I am a city dweller, through and through.
I was born and raised in San Francisco and moved to Juilliard in New York City at 18 years old. I used to think that once you’ve seen one city, you’ve seen them all. But following my cross-country relocation, I realize how false that is. Both places have made me into the current version of myself but also offered me quite different perspectives.
San Francisco is an amazing place to grow up in. It is a unique and quirky town that contains so many diverse pockets of culture. The more you explore it, the more colors it reveals to you. Getting bored in SF is impossible. Even after 21 years, I am always finding new things to experience.
One other wonderful aspect of San Francisco is its arts community. Besides having an innate passion for it, I think much of the reason that I loved to dance throughout my childhood is the fact that I had access to a diverse, rigorous arts education. I was lucky enough to train at the San Francisco Ballet School on scholarship as well as at the city’s public arts high school. Even outside of my school time, the arts were all around me. For instance, people from all walks of life would gather in my neighborhood for Carnaval, an annual parade that celebrates a variety of Latinx music and dance. I even got to participate as a dancer a few times.
Now, there are many things I could say to try to encapsulate New York City’s frantic movements and chaotic harmonies. But for me, New York is what San Francisco would look like if you multiplied it, sped it up, flattened its hills, and compressed it so much that the quaint buildings shot up gloriously into skyscrapers. There’s that popular stereotype of “California walking pace,” which in my case rang quite true, and became especially apparent as I braved the pedestrian speedways of Manhattan. The MTA subway system was vast and lightning fast compared to what I was used to—now I could move from uptown to downtown in a matter of minutes. Even within Juilliard, things move rapidly, from the rush of foot traffic in the lobby before 9am classes to our 40-minute lunch breaks that often involve a meeting to running from one studio to another between rehearsals. My first year at this breakneck speed felt a bit shocking, as if I was being pulled along, but once I found my legs on the ground, I began to charge into every day with passion and determination.
Despite the new exciting life I have found here, I cannot deny that I have, in the words of Tony Bennett, “left my heart in San Francisco”— not just because it is such an awe-inspiring place, but because it’s woven into my identity. It’s where much of my family lives after immigrating from China 70 years ago. It not only showed me dance but ushered me into it. It stood by me through my adolescence, when everything felt dramatic and nothing felt certain. Leaving it was difficult, a little terrifying even, but as soon as I touched ground in New York, I couldn’t help but look forward to the wondrous future laid out in front of me. This city fed my maturity into becoming an artist and a (mostly) functioning adult.
Moving across the country allowed me to start over, in a sense. I associate San Francisco with shedding skin, old parts of myself that I’ve left behind. New York represents the journey forward, a sense of rebuilding myself that is often uncomfortable.
Both cities have special places in my heart. Both have their imperfections. Both are tinged with bittersweetness. Moving forward into my postgraduate life, I plan to take the virtues, cultures, and spirit of each city with me. Similarly, I hope that wherever you live throughout your life—whether it’s in New York, your hometown, or somewhere completely foreign to you— that you soak up everything it has to offer. Because depending on your life’s journey, you may not stay for long.
College applications for fall 2020 are now open.