August 26, 2021

GUEST ROOM | What I Learned About Ithaca When I Went to Syracuse

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Back in April, my fellow opinion columnist Anuli Ononye ’22 published My First Time at the Ithaca Farmers Market. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend giving it a read. While I have frequented the farmer’s market since I was a freshman, this past weekend I had the opportunity to cross off a different upstate New York first: going to Syracuse. 

Don’t tell the admissions board, but despite applying to Cornell early, I wasn’t sure Cornell — and Ithaca in general — was a good fit for me. I had spent most of my life a 30 minute train ride from New York City and if anyone had asked me, I would have said it was my favorite place in the world, rats eating pizza in the subway and all. When I thought about Cornell, I thought of a cold, gray, snowy place with nothing but cows and fields and a few shops and restaurants. It reminded me of the few years I’d lived in Pennsylvania, which I wasn’t eager to repeat. Flash forward three years and while I’ve had my share of cold, gray and snowy days, the last year has radically changed my conception of Ithaca and the surrounding area. 

When I first came to Cornell, it confirmed a few of my fears. I missed home and felt isolated and intimidated among beautiful Ivy League buildings. The first few weeks of the semester were brutally hot and the winters were cold. I didn’t have a car and becauseI was nervous to ask for rides, I just stayed in a little bubble and took the TCAT where I could if I had the time.

My recent visit to Syracuse only served to highlight what I had been feeling for a while. Quarantine and other COVID related situations have required me to spend more consecutive time in Ithaca than ever before, resulting in an amount of“Ithaca pride” I did not think possible. I foster cats for the cat café and work at a local restaurant. I keep on finding new, beautiful parts of downtown on my runs and the New Yorker in me continues to be baffled each time an elderly stranger waves at me as I jog past. 

Obviously, not everyone is the picture of hospitality. But when a random Syracuse waitress handed my friend and I a list of all the best places to go in Armory Square, I have to say I was warmed by the enthusiasm, especially since she could have just said we were already at the best bar in town. It wasn’t New York City, but there was still a lot to enjoy and see and do. Some of the enjoyment was realizing how far I’ve come from feeling out of place here. I knew some of the local brewery brands, I could talk about the Finger Lakes and the gorges. When customers at the restaurant where I work ask if I have recommendations for things to do, I’m able to fill a whole piece of paper with suggestions. 

It sounds cliché and I’m definitely starting to enter old, sentimental senior year territory here, but Cornell truly is what you make it. It can be a small place where you feel isolated in the middle of nowhere or you can reach out of your comfort zone and get to know where you’ll be spending your four years. 

Emma Smith is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Smith is also an Opinion Columnist at The Cornell Daily Sun. Comments can be sent to [email protected] Guest Rooms run periodically throughout the semester.