Graduation season means that a flock of ex-students will be shot out into the world wondering what opportunities will present themselves and what successes will come next. That can be stressful enough for any regular graduate, but for an international student there is the added question of whether one should stay and brave the visa process once more, or go back to the comforts of the homeland.
I have opted to stay despite Homeland Security’s Cerberus standing in my way.
I have made this choice at a time when many people are joking about moving out of this country (if certain events occur in November). Even if these people seem completely oblivious of the hell that is getting a country to legally accept you, I can sympathize with them. There are many reasons I can think of for not wanting to live in the US, and Donald Trump doesn’t even top that list (yet). For the time being,the pros outweigh the cons. Much of that is because of the addictive quality of the literary world here.
Two years ago I came to New York because it seemed like the thing a young writer should do. Writers from the United States seemed a bit cooler, more passionate and driven. There was something about this great stretch of inconsistent landscape and its self-hating, yet intensely proud and patriotic people that inspired self-deprecating, optimistic-in-spite-of-itself, brutally realistic literature.
Perhaps it’s the newness of the country. And the fact that it was born out of, and regularly fails to live up to, the ideals and hopes that every country should strive towards: secularism and enlightenment. Like a teenager who’s just discovered punk music, America fills its art with as much passion for recognition as it does agitation at the failures of the world and itself. The UK seemed like a cozy auntie to the U.S.’s surly uncle, so I thought I’d give it a try. I wanted to be like Hemingway and Bukowski, admitting how beautiful the world was, and even adding to its beauty, but all the while with a middle finger up to it.
Alongside these virtues is the incredible culture for literature. People here are much more excited and enthusiastic about the literary scene than back home. Nowhere is this better proven and propagated than New York. One reason I think the literary culture of New York has a leg-up on London is because of the simple geography of the place. What the Big Apple lacks in open greenery it makes up for in sheer condensed activity, meaning that if you fancy going to a reading, it’s as easy as picking a direction, walking a block or two and seeing what the area you’ve wandered into has on offer.
Literary events in London can often require a little more of a trek, and take more planning to find the places that offer impromptu entertainment. The only issue here is that one can often be spoiled for choice. That, and it can be quite tricky to tell yourself to take a night off when the free wine and cheese starts to take its toll.
The other thing that New York has in abundance, and that I would be a fool to leave out of this list, is beautiful bookshops. I hardly need to explain why it is a troubling thought to go back to the UK when The Strand, McNally Jackson, Housing Works Bookshop and many others will remain here. If there’s one thing that really does make you feel at home in a strange country it’s a nice cup of tea in a bright bookshop.
So, even if the thought of not going back to the UK for the time being does fill my stomach with knots and has the side-effect of making me watch terrible BBC dramas late into the night just to hear a British accent (not to mention the creepy way I follow British tourists down the street sometimes just to hear their familiar inflections), I don’t feel that I am quite done with New York yet.
It has, without doubt, made me into a better writer, and I don’t doubt that it will continue to do so if I give it the chance. That is a worthwhile thing to sacrifice one’s love for a home-country for. The most important thing for a young writer is to keep other writers in a close-knit circle around you. Doing my MFA here in New York not only gave me a close-knit group of writers wrapped up in a neat little package, but also, because it is New York, it made sure that the majority of them did not want to leave immediately after graduating.
New York has me for the time being. Because, as they say, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Once I have made it here (it could happen) I can swap the Freedom Tower and Empire State Building for The Shard and Big Ben once more.
Until then, if an apple a day can keep the doctor away, then perhaps one big one can do me some good in the meantime.