This is the story of Vidya Thangirala, a true world traveler, who started a new life in New York City in her mid-30s. And over the last three years made it her new home. In this interview we discuss what it is like to build a new life in one of the busiest and most exciting cities in the world.
Vidya Thangirala had been travelling around the world since she was in her 20s and calling Toronto her home for many years. But back in 2012, she left a great position in a one of the big Banks and decided to move to Hong Kong for a new adventure. After spending several years experiencing Hong Kong’s unique culture, she started over in New York City late 2016. While Hong Kong had a big expat community that Vidya was able to tap into and find her tribe, it was surprisingly much harder to build that sense of belonging in NYC. Yet, she survived, persevered and succeeded. Her story is a great reminder that any one of us can follow a dream to a new and intimidating place, even in our mid-30s, and with time, make a new home for ourselves.
**Note – interview has been edited for clarity
Q. What made you decide to move to NYC?
A. I was living in Hong Kong and I was looking for a change. I didn’t feel like I had to prove myself at work anymore. And I was trying to figure out what I was passionate about and find a meaningful job aligned with my passion.
After some soul searching, I realized I cared deeply about the topic of poverty, especially poverty and children. And I wanted to use my skillets in a company in line with helping children. So I applied to a a New York non-profit with a strong mission of helping children in poverty. They needed the person to move to New York. Also, with my parents were already living in upstate New York, it seemed like a good fit. I accepted the job and moved to New York city.
Q. What was it like starting a new life in one of the most famous cities in the world?
A. It was very difficult at first! Since I lived in Hong Kong for several years before moving to New York, I thought it would be easier than adjusting to Hong Kong. I grew up in Toronto and I really thought New York would be similar, with it’s multiculturalism.
Instead, and I think this is partially because of my age and my lifestyle, it was very hard to meet new people. I was no longer interested in clubs and the nightlife. I didn’t live with a roommate anymore. I was also more discerning about the quality of friendships and wanted friends who were culturally diverse.
In New York, I found that I had to book people months in advance for everything! And in the age of social media, I encountered a lot superficial people and friendships that never really grew into anything more meaningful. I had lots of people to go to bars with but not many to have a glass of wine with on a quiet evening.
Q. What do you love about New York now?
A. New York has a great lifestyle. So many things to do in terms of museums and shows. It’s an incredible city culturally once you get settled in. I compare to my friends in Toronto and all my friends in NYC with children, for example, get regular babysitters so they can enjoy the nightlife on the weekends. Even when I was looking for quality friends in the beginning, I never felt lonely or bored in NYC.
Q. What is one very “New York” thing you do?
A. I go to this exercise thing called Soul Cycle, it’s a big thing here. It’s very expensive and it’s for hot, young, already fit people. It is basically a spinning class but with Tony Robbins as your instructor. It’s like a night club, with candles and a very fit Tony Robbins – who tells you that you can climb to the top, and you believe it! You run into random celebrities at this place. That is also a very New York thing – having a celebrity in your exercise class.
Q. That leads me to my next question, what do you think is a New York experience that you wouldn’t have anywhere else?
A. I would say running into celebrities is a very New York experience. When I used to live in Tribeca my friend was visiting me and I decided to take her to a Soul Cycle class. And I’m terrible with celebrities but my friend saw both Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds on the way to the class! It’s also common to see celebrities in Central Park with their children, just hanging. One of my friends randomly walked by a restaurant in Central Park once and saw Sofia Vergara eating there.
Q. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to settle in a brand new city?
A. I made the mistake of putting a lot of pressure on myself that I probably shouldn’t have. For example, I gave myself 3 months to make friends and then 6 months to find a community and then another schedule to find a partner. Instead, I ended up disappointing myself! It would have been better if I had no expectations and just lived life as is.
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