Encountering Strangers

Jane Soliternik

Encountering strangers was a very difficult assignment for me because I am quite shy and it always has been hard for me to speak to random people and strangers. For every time that I came up to a stranger and introduced myself and the assignment I was working on, I hoped that they wouldn’t think of me as a bother.

My first encounter was at the local bagel shop by my house. I sat next to a woman, who looked like a college student, wearing a Queens College sweatshirt. At first I was hesitant to approach her because she seemed irritated and tired. As a college student, I know how that feels. I was able to introduce myself and explain to her that I am a college student as well, working on a field observation report for my Discover New York course. She didn’t seem as irritated and annoyed as she looked after all. She was interested in the assignment and gladly spoke to me about her experience after the hurricane. She was staying over her uncle’s house temporarily because the area in which she lived in has lost power and her building was slightly flooded. I asked her how she would identify herself in regards to the hurricane, and she replied that she was affected severely. She had lost all Internet access, was not able to go on Facebook, and her family’s car was flooded. That was when I realized how much people do not appreciate the fact that all their family members are still alive after this tragic event. Many young people worry about losing power and access to social networking sites, or materialistic things such as cars.

My second encounter was on the line at a gas station. Lines were still long as people waited for the tank to bring gas into the station. As I put my car in park mode, I got out to join a group of people who were discussing the damage that happened during the hurricane. There was one man wearing a suit who seemed to be a business man of some sort. I was hesitant to approach him because he seemed too serious to speak to a stranger about himself. I told him about my assignment, however he wasn’t too fond about the idea of me asking him questions. My prediction was correct, although he did eventually cooperate. He identified himself as a victim of the hurricane because he was not able to get gas to get to work in the city. I asked him whether his family was okay, and he replied that everyone is safe and sound. This encounter, again, made me realize how people under appreciate the important things, the things that come first, and instead worry about things that come second such as work and cars. 

Right after the hurricane, many trees came down, especially in the park near my area. That is where I encountered another stranger. I spotted a very old man sitting alone on a bench, wearing expensive looking snow boots and a large winter jacket to keep warm from cold weather. These prestige symbols allowed me to approach him easily, keeping in mind that he is most likely a very cultured and welcoming man. I approached him and introduced myself as a St. John’s student who is conducting a field experiment. After explaining the purpose of the assignment, the man agreed to participate. I quickly recognized his heavy Russian accent. I tried to speak with him in Russian in order for him to understand me better. I noticed he was the only person in the park that day, and so I asked him what he was doing in the park in such weather conditions after the hurricane. He told me that his house is still out of power and stated “why should I stay home passing time on my grandson’s iPad when I could be outside and observe another harsh event in New York’s history that I may possibly never witness again, as I am very old. Many of us do not appreciate both the good things we are given and the bad things that life allows us to survive through.” We conversed about his life back in Russia, his greatest accomplishments, and his experience during the hurricane. I finally asked him a question about identity: “how do you identify yourself, in general or specific terms?” and he gave me a sophisticated answer in the most calm manner: “happy.” This one simple answer made me realize that although this man had a low paying job his whole life, he was passionate about what he did and had a big family to support him and make him the content man that he is. He did not take anything in life for granted, unlike the other two strangers I have encountered.  

After encountering three strangers, I realized that the younger generations seem to appreciate materialistic things, such as the businessman or the college girl. Older people, such as the old Russian man, seemed to know the value of things that actually matter. 


Encountering Strangers. Define Yourself

Encountering Strangers. Define Yourself

Define yourself. Words so simple but yet so complicated. Living in New York brings a variety of different people from different places. this was going to be my testing ground to find out how people define themselves. I chose to go into Manhattan and question people on this topic, Manhattan is full of business people or tourist so i knew for sure i was going to get different answers. i decide to question a business man, a tourist, and a average person. finding a business man in Manhattan was the easy part but finding a business man that wasn’t in a rush and would speak to me was the hard part. After many trial and errors I finally found a business man that was leaving work from Goldman Sachs. I walked up to him and asked him “define yourself”

He was confused but also interested. he smiled and told me to come inside the building with him so we can talk. He told me his name was Charles and he was a accountant for Goldman Sachs. He asked what i meant by “define myself” and what i needed it for. i explained it was for a school project and said he would be glad to help. He didn’t know where to start on the subject so he just started by saying ” I was born in Staten Island, NY in Port Richmond. I lived with my mother and father and attended Port Richmond High school then after attended Princeton University.” He explained to me that doing his early years he often pondered the meaning of life and the purpose of our existence in the world. He told me he wanted to make a difference in the world and not just be a gain of sand on the beach mattering to nobody. He said that he defined himself by his action and words and how he conducted himself. He defined himself as smart, educated, courageous, adventitious, and daring. The last thing on the topic that he said was that he defines himself as a man simply trying to make it to the top.

