #9: A New Yorker's Thoughts on Summer Interns

by Michele Dale

A note: A previous version of this article used the word "hustle" to describe the smaller, lesser-known parts of the city and the way I navigated it as a kid. That word is not appropriate for the way I lived my life and I apologize. I recognize that I had a fortunate upbringing and never intended to convey that I did not. All New Yorkers are not privileged just because they were born here and most obviously face hardships I cannot begin to understand. There are great socioeconomic disparities between New Yorkers that need to be addressed, along with issues like gentrification, and I understand my failure to recognize that in this article. The article was meant more as a personal entry about the city than a diagnosis of the city and its problems, which is why I did not originally address such issues. I also want to apologize for the broad brush I used to paint New York interns. I know they come from all over and are trying to pursue their professional interests. It really is the commoditization and glamorization of the New York intern that I have witnessed play out on social media by wealthy, privileged individuals that I was trying to address from my own perspective and I apologize for not conveying this in the most appropriate manner. 

Everyone who grew up in New York City is entitled, but not necessarily in the traditional sense of the word.

We are entitled because we have been privy to the magical secrets of the city since birth. We may come from different neighborhoods, different backgrounds, and different schools but ownership over the city is what unites us. No city kid’s version of how they grew up is the same (some took limos to school while others took the subway) but living there during our formative years has endowed us with a sense of pride.

I am no different. My college friends tease me for my snobbish New York-ness and I am perfectly ok with that (it’s a small price to pay for growing up in the greatest city in the world). What I have been struggling with lately, however, is how I’m going to handle the slue of interns invading the city this summer.

My problem is not with people coming to the city for a summer internship or post-grad job. New York is the cultural capital of the world and welcomes everyone from everywhere. It’s filled with dreamers who made it out of their small-town enclaves and are working hard to create a life for themselves, which is something I really respect.

My problem is more so with the New York intern culture popularized by social media, whereby rich, well-connected students from top-tier schools come to New York with little idea about what it’s like to actually live and work there. The idea of the #NewYorkIntern is depicted in social media posts that show drinks at Sugar Factory and late nights at Turtle Bay. I’m not criticizing people who live that New York intern life, you absolutely should—it looks like a blast! But, I want you to know where I’m coming from and what my New York really looks like.

I went to a public school in the Bronx that had over 3,000 students. In fifth grade, I shoved quarters from my family’s coin jar in my pocket so that I could pay for the lunch deal at Adriatic’s—a soda and a slice of pizza for $2.50. I rode the subway everywhere, trying to make use of the 3 free swipes a day every public school student received. I had a deli guy in middle school named Maz, who remembered me and always gave me free candy. I paid $1 to get into the Met and the National History Museum because everyone knows that price on the headboard is actually “suggested.”

It’s not so much that we had no money, although a lot of us didn’t, it’s that we were crafty. We wanted to eat the bacon, egg, and cheeses from the cart on 14th and 1st rather than get breakfast at Jack’s Wife Freda because it was better, cheaper, and the cart guy had funny jokes. We’d save change to buy a donut after school and skip Tao and Nobu for the hole-in-the-wall sushi place with a $12 lunch deal. We appreciated the lesser-known New York. It’s not the lavish way in which New York interns live their lives that bothers me it’s their unawareness of these things. It’s the continual preference for “trendy” places over ones with far less publicity and way better food. 

Obviously, I’m generalizing here. I know every New York intern is not this way. I am not the authority on New York or on what’s cool, I just hate to see people come to a city I love so much and not experience it the way (I think) it should be experienced. I think you should take the train to Flushing to get dumplings and afterwards, hit up one of the millions of Korean karaoke places that don’t card. I think you should go to Strand, in Union Square, and put down your phone and read something, dammit. I think you MUST go to Veselka at 3 a.m. to eat the best pierogies you’ve ever tasted in your life. God, I miss those pierogies.

I loved growing up in the city. Memories live on every block­—real memories of growing up with all of the normal growing up things, like friendship and drama and heartbreak. I can’t speak for all of my fellow city-kids on this, but it’s hard to see the place you grew up commoditized into a luxurious summer experience characterized by cabbing from work to bar and back again. I can imagine it’s even harder to witness this as a New Yorker who didn’t grow up with as much privilege as I did. New York is the Upper East Side and SoHo but it is also Harlem and Flatbush.

I don’t mean to criticize, only to inform. Do all the intern things—I will most likely see you there. Just remember real people live in this city. We’re loud and crafty and, most importantly, would appreciate it if you walked faster. 

Michele Dale