Discovering Yourself: Realizing Your Interests Beyond the Crowd

Arguably one of the most difficult aspects of being new to New York City is discovering one’s true identity when having never lived alone before. Despite my close familial relationships, there has always been a feeling of involuntary performance while living under the watchful eyes of my parents, who have expectations about what kind of person I am and will always remain. Moving out was simultaneously one of the toughest and most relieving moments of my journey as a student in New York because the city offers its inhabitants complete anonymity and a chance to explore personal identity beyond the places they come from. It was terrifying to consider my own identity beyond what I became comfortable with because this was the first time that I had complete control over what kind of person I wanted to become; the only eyes I had on myself were my own because no one was yet familiar with the performance of a personality I had become merely comfortable with. 

Despite this anxiety, attending The New School opened my eyes to a diversity in ways of being that I had previously never thought of. Even from the first day, I could tell that people in the city were unapologetically themselves, whether it be loud through political activism or attention grabbing in fashion. This seemed to be the dividing factor between newly mint freshman and seasoned city students; some people knew themselves much better than others. Having not yet made true connections aside from my assigned roommates, I ventured to find other ways of connecting with people and discover my own identity beyond appearances.

A flyer found on a TNS bulletin board advertising philosophy workshops

I have found that a key way of understanding my likes and dislikes is to try everything available. This means indulging in courses that I would have otherwise never considered prior to becoming a university student when I had always considered myself too shy or antisocial. I discovered that I wanted to minor in philosophy because I decided to take an introductory philosophy course that met at 10 o’clock in the morning! Before this, I was always passionate about literature but never interested in understanding the technicalities of thinking; in these introductory courses, I discovered the many ways of thought that influence the ways people navigate the world, thus opening up my perspective to the worldview of others. I would even argue that I have become more empathetic because I am open to listening to different schools of thought that influence lives. A notion that helped me to excel in these seminar style discussions that were held in class was to remind myself that no one there knew me but myself, thus I held the power to recreate myself into the person that I wanted to be and to be as vocal as I wanted despite my initial shyness that I believed I was obligated to bring with me from high school. This mentality liberated me from mere compliance and helped me grow into myself.

Flyer advertising a conference at TNS

The advice to try everything extends beyond school. Take a look at the bulletin boards hanging up around campus: does anything catch your eye? Universities often hold mixers for specific demographics and special interests, even if the event may look intimidating at first, always remember that you are not obligated to stay for the whole duration of the event! This mentality helped me attend many school organized events on my own; there is often an unwritten rule that students should stick with their initial friend group during the first few weeks at their new university, but remember that this is not mandatory and that you are free to do whatever you want! Take the time to consider what you want to do rather than moving aimlessly within a crowd. Most events are more fun when you go alone because you have the freedom to dictate your own actions without any one else’s influence. I particularly like going to open mics, concerts, and other more crowded events on my own because I am the only person I have to look out for while I am there. This also gives me the opportunity to mingle with people that I would have otherwise not spoken to if I were in a group. I find that it is often difficult to dislodge myself from a group that I enter an event with, coming alone lets me find new people to socialize with. Most of the time if you find yourself at an event you willingly participate in, you will be surrounded by like minded individuals! So put yourself out there and focus on what you like before settling just because everyone else likes something.

Last but not least, another resource beyond bulletins and school mixers that can help new students in the city discover their own identity is to read, read, read! It is incredible how vast the libraries are in liberal arts colleges; I know that I was completely floored by the titles available at The New School the first time I set foot in the library. Growing up immersed in books, I have developed an infatuation with life that stems from romanticization of the real world. Realizing this has been surprisingly uplifting because it helps me see the positive possibilities in life beyond my immediate scope. Even beyond fiction, though, reading about other people’s experiences and perspectives on life has opened my eyes to aspects of myself that I was never particularly in tune with. When you have the free time, consider browsing the shelves of your university library and reading up on subjects that interest you. Databases like Jstor and ProQuest are also available right at your fingertips and can lead you to similar subjects that you may find just as interesting.

  And remember that at the end of the day, you are the only one who has true say in your interests and how you decide to live your life. Allow yourself to step out of the comfortable box that you have become familiar with prior to becoming a university student! 



  • Try everything! Take classes that you think you may be interested in even if you do not think that you will initially “fit in.” 
  • Break out of the mentality that you must remain the same person forever!
  • Search school bulletins and event calendars for interesting student led events.
  • Attend events on your own – learn about yourself beyond attachment to groups.
  • Read, read, read! Remember that your school probably has affiliated university libraries that you can also get into! (ex. TNS students have access to NYU libraries!)

This is just a handful of advice for incoming New York City students looking to find themselves and thus eventually find where they fit in. Be the key person who knows your own likes and dislikes, try not to follow a crowd, and remember to always be yourself even if it may seem frightening at first. Everyone has struggled with the notion of identity at some point and it should not be a race to find like minded people to be friends with! Never settle!


Helisoa Randriamanana is an aspiring writer, academic, and recent Spring 2021 graduate of The New School with a BA in literary studies and a double minor in philosophy and religious studies. She is interested in jump starting a career in the world of book publishing and most of her work, both fiction and non-fiction, reflects the humanist philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas.


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