After I left the business man, my next target would be a tourist. that too was a fairly easy thing to so because New York City is overwhelmed with them. I found a woman taking pictures of the empire state building and i walked up to her and told her i had a school project and i needed her help. I explained what the project was about and then i asked her to “Define herself”. She described herself as a elderly woman who still believes she is young and lovely, she said she is adventurous and loves taking trips around the world. she said life was too short not to experience the most of it and that she defined herself by where she goes, what she has seen in life and the amount of people she has helped in this world. she said to me that we have to give back to the world in anyway that we could. that was all that she was able to give me.

Next was average person. I found a person buying a hot dog and explained to him what i was doing and i asked him to “define himself”. He had a hard time doing so, he had to think about it and then he told me that he was just a everyday New yorker going about his life day to day. He said he defines himself by all the good things he has done and also by his 3 children, what they grow up to be will define him as a parent. After my studies where done i realized that one thing all 3 people had in common was that they all wanted to leave a legacy with the world.

Negotiating Public Space

Jane Soliternik

When people are used to being in the same public space many times, they usually don’t observe their surroundings. I have chosen Times Square as a public space to negotiate because it is one of the most interesting and diverse places in the city, filled with people of many backgrounds who all seem to follow the same social norms. When getting lost in the large crowds in Times Square, I viewed everything from a different perspective, not from the perspective of a typical New Yorker. These observations allowed me to identify these social norms, and how they are negotiated or contested. 

The stereotype “the city that never sleeps” can be perceived in the midst of all the lights and skyscrapers, where hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists roam in Times Square around midnight. My first goal was to observe how people interact with each other, and how these interactions in this public space are different from other places I have been to. Being a resident of Queens, I have noticed that many people keep to themselves. This is different in the heart of Manhattan. Strangers become friends and locals offer welcoming gestures to lost tourists. When sitting on the TKTS booths, I overheard a conversation between a young woman from France and a couple who sat in front of me. Their interest in her background led to a lengthy conversation and an exchange of contact information. The norm to converse with and befriend strangers is one of the key aspects that shape the city of New York. 

I then passed by a few people wearing costumes and interesting suits. The one that stood out to me the most was the naked cowgirl. People posed by her side to take pictures while others enjoyed the view. One woman standing next to me gave me a disturbed look and said, “this is disgusting, this is not normal” with a heavy Russian accent. She proceeded to complain to other foreigners around her who complied with her. I figured she was a tourist who follows different social norms just as the others who agreed with her comments. Her remark made me realize that even though I have seen the naked cowgirl before, my reaction was the complete opposite. I became aware that seeing a naked woman on the streets of Times Square is normal for a local like me. This norm is contested, however, when in the presence of many who do not recognize it as a norm in their perspective. I have also witnessed this norm being negotiated. Some passerby’s who looked confused at the sight of the naked cowgirl were influenced by people who stood there admiring the woman as an essential part of what New York City is: the city that accepts everyone, all different kinds of people. The passerby’s began to admire her as well and smiled in amusement.

It was interesting to have done this field report in the midst of one of the world’s greatest cities. You never actually notice these things if you have lived in this area for a while. I have come to recognize many norms that I failed to notice before hand, and became a bit more observant of my surroundings, not just in New York, but also in other places that I visit. 

ASL Reaction Post

Jane Soliternik

Back in September I decided to get my service hours over with early so I chose to work at Kehilat Sephardim, the Bukharian Jewish Center of Kew Garden Hills. I never thought that volunteering here would be a life changing experience. I did not know what to expect from working here, but I was hoping that it wouldn’t be too awkward. Upon my arrival, I found out that most of the staff are from Ukraine, my home country. They spoke with me in Russian and Ukrainian, so I was able to have a better connection with them. It was not awkward as I thought it would be. I was assigned to work at the food pantry. I had to pack certain foods and beverages in each bag, including grape juice, canned soup and vegetables, and fresh fruits. For the first few hours, I was working in the back, packing bags and carrying heavy boxes. I was getting a bit bored because it was repetitive, and tired because my back hurt from carrying loads of boxes that contained heavy cans and bottles. My supervisor saw me struggling with it and assigned me to give out the packed lunches. I worked at the front around people for the rest of the time I had left. I met many other individuals who also volunteered at the pantry. They were kind and we all seemed to have a lot of fun. I also conversed with the people who came to pick up their food and saw some familiar faces. I never realized how rewarding giving out food for those in need was until I volunteered here. I felt warmth in my heart when I was told “thank you” and was given big smiles for my effort. I had a great experience volunteering here, and will continue to volunteer at other food pantries to contribute to people in need. 

Encountering Strangers

Field Report #2

Encountering Strangers

            Who are you? It’s a simple three worded question and yet so many people really don’t know how to go about answering it. The question is almost too aggressive—or at least that is what I realized from the reactions I received from the three strangers I encountered; it forces the questionee’ to suddenly dive deep into their view of themselves and most of the time they haven’t fully understood that view. Imagine, if I were to ask you, “Who are you?” how would you answer me? Personally, I would be speechless, at first, for I really don’t know who I am-—and I’m sure the same goes for others. Yes, while we may have a good sense of our morals, what truly identifies us?

