Illustration for Denizen by David Habben
“I would love to live here,” a visiting friend once said to me. For those living in New York City, this is a familiar, yet whimsical, statement from out-of-towners. Humbled by the confession, we New Yorkers quickly think of all the things that we love about the city. I immediately think about how it is perhaps the best city to live in for a TCK.
I have spent my entire life moving. It all started in Spain, followed by stints in Brazil, Argentina, Canada, the United States, Singapore, until I finally plopped myself in New York for college. What was meant to be a four-year chapter has now turned into six. Needless to say, for the past two years, I’ve been feeling increasingly antsy for the “next big thing.”
My life, compartmentalized into chapters from each move, has defined my life by uprooting myself and starting afresh—new city, new people, new experiences. So, as I considered relocating to Japan to teach, or moving to London for a publishing internship, I came to the surprising realization that maybe I just didn’t want to leave. New York, yes, this one place, fulfilled all that I could possibly want as a TCK. About a year ago I started to, albeit reluctantly, embrace this city as my home.
It snuck up on me, really. Walking around the city, foreign languages swirl past. Parties consist of people with extensive international backgrounds, either by heritage or passport stamps. It’s easy to find someone who just gets it, who understands that the world is so much bigger than what is right here, right now.
TCKs often have a global network of friends, and New York City is that globe, miniaturized. At a rooftop party in the Lower East side, overlooking the Chrysler building and the iconic Empire State building, I found myself easily falling into conversation with someone else involved in public relations. After introductions were exchanged, we found that there was a surprising common thread: we had a mutual friend who we had gone to school with overseas. After that breakthrough, our conversation soared. It seemed as if we were old friends recounting life in Buenos Aires. From just this, I managed to score an interview for an internship while making a new TCK friend.
“Networking is second nature in New York City. You’re always on the lookout to expand your circle of friends,” said Molly Phillips, a TCK living in New York City. “You’d be surprised to find out how small the world is when you meet someone that you knew in the past – it almost feels like the city is one big TCK playground.” Phillips has lived in London, Tokyo, Luxembourg and Singapore.
New York is the world’s global city and TCKs can’t help but gravitate there. The internationalism provides a familiar sense of comfort. Much like growing up overseas, I’ve seen friends come and go – some for work, some to just make it big in the city.
One such friend, Rob Oandasan, a fellow TCK, lived in New York for two years to pursue a Master’s degree at NYU, but has since relocated to sunnier pastures in Los Angeles. Having lived in the Philippines, Singapore and the United States, he too recognizes New York City as the ideal TCK city.
“New York has so many different people, restaurants, and things to do that a TCK can’t get bored,” Oandasan explains. “You get to meet different people from everywhere and they understand where you’re coming from, which is different from other hub cities.”
TCKs are dependent on public transportation, having grown up in places where getting a license as a teen is not a common rite of passage. New York’s public transportation rivals the best in the world – working off of a grid system; it’s reliable, easy to follow and has evolved to become an important facet to the city’s personality. In the case of Los Angeles, Oandasan points out that the inefficiency of public transportation creates a deterrent for TCKs.
“If you’ve been living abroad your whole life, most people don’t pursue a driver’s license, it’s not common to have your own car by 16. In places like L.A., you definitely need a car, unlike in New York,” Oandasan said.
As a TCK without a driver’s license, I couldn’t agree more. The accessibility of New York City’s public transportation is critical to allowing those who come from abroad to enjoy a seamless lifestyle transition.
Most TCKs are plagued with the jitteriness to move, stemming from the invariable boredom of living in a single place too long.
Any sense of homesickness is quelled in a city where cultures are easily embraced. An immigrant city, New York is full of authentic, high quality ethnic restaurants that can often compete with those back home. My favorite, Grill 21, is a Filipino restaurant that embodies the country itself, with the laid-back, no frills décor and authentic dishes that satisfy my well-versed Filipino palate. The owners, an American married to a Filipina, effortlessly remind me of my own relatives with their hospitality and seemingly personal mission to always make sure that I leave with a full stomach.
Cultural events are abundant and thankfully, for the most part, free. New York is great about free public citywide events, from summer concerts, to street fairs, to cultural events. During the summer months, the options span the entire globe: the annual Brazilian Festival that closes off Little Brazil allowing for churrascaria to be grilled on the street, the somewhat obscure Burmese water festival that celebrates the absolution of misdeeds through cleansing by water, or, the better known Singapore Chili Crab festival with free flowing Tiger Beer.
“Cultural events in New York are a great way to get your fill of what you miss and also introduce friends to a part of your past,” Oandasan said. “A lot of people get homesick, but when you get that small taste of something familiar, it helps a little. Plus, you can pretty much find a restaurant from any country here. Sometimes it’s not as good as you remember, but being around people from home is just as worthwhile.”
Hailing from several countries, a TCK can very well find their allegiance torn between the many places they’ve lived. Thankfully, New York doesn’t confine you to a single identity and increases the comfort factor of living in the city.
“It doesn’t matter where you’re from in New York; I mean, the more exotic, the more impressive, but generally, you don’t get a sense that people are just ‘from one place,’” Brian Hodges, a TCK, said. “Everyone has a back story and NYC is the most comfortable place to tell it.” Hodges has lived in Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and Singapore.
Finding home for a TCK can be a lifelong journey. I know that other global cities that could arguably be coined “the best TCK city,” but for me, it’s New York. My opinion is based on something completely abstract without any possible empirical proof. It is based on the feeling that comes when I look into the city skyline from across the East River, a beacon of bright lights, the only reminder of human life seemingly brimming yet self-contained within the rough concrete outline of the familiar city skin.
The differences between people in this city are so highly pronounced and, in fact, embraced, that this TCK feels a sense of comfort in being lost in the fray.
i thought this was a really great article.
kudos to the author who captures authentically what it means to live and be in NYC as a person with multiple cultural influences.
Superb article Maria! You may as well have swept the words from my mouth. I have been here 8 months out of my allocated 12 and am scrambling to get a visa to stay longer. There are so many moments where it feels this city was made for ME that I have to stay. I grew up in the Philippines and miss adobo so I’m going to check out Grill 21 now, thanks!
Well-written article! Just one complaint: Why didn’t you ever bring me to Grill 21 while I was there?!
I’ve been waiting for an article about NYC being the “TCK City”. When I first moved here a little under 4 years ago from LA, I felt comfortable. Never had I felt more comfortable among other TCKs and passionate, creative folks in New York City.
Grill 21 is awesome. Another TCK joint that I like is Fatty Crab – it is run by Australian expats who used to live in Singapore for many years.
What is this Chilli Crab festival???
Perhaps another reason why NYC is an amazing city for TCKs is the fact that many TCKs reside here and often run into each other. I’ve met so many TCKs in NYC my first couple years of living here. I keep meeting lots of them and also those that have not realized they are TCKs.
I wholeheartedly agree, Maria! Whenever I tell people that I neither have a driver’s license nor do I know how to drive, they look at me like I fell off of a tree — unless they’re from Manhattan, in which case they nod their heads knowingly 🙂
I do not think it’s an accident that New York is the headquarters of the United Nations. NYC is TCK Central for real!
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I’m not a TCK (my children are) but definitely a global nomad, and this is precisely how I felt when I landed my bubble in NYC, many years ago, and even before, when I first travelled there and thought, one day, I will live here. It felt right. It felt like home. To this day, when I think of home, and even though I left ten years ago to follow my husband on his assignment, NYC is the place that comes to mind.