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Lost in Chinatown

Will Essilfie

Dear First Year,

Sometimes things don’t go the way you would think. Even when they feel so easy.

After completing our first week as Columbia students, a couple of my floormates and I decided to venture downtown to Chinatown to get some dumplings from Prosperity Dumplings (RIP). The trip there seemed easy — take the downtown 1 train to Columbus Circle and connect to the D down to Grand Street. I had taken the trip a week before with a pre-orientation group and was eager to take it again to show off that I’d “mastered” the subway system to my new friends as well as get some of the best dumplings I’d ever had at that point of my life.

By all traditional metrics, the trip was a disaster.

Little did I know the MTA’s weekend schedule is often a complete mess compared to the weekday schedule. What should’ve been a 45 minute trip ended up taking us over 2 hours. In those 2 hours, we ended up swiping into closed stations—twice—and eventually gave up on figuring out the subway schedule, choosing instead to walk 15 blocks.

Yet, it was oddly a memorable experience. One can learn a lot about oneself and others trying to make your way through a city hungry for dumplings but unaware that your Maps app doesn’t update to reflect the weekend schedule. We laughed and bonded in our feeble attempt to do something as mundane as taking the subway to Chinatown on a weekend evening. 6 years later, we’re still friends.

Photo caption: The three of us once we finally figured out where Prosperity Dumplings was.

Photo caption: The three of us once we finally figured out where Prosperity Dumplings was.

I say all of this to let you know, as confident and certain as you may feel about a situation, life can sometimes throw you for some loops. Rather than feeling dejected and dropping in despair, embrace them. When we were an hour into the trip and seemingly lost, I felt like I had failed. The trip seemed so easy from my first group journey down, that I thought I had embarrassed myself bringing some floormates down and getting us lost somewhere in Manhattan. Yet, in many ways the trip was a success. While trying to make it to Chinatown, we discovered several new communities and got to dive in head first walking through our new home away from home. While the MTA’s weekend maintenance threw us for a loop, it led us to discover new neighborhoods and a lasting bonding opportunities during our early days knowing one another. In those loops, you can end up with something you never expected that was even better than the thing you were confident about.

As you begin your college journey, get ready for the waves to come in. Enjoy those highs and even in the lows, find the ways they’ll help guide you to the next high.

Best,

Will

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