That is exactly how one person—a middle aged woman I’d ran into at the supermarket had answered me. She was fairly young and running after her hyperactive five year old son. When I asked her who she was, she shrugged, distraught and then sighed, “I really don’t know, honestly…” and then she paused, looking down at her son and smiled “A mother?” It was hard not to smile at her comment; she didn’t have a clue who she was—or, rather, didn’t even have herself figured out yet– but she had a strong feeling her identity lied within her son.  So identity, when thinking about my encounter with this woman, had to have lied in someone’s role— or, in this case, who we live for.

The second person I encountered had a different idea; he immediately shot his view on himself because he was one hundred percent sure identity was assimilated to someone’s actions and decisions.  It was almost as if he was trying to force his view of himself to himself. This man was also young— very young, almost in his yearly twenties; and you would think he would have a similar reaction to the woman I talked to above; however, this man seemed to know exactly who he was and why this was so. “A guy just shopping for food…..” he said at first. “So that’s how you would identify yourself as?”I asked to extract a somewhat similar reaction I received from the woman.  He laughed and then immediately corrected his original statement and went about explaining that he was who he was in terms of his actions. He gave me the example of his choice of groceries in a funny manner. “Well I am I person who buys a lot of Triscuits and Pepsi, not the kind of of guy who buys a lot of, let’s say– alcohol at 5 in the afternoon” he laughed and I laughed along seeing the point of his little example. So to him, unlike the woman I’d encountered at the supermarket lies within a person’s decision—may it be a small or large decision.

So far I’d come to observe that identity came from who you live for and the decisions you make. However, the next four people I asked didn’t have a clue or just didn’t bother answering the question the correctly. I received shrugs and aggravated sighs because most of the these people didn’t wanted to think about themselves—maybe because they hadn’t figured themselves out or maybe they didn’t have the time to figure out their identities? While I was lucky enough to receive genuine answers from the first two people I interviewed I noticed that majority of the people just did not have a clue about who they are, but they really didn’t care either.  So this got me thinking: why was it that they didn’t care?

Surely, before one can even venture out of their homes and face daily life, one must have a pretty good and strong sense of who they are, right? – Maybe not, I suppose people are too preoccupied with the tasks of daily life in order to truly discover their identity. While we may have a vague sense of who we are through our actions and the people we live for we really don’t have a full grasp on ourselves partly due to the demands of daily life. Maybe we are too preoccupied in order to understand ourselves?



5 Pointz Reaction

Before coming to New York, the most intricate graffiti I saw was someone spraying their initials on abandoned buildings and on the walls of underpasses. I never thought much of it; it was just some kid who felt like doing something commonly troublesome, when the truth of the matter is that graffiti never hurt anyone. It was just a little disrespectful, nothing more, nothing less.

However, our trip to 5 Pointz (as well as our discussions in class) completely changed my perspective. Other writers come from around the world to show their work here. It’s art – just another way for people to express themselves. After hearing from other writers about how much effort and thought they put into their work completely astounded me. It’s very clear that this “bombing” is more than meets the eye.Image


Encountering Strangers

In my opinion most people of New York are not as friendly as other people, which is why it took so much courage for me to approach a stranger with such random questions. When I actually went out to approach people I had a difficult time choosing whom I would talk to. Some people may be having a bad day and might come off as “crabby” or maybe someone would talk entirely too much.


So, I was riding to 169th Street Station after visiting my family from back home one night and there was a man standing next to me in the subway car. He had on dusty Timberland boots with blue pants and a black jacket. He also wore a dusty black pack back over one shoulder. I turned to him and politely spoke to him and we engaged in a conversation. I discovered that he was on his way home to family. So, I asked him how was his Thanksgiving and he replied “ohh..It was pretty good.” but he really seemed unsure. We continued to talk about New York and we even talk about St. John’s University. Throughout the conversation his tone did change at times. After a while I sat down and I quickly glanced over and the train was passing through a station and I hear “36th street, 36th street, 36th street, 36th street….oh no I can’t see it anymore” and more random babbling. I looked up again and it was the man I was talking to then I figured that this man was a sort of crazy; it just got weirder from that point on. I only approached him because he was a complete stranger and that’s what the assignment was about. I assumed he was a worker because I saw a stigma symbol – dusty work boots and blue pants. I guess since I thought that he might be employed I didn’t think that he would be crazy.


The second person I talked to is not a stranger at all but I never really had a “deep” conversation with him per se. He is a close friend of my two roommates and he came to our room one day. We were all talking about random things and I asked him “what was the bravest thing you’ve ever done”? He replied with a smile and told me about the time he was in the food court of a mall and he ran across the food court to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a woman who was choking. I was very surprised at his response because my virtual social identity of him was that he wasn’t really brave or intelligent enough to do anything out of the ordinary.

The third person I encountered was a stranger in Montgoris Dining Hall on Campus. I walked up to and employee who works in the office. I asked her “why do all the employees get mad when we try to take food out of here”? She gave me the longest explanation. I also asked her “why did she work here and how did she get the job”? She told me that she went to school for management and St. John’s had an open opportunity so she took it. I didn’t think that she went to school; I thought she probably got lucky and landed a job randomly at St. John’s.  But her actual social identity was that she was an educated employee.