How to Get Woke When You’re Broke: a guide to getting cultural experience in NYC on a budget

If America is the cultural melting pot of the world, then I guess that makes New York City the melting pot’s melting pot. It is the epicenter for American opportunity. There is virtually nothing that you cannot find in this city. This makes it the perfect location for cultural enlightenment.

I doubt that any of you have been told that you need “more culture” in your lives. Being culturally aware (or “woke”, as the kids are calling it these days) is an important characteristic in current American society, but it can also be a great financial burden. I don’t know too many people outside of the Upper East Side who can experience all the cultural opportunities the city has to offer without burning a whole through their wallets. So I put together a brief list of low-budget experiences in NYC that will get you woke.

#1: Explore the Neighborhoods. Pretty obvious. There’s no better way to experiencing all that New York has to offer than just physically experiencing it. Go check out the botanical gardens in the Bronx, stroll around Park Slope, have a picnic in Central Park, ride the Staten Island ferry for free, see a sideshow in Coney Island, view some street art in Harlem, get inspired at MoMA. There’s a new aesthetic around every corner in this city. all you have to do is go there.

#2: Learn how to do Broadway the right way. Theater will always teach you something you didn’t know before. As a (very poor) lover of the theater, I’ve gotten to be a pro at seeing shows on a budget. (I will receive my PhD in Broadway Finessing when I win the Hamilton lottery*.) The secret is to know when to get your tickets. I will often show up at a box office of a theater 3-10 hours before the show and purchase rush tickets (usually between $30 and $60.) If you have a student ID, there are often student discounts at the box office. The TKTS half-price ticket booth is another great way to do it, although, believe it or not, the TKTS tickets are still usually more expensive than rush tickets. And then there are the lotteries which I have become incredulous when entering. You can enter an online lottery for almost any show where you can win the opportunity to purchase amazing seats for $10-$30. Depending on their popularity, some shows are relatively easy to win. Others, you must be chosen by the hand of God Himself to win.

*If you have won a Hamilton lottery, you’re automatically my nemesis. I am willing to try any incantations and/or potions recommended to me in order to obtain tickets to this show. I will not rest until I am given the tickets that I deserve.

#3: People collecting. The weird part about New York is that there are just as many incredibly wealthy people as there are those who eat ramen Cup ‘o’Noodles for dinner every night. I recommend having a circle of people around you who can teach you things. If every single friend you have lives in one area or similar situations, you’re never going to be pushed outside your comfort zone. The best way to learn about other cultures is experiencing them first hand. So go out there and mingle! Meet people who are willing to share their culture with you.

#4: Independent theaters. Film is one of the best sources to learn about the world. And the best part is that you can learn from the comfort of a cozy theater seat with your tub of popcorn! One of the nice things about New York is that there are tons of “film snobs” here, so there are quite a few independent movie theaters here that show classic films on the big screen. They’re almost always a cheaper ticket than, say, an AMC theater ticket. So grab your coke and popcorn and watch a screening of Citizen Kane, the Godfather, or whatever movie your pretentious film has been trying to get you to see all these years.

There are so many other ways to experience cultures in this city and the best part is that you don’t have to burn a hole in your pocket to do it. With these tips, you’ll be the most knowledgeable friend in your friend group in no time. Now go out there and get woke!

xoxo, Meredith


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