Eight years ago, I packed a huge suitcase full of Russian books and just five pairs of shoes, gave my clothes away to friends from college, kissed my parents goodbye, and moved to New York City. As soon as my high-heeled feet stepped on American land, I was hooked. I knew I wanted to become a New Yorker.
My love affair with this city has never been easy. Being an immigrant is nothing like you see in cheesy chick flicks: it’s not like you can buy a one-way ticket and wake up famous the next day. No, living abroad involves a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, and loneliness; everything and everyone is so different. You feel homesick, your friends are getting tired of talking to you on Skype when it’s always glitching, your parents are crying and saying that if they’d known you were leaving forever they would never have let you go…
Even though I cried a lot my first year for breaking my connections with the past, I was incredibly inspired by exploring a new, exciting city. Having grown up in Soviet Russia, I felt like a child on her first visit to an amusement park when I went exploring the streets of New York. To-go coffee cups? Awesome! We didn’t have those in Russia. Unlimited fruits and veggies all winter long? I’ll take that any day as a better alternative to Russia’s cabbage and potatoes options. Makeup and skincare products at any pharmacy? Man, it’s my new favorite store!
Over the first year of living in New York I probably walked as many miles as a typical New Yorker does in a lifetime. I’d put my ballet flats on (of course, I always had a backup pair of heels with me!) and walk from street to street looking at signs, studying people, and spending hours at movie theaters and art exhibitions. I learned that the best bagels are made in Brooklyn thanks to its unique water quality. I calculated that you have about eight seconds to go through the turnstile in the subway (or even less if you don’t want other passengers to scream at you). I found that certain streets in Manhattan are named after certain ethnic groups—so you can always go to Chinatown for veggie dumplings, K-Town for bibimbap, Little Italy for pasta, and Brighton Beach for pierogi.
Perhaps the only thing that really slowed me down on my city exploration path was the language barrier! Even though I’d been studying British English from the seventh grade back in Russia, the American accent and the tempo of speaking totally knocked me out when I first got here. I didn’t understand half of what people said and felt angry that no one was trying to speak more slowly to help me learn. I also often got frustrated by how harsh locals could be. I was thinking, “Hey, aren’t they suppose to smile and be nice to everyone, like these guys on TV?” Nope, girl, it’s New York style.
I always tell the story of how I tried to buy a cup of tea at a grocery store when I first arrived here. Standing in line, I felt like I’d totally mastered a perfect British accent through hours of listening to audiobooks, and when my turn came I asked in the most polite way possible, “Sir, could I have a cup of tea, please?” In return, the man working behind the counter screamed at me, “Sugar? No sugar? Cream?” I felt lost and didn’t understand what he wanted from me and why people behind were hurrying me up. I also felt heartbroken that someone had managed to scream at me first thing in the morning, not to mention the absence in his speech of any “pleases” and “thank yous” that my English teacher couldn’t have emphasized enough. I went for a coffee at lunchtime and the same thing happened again. I remember thinking, “What’s wrong with these bad-mannered Americans?” And after all this, they think Russians are rude?
People say that once you’ve lived in New York it will always be in your heart… It’s true! I love reconnecting with nature and travel, but my “home” is definitely here, in a city that might feel too fast, too hectic, too crowded…generally “too much”! Somehow I was able to see beauty behind all the craziness, controversies, and individuality of the Big Hectic Apple and I would probably never be able to live anywhere else.
Looking back at my own self circa 2008, with my long hair and bangs, my thick Russian accent, and my desire to express my creativity, I can’t see that anything has drastically changed since then. Yes, the interior is different, but on the inside I feel exactly the same–maybe because I am just meant to be here?
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This mini love letter to New York was inspired not only by my upcoming eight-year anniversary of living in this city, but also by a wonderful woman I recently met. Her name is Parisa Pan Wang and she is the creator of ParisaNYC, a handbag brand that was created to inspire women to be independent and fight for their dreams. Being an immigrant herself, Parisa is one of those rare girl bosses who managed to find the strength during the most heartbreaking moments and transform it into something encouraging for women from across the globe.
Parisa has a very interesting story that inspired her to create her The Love Affair handbag line. She went through a heartbreaking love affair that would have destroyed her emotionally if it hadn’t been for the support of close friends who were there for her. Even though she was disappointed in love, Parisa decided to put her energy into creating something positive and helping other women get through the tough times in their lives. Knowing that many girls express themselves through fashion, she designed a collection of handbags with each piece being dedicated to a certain stage of your love affair.
The bag that you see in these pictures is called “Hooked” and it conveys the feeling you have when you first meet someone and fall for him or her at first sight. You feel excited, intrigued, somewhat scared and definitely hooked. I love the design idea behind this bag! Since the Hooked Lady Bag features two handles, you have more options for styling it: wear it on your wrist or shoulder. The bag comes in a perfect size so you can wear it during the day and at night. It’s made out of smooth, silky leather in your choice of three shades: black, midnight blue, and beige.
The ParisaNYC collection has four more handmade handbags, all available on www.ParisaNYC.com. Similar to my Hooked Lady Bag, each purse symbolizes one of the stages of falling in love and is designed to motivate women to do what they were born to accomplish–whether it comes to career, personal goals, or passions. I highly encourage you to check out the ParisaNYC website where you can learn more about Parisa and her story, see behind-the-scenes photos of creating a collection, and watch inspirational videos. Go social and check out brand’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by ParisaNYC, but all opinions are my own.