A Common Bond – By: Nicolas Hodel | Essay Contest Winner

It’s a colorful, silent night. I feel the warm breeze of the trade winds pass through my salty hair as I observe the sun set on the ocean and the blood red and orange that stretch out over sea. To the left is Diamond Head Mountain, to the right Honolulu, my hometown: the crescent spangle of lights that reach longingly into the warm waters of the Pacific.

Days later, I gaze up in wonder at the hundreds of massive skyscrapers that surround me in Midtown Manhattan. Cars and people whiz past me in every direction in ceaseless rhythm. Despite wanting nothing more than to study in New York City, I can’t help but feel intimidated by the daunting buildings and determined New Yorkers.

This is the kind of dramatic physical and cultural change that studying at Berkeley has brought me, and through this change I’ve learned a lot. Since being at Berkeley, I’ve encountered more diversity, personalities and competition than ever before. I’ve seen that nowhere is the line between success and failure more darkly drawn than in New York City, where the rich and poor, old and young, artists and businessmen all live together, separated, perhaps, only by a few short minutes on the subway.

This lesson of competition was learned through the exhausting search for an apartment in the city using only my modest savings. It was learned in a waiting room for the Long Island Railroad, overhearing a construction worker talk about how he was badly injured on the job, but neglected to go to the doctor due to his lack of healthcare coverage.

“I think I have nerve damage,” he said. “I can’t stop my arm shaking,” and he extended his trembling extremity…

In small communities, even strangers can be counted on to lend a hand in such situations; a luxury not often extended to city-dwellers.

Conversely, the possibilities and opportunities in New York City are undeniable and unparalleled. And, herein lies the most notable lesson I’ve learned since being at Berkeley: that with risk comes reward, and that by being aware of the darker aspects of human life, we are motivated to achieve greatness.

Moreover, it is the lesson that, despite competition, and diversity in culture, status and wealth, it’s possible to maintain our sense of humanity. When hurricane Sandy hit, and vendors gave away free food, gyms provided showers, and the entire community worked to clean up the wreckage, I saw that what brings us together is more powerful than what differentiates us. I began to see that the culture of New York City is not one of heartlessness, but simply ambition, and that underlying the ruthless competition of the city was a sense of connection shared by all human beings.

It comes as no surprise that I’m not intimidated gazing at the city’s enormous skyline or people anymore. Instead, I feel energized, motivated, and mindful of the common bond we all share.

About the Author: Nicolas Hodel

Nicolas Hodel, winner of Berkeley's Essay Contest
Nicolas Hodel, winner of Berkeley’s Essay Contest

Campuses: New York City and Brooklyn Campuses.
In my spare time, I play table tennis and piano. I also practice martial arts and meditation. I enjoy hiking, swimming and being out in nature when possible. I thrive on new challenges and opportunities. My ideal job would be an International Business and Marketing Consultant.

Essay Inspiration
I wanted to write something that distilled the changes in my state of mind since moving to New York City from Hawaii, and, more generally, the effect that one’s surroundings has on one’s perception and motivation. I knew I also wanted to explore people’s sense of togetherness and common humanity in metropolitan cities versus that of smaller communities.


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