A Visitor’s View of Central New York
At 12:02 in the morning on June 24th, Yiran Gong’s plane touched down at Hancock airport. The 22 year-old student’s journey had begun in Hangzhou, China. Like thousands of other Chinese scholars she had come to the US to attend graduate school, and as she stood waiting for her bags to appear on the luggage carousel she had no way to let her parents know she had arrived safely.
Yiran’s experience is common. Central New York has world-class universities attracting students and scholars from around the world. As wealth increases in emerging economies, many of the best and brightest come to our region for advanced study.
“I was accepted into masters programs at Syracuse, the University of Miami and The University of Nottingham. I chose Syracuse because it has been my dream school since my sophomore year of college.”
“When I arrived at my apartment, it was empty. No food, no bed, no way to call home. I should have arranged for a furnished apartment, at least I could have slept on a mattress.”
Yiran’s flight was a 22-hour, multi-stop ordeal. She landed in Syracuse hungry and exhausted, her phone battery, like herself, completely drained. Now, in an eerily quiet airport, she was dealing with the lonely reality of studying half a world away from home.
Mark Twain wrote that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness” and that “broad, wholesome, charitable views of men … cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth.” Twain’s quote works two ways; as instruction for self-improvement, and a guide to getting a new perspective on home. To a visitor, we are the people seen in a ‘wholesome and charitable’ way, and Yiran’s experience has a lot to teach us about what it’s like to make an extended visit to Syracuse.
I Get By With A Little Help from My Friends
“My move to Syracuse wasn’t easy. The flight arrived after midnight and I had a lot of luggage. Fortunately I had a contact—another graduate student who had completed the program I was entering. She agreed to pick me up.”
That contact helped Yiran arrange a sublet for the summer, but it came with a few challenges.
“When I arrived at my apartment, it was empty. No food, no bed, no way to call home. If I’d thought about it, I would definitely have arranged for a furnished apartment, at least I could have slept on a mattress.”
The inability to communicate with home was Yiran’s biggest concern. Most international students are used to having digital access to use Skype or Viber for internet calling.
Wifi and internet are ubiquitous in the Chinese provincial capitals, even the small ones. With only 8 million residents, Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province in eastern China—and Yiran’s home town—is one of China’s smaller cities.
As the region attracts more and more academic visitors from Asia, Syracuse property managers are taking note. Fully furnished apartments with internet connections are starting to become the norm.
According to Linda Charles, Vice President with Sutton Real Estate, internet access is now a basic amenity. “People today live digital lives, and a data connection is like heat and water. All the newer apartments like Creekwalk Commons and Copper Beech have internet included.”
I Get Around
Once the apartment is settled the next concern is getting around the city, and most visitors find our public transportation system quaint.
As Syracuse begins the debate about the future of the I-81 viaduct, international visitors wonder why the city doesn’t have better mass transit.
Most students who live off campus get into a routine limited by their transportation options. They effectively wear a groove into the pavement between their apartment and the campus.
In contrast, SU students who go abroad see better designed systems in European cities and wonder why the US doesn’t adopt their methods.
“The CENTRO system map tells you a lot about how we miss opportunities” says Jeffrey Bieber, a Syracuse graduate who studied in Barcelona. “CENTRO runs on long lines that seem designed to move people through the city, over the same streets. They should really have a series of intersecting loops. Through-passengers could transfer from one line to another, but others could circulate around the city. If the bus routes looped through more neighborhoods it would inspire people to explore more. ”
The Rhythm of The City
Despite the limited transportation system, the region still has its charms. Yiran has begun to settle in to the Syracuse rhythm, and she’s sure this is the right place to spend the next year of her life. Like the long-time residents, she’s learned about the beauty of our seasons and our city.
“The campus of Syracuse University is absolutely stunning, and the city is beautiful. The Chinese word for Syracuse literally translates as ‘Snow City,’ but Syracuse also has a really nice summer!”
Just wait till she sees the fall foliage.