Home Away From Home – The New School Free Press
International students tell how they find pockets of home in the city.
Leaving home and going to New York is a huge upheaval. As of fall 2021, 34% of New School students were international students – many are away from home, yearning for some familiarity. The city is intimidating, but this lacking comfort can be found anywhere, from a friend’s apartment to the cafe down the street. Off the 57th Street station, Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts freshman Kartik Gupta takes The free press of the new school at their home away from home: an apartment co-owned by members of the North American Indian Student Association, who feel like family to Gupta. In Chelsea, fourth-year Lang journalism + design exchange student Beatrice Fröjd takes us to Fabrique Bakery, her favorite Swedish café in town, with pastries that take her back to her hometown of Stockholm, Sweden.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Summer Safi: Can you tell us a bit about your culture and where you come from?
Kartik Gupta: I come from India, more precisely from New Delhi, but I have traveled a lot in my country. I think I associate a lot with the Indian community [here] and the South Asian community as a whole.
SS: How did this apartment become a home for you?
KG: I started coming here often for occasions and weekly dinners – the North American Indian Student Association organizes many events here. I’m trying to learn to cook and Aunt Sandhya [a friend of Kartik’s] always cooking. I always wanted to learn from her, so I hung out with her in the kitchen. I learn a lot working with Sudhanshu bhaiji [a term for brother], who is the executive director of the North American Indian Student Association. We share interests in community engagement and electoral politics. I am also interested in photography and Devanshu bhaiji has been practicing photography for at least eight years now. So, I have interests that I share with every person here. I think that’s how it started to become my home away from home.
SS: How does coming here cure your homesickness?
KG: We’re in middle school, we can’t always cook. Funny, I once stopped at this restaurant a few blocks away called the Bengal Tiger. It’s a restaurant that serves Indian food, and I just thought to myself, “I’m going to have a solo dinner with me.” Let’s do this.’ I didn’t like the food at all. It was so bland to me. And then my aunt said, “Why did you go there? Just go home.” And then I had two dinners.
SS: What specific things are you missing at home that you wish you could find here?
KG: I would have liked a space where there was more engagement with the students. And I think we all have to play our part slowly and steadily [so that] we will have this campus to ourselves. Apart from that, I miss food, understanding and I feel there is a language barrier. Then there are things that are not replaceable, like parents, siblings. One of the culture shocks I experienced was that there was more distance between people here on an emotional level, and on a personal level, they didn’t really engage with each other. Students do not take an active interest in student societies at The New School. One of the reasons I think that’s not happening right now is the lack of good technology. We don’t have a good model for financing certain companies, although there are always methods.
SS: Was it difficult to find other people and places that you culturally connect with?
KG: I think the staff at New School tries to help us when it comes to networking and connecting with more people. But I think the resources are not disseminated in a way that is accessible and understandable for everyone. Also, I think there’s a lot of bias and misjudgment. For example, Tadka [the New School Indian cultural club] is a society in which they would think “Oh, this is an Indian space”, but in fact we try to invite people for all our events and we believe that anyone who is interested in the Desi culture, or brunette, in the Indian culture should come. So join us, have a good time. People tend to miss things here on campus. But, now that student unions have had more freedom on campus since the start of the spring semester, I think we can do this better.
Summer Safi: How similar is the New York branch of Fabrique to the Swedish flagship in Stockholm?
Beatrice Fröjd: The cafe itself is very similar, like the interior, also the flowers, it looks exactly the same. And the pastry, when I tasted it, it was good, but something was missing. I don’t know if it was the bread. The bread was a little lighter and the cream too.
SS: What does your culture represent for you?
BF: Basically who I am, I’m very Swedish. The way I interact with the world, I’m more of a reserved person. Swedish culture has this good stuff and bad stuff; you should not believe that you are better than someone else. This creates a very conformist society. In Sweden, you don’t have to be noticed and that’s a very bad thing. But it is a very socialist society; you should not despise others. In this way, I tend to be a bit of a conformist too. I am very impressionable.
SS: Can you find aspects of the house here?
BF: No and yes. It’s quite hard, honestly, to find the Swedish part of home here, but I would say that I always tend to find my home in the little things and try to make it my home. Usually I find a cafe that I really like in a very safe or comfortable place and then I tend to go there a few times. It makes me feel comfortable having a place where I can be and also be alone and feel very comfortable. And it makes me feel very much like home, just finding these little places that I visit regularly. I guess I’m a bit of a regular person in that sense. For some reason, I’m very reassured to find vintage stores owned by older men who worked in fashion. They are over 70 years old and I go to these places regularly and just talk to them and it makes me feel comfortable. I don’t know if it’s because they remind me of my grandparents in some way, but just having old people who are so nice to you, they’re always warm, they never ask you questions. It really is a sense of belonging for me.
SS: What do you miss in Sweden?
BF: I miss food, to be honest, because I’m a big foodie and food is everything to me. So I miss food, like my grandmother’s cooking. And I miss walking around Stockholm. It’s a beautiful city. There is a lot of water. It’s a different feeling.
SS: What does home mean to you?
BF: I think home is all the people you surround yourself with. The people I meet here, for example, in some of them I also see my older friends. And the house is just trying to get certain things from people, like love and the closeness of physical contact and hugs. Something I noticed when I got here, I realized I hadn’t kissed someone for three weeks, then I kissed my roommate and it was so nice. These little things are my home.