Chris Wan, Class of 2015 Fellow, on what makes NYC special

Over the next weeks, we will be featuring guest posts by some of our Class of 2015 hackNY Fellows. They will tell us about their experiences this summer, from exploring NYC to learning new technologies. Today, we feature Chris, who experienced the best kind of culture shock when he arrived in New York for the Fellowship.


Christopher Wan 

Startup: Magnetic
Hometown: Wellington, Florida
Special Talent: Public Speaking

I grew up in South Florida, the most suburban of suburbs. Imagine pretentiously-named gated communities like Olympia and Versailles populated by paper-cutter two-storied houses. Imagine every single kid being enrolled in recreational soccer at the age of 7 or 8 as some sort of rite of passage into SoFlo life. Imagine being limited to two first date options: 1) Dinner at a large-chain restaurant like Panera, or 2) Movies. Imagine Walmarts on Walmarts on SuperWalmarts.

Yeah, it sounds boring, doesn’t it? Everything is vanilla and chocolate. Black and white.

I’ve been in New York for seven weeks now. Sure, I’m doing software engineering 8 hours a day and not really dedicating myself fully to exploration of the city, but in the short amount of time that I’ve been here, I’ve heard the distinctive blaring ambulance noise more times than I ever previously had in my 19 years of life. I’ve seen people with holes in their ears the size of potato chips. I’ve seen hair colors that span ROY G. BIV, platform shoes that make women look like they’re walking on logs, breakdancers pole dancing in the subway trains for spare change. People here walk with a quick strut, a purpose, and a sort of intimidating intensity that makes you wonder where they’re going, and more importantly, why.

New York is not Florida. Everything is different. Everything is fast. And I absolutely love it. I’m like a paintbrush that, up until now, has been used by a toddler only playing with primary colors, but now, I’m in the hands of a Michelangelo or a Caravaggio experimenting with new hues and shades. I’m seeing colors of the world that I didn’t even know existed.

Every day of the week, every moment of the day, I always feel like there is something going on, or at least something that I’m missing out on. On weekends, groups of hackNY Fellows go out to participate in and attend certain events they’re interested in, and wow, I wish I could split myself up and just do it all. Everything is interesting. There are pockets of New York, hidden here and there waiting for me to discover. And sure, I’ve discovered some of them, like Levain’s Bakery, home of the world’s warmest, mushiest chocolate chip cookies that make Insomnia cookies look like amateur hour, or Woorijip, a quaint and cheap but authentic Korean market-restaurant tucked away in K-Town. There are also those touristy places that everyone needs to visit or do at some point in their lives — I’m talking about visiting Central Park, munching on $5 halal cart food, watching the sunset on the Highline — I’ve done these things, too, and for the first time in the last few weeks nonetheless.

At the end of the day, though, my bucket list still stands, and the thing is that it’s growing. Every day, I’m learning something new about being in New York, something new that I need to go to, or try out, or be a part of. I just feel that 10 weeks in New York is too short, or maybe that 24 hours in a day for New Yorkers is just too little. Every day at around 11pm, I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted from work, but moreover, I’m exhausted by how overwhelming New York is (in a great way).

Chris at the beach on the 4th of July

The scary part about all of this is that I only have 3 or 4 more weeks left here. To be honest, at the beginning of the summer, I had my doubts about New York — would it really be all that? I knew it was a great city, but I had no idea it was actually the greatest city in the world. The other day, I heard a quote by Zach Sims, co-founder of Codecademy, that goes something like this: “If there exists only two of something in this world, then one of them must be in New York.” No truer words could be spoken about this city. Everything is unique. With the time I have left, I’m just so excited to continue making the most of it, and I’m thankful for hackNY for giving me the opportunity to be here. I can’t imagine myself spending my summer anywhere else.