Aussie Kate Lee moved to New York City 3 years ago settling in Astoria, Queens. We talk with Kate about what a freelance “cultural entrepreneur” does, her volunteer work with the International Rescue Committee, as well as her favorite NYC spots.
Tell us why you moved to NYC?
Back in Brisbane, I performed and created performance works and used theater, arts and culture as a tool for development, capacity building and education. In 2012, I joined a workshop with an experimental punk dance theater company from NY. While doing the workshop, I’d pulled out my NYC guidebook (I had a guidebook from my trip back in 2005), mused over the pictures and thought, ‘how am I going to get myself to New York City?’ The next day the director asked me, ‘what are the chances of you being in New York next year to perform with us?’ I said I’d make it happen.
Where are you from?
I grew up in the Blue Mountains, lived on and off in London for years, in Sydney, then Brisbane and did a stint in Tennant Creek before moving to NYC?
Where do you live?
Ditmars, Astoria. I really like Astoria because I feel like I leave the city when I go home, and it’s super diverse, has fantastic food, and has the wonderful Astoria Park and Astoria Park Pool (which is 200 meters long and 50 meters wide).
What do you like/dislike about living in NY?
I love how the culture challenges my own: having to be more forward, confident, fight my own battles. And the diversity is all its forms. I dislike when distance gets in the way of relationships.
What’s your ‘only in New York’ moment/s?
Riding my bike at ten at night in the middle of winter, with snow all around, to the YMCA, going for a swim and having the pool to myself, having a piping hot sauna afterwards, then riding my bike back home through the snow. And, learning salsa New York Style is better (the ‘two’ means you step on the second beat instead of the first)
Any advice for people moving to NY?
It’s good to have something to come to – a course, a workshop. Just to meet people and get orientated. This city is full of immigrants – you’re not alone.
What do you do for work?
I freelance in what I recently titled ‘Cultural Entrepreneur’ – that is being involved with products and processes that use culture as a catalyst for education, development and diplomacy. I recently finished an MBA in innovation and leadership and am currently collaborating with scientists who work on Mtb (tuberculosis).
I also volunteer at the International Rescue Committee doing cultural orientation for newly arrived refugees. It continually proves to be a profound experience, encountering people who have had to leave their country and are now calling New York home.
I also volunteer with AWNY as the Events co-lead. The first AWNY event I came to was Susie Lang’s ‘Emotional Transition of Living in New York.’ It was the nurturing experience that I needed. Especially being alone in this city. And I realized that some of the ticks I have aren’t because I’m a pain the butt, they’re cultural. I was a revelation and gave me some space to relax a little in this big city. So, when I was at the GM meeting earlier this year, I wasn’t too surprised when found myself volunteering to be part of the team.
How did you get into your job in NYC?
I was on a J visa and I sent an email to every person I’d made a connection with, explaining I wanted to stay and wanted to get an E3 visa, and I asked if they knew of anything. A friend responded and got me into her organization.
As a professional working in NYC what are the differences to working in Australia?
Back home work would come to me. It was a shock, coming here, how much I had to hustle. Also, the wage difference in the non-profit sector is astounding. It’s very low.
Any advice for other Professionals working in NYC?
Networking is key and building relationships are key. Here, more than anywhere I’ve been, skills and qualifications aside, people really go on their gut instinct and trust. There is so much competition, so if you click on a one-to-one basis, that’s what counts. And it’s the same way vise-versa, while you have to be discerning, trust is super important.
What’s your favorite New York spot?
Astoria Park Pool and the different parks along the water in Astoria. The pool overlooks the river and the Triborough bridge, and the parks are full of families and kids and BBQ’s. I even saw a game of cricket being played (proper stumps and all).
What do you like about being part of AWNY?
The comfort of all the familiar cultural markers and the warm support I feel from the group.
What was your biggest win this week?
I found out my overall mark for my masters, a high distinction!
What’s the biggest challenge or road block you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do you overcome it?
I wanted to shift my career from its focus on arts and culture to something that had broader application. Doing an MBA was part of this shift, and networking and doing informational interviews have been key to understanding more about the industries I’m interested in and how they work in NYC.
Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar?
Katie Walker. She’s heading up the Institute of Medical Simulation and Advanced Learning.
Get in touch with Kate through her website and blog – Unsealed Roads.