Faces of AWNY: Melanie O’Brien

After numerous visits to New York City between 2017-18, Melanie knew she needed to experience living and working in New York City; visiting wasn’t enough of a fix. A few false starts later due to COVID-19 Melanie finally made the move in 2021, and in June she will mark her one year anniversary in the Big Apple! To mark the occasion, Melanie shares her experiences on life in NYC and how she managed the move from Sydney to NYC mid-pandemic.

Where are you from in Australia?

I’m from Crookwell, a small country town in NSW, where I grew up on a sheep and cattle property but I have lived in Sydney for the last 9 years prior to moving to NYC.

What did you do in Aus/NZ? And what do you do now in NYC?

I managed a team at Gartner that provided guidance to executive leaders on functional management and improvement processes across finance, risk management, audit, and procurement teams. I was excited to join a global research firm and have the the opportunity to work in other regions, but I really wanted to see the action from HQ – North America. Since transferring to NYC, I’m more actively involved in the research process and have greater opportunities to work with clients. I’ve narrowed my focus to sustainability, including ESG reporting and software, investment governance and cost research and real estate, which is super interesting particularly given the current environment.

Why did you move to NYC?

I grew up in a small town and always wanted to live in big, vibrant places. Between high school and university, I spent a year in the UK and it further ignited my passion to work overseas at some point in my life.

While we had originally intended to come over a few years prior, my partner James and I felt one of us needed to have a job that could transfer us. I have to say, it would have been a lot harder without having that professional network or a familiar face early on because I have found working here to be different.

As a professional working in NYC what are the differences to working in Australia?

Australians are a lot more blunt, it’s a bit more political here and people are super guarded. I’ve learnt to not take things at face value and remind myself you need to ask more questions here to really understand what people are thinking.

How has being in NYC changed or developed your career?

It’s too early to say, but the exposure to so many career-driven people, industries and great thinkers has been extensive.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given about living/working in NYC?

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It can be easy to get caught up in having to do stuff all the time because ”you’re in NYC!!” But, don’t be discouraged from having a chill day or some down-time, especially if you want to stay for a while. 

What advice do you have for professionals working in NYC?

Definitely a cliché but network as much as possible; prior to coming and then after relocating to NYC. It can be tough but because so many people are in similar boats, but most Aussie’s here are used to reaching out to people or being asked for advice. 

An AWNY get together at Daintree Bar in Manhattan in 2021

What advice do you have for professionals who want to relocate to NYC?

If you hold off for the ‘right’ time or when you feel like you have everything planned you’ll never come to NYC because there will always be something standing in your way, or something else to manage.

What neighborhood do you live in? Why did you choose it? Why do you like living in it?

I live in Gramercy. We wanted to choose somewhere that is central and walking distance to most of our favorite spots. Once we get more of a feel of being a New Yorker we might head further afield, but so far it’s been great and it’s amazing how often people are in our neighborhood so great excuses to go for dinner or drinks!

What were your first impressions of NYC and how has that changed since you have lived here?

I was very lucky that I came to NYC for work many times before moving here. While I’m now experiencing the city as a local, I still get a weird feeling that time is running out (like you get when you’re on a holiday) and I’m not making the most of it. Hopefully my brain finally starts to realize soon that I’m here for longer than a holiday!

What do you like/dislike about living in NYC?

I fight a constant battle trying to get people to stick to their side of the footpath, or even acknowledge we have a right to walk the opposite direction, grrrr!!!! I also hope I can change one New Yorker at a time by encouraging them to thank people for holding the door open – it might be an uphill battle but I’m optimistic. It shocks me every time when someone walks through without saying thank you!

What’s the biggest challenge or roadblock you’ve been faced with since being in NYC and how do/did you overcome it?

We laugh/cry that many of New York’s biggest impediments can usually be solved by money. Getting an apartment proved challenging but as soon as you come to terms with spending money to get your way and paying a guarantor, it all worked out. It is a very privileged position indeed. 

What’s your biggest achievement since living in NYC?

Look at the ground, it’s amazing how much cash is floating around this city – the biggest find was $50 outside a steakhouse in Tudor City.

What are some ‘only in New York’ moment/s you’ve had?

‘Bumping’ into Tim Cook (Apple’s CEO) in Madison Square Park. 

What do you miss most about Australia/NZ?

I miss the beach, friends and family. It isn’t the same on FaceTime.

What do you do to quell the homesickness while in New York?

I can’t say I’ve been homesick yet, but to counter any feelings of FOMO – particularly during the Aussie summer, I like to try something new. I’ve sampled a new sandwich, gone to a play or comedy show, walked around a new neighborhood, or done something else outside of my comfort zone which quickly reminds me why I’m here. 

Have you kept connections with Aussies/NZers in NYC? If so.. what does that community of Aussies mean to you (being so far from home)? The Aussie community groups such as AWNY are critical in feeling comfortable in this city BUT importantly to anticipate and answer the questions I have.

Who are some Aussie ladies doing awesome things in NYC who are currently on your radar? Meggie Palmer, founder of PepTalkHer is doing some great work to challenge and hopefully remove the gender pay gap. I also joined some of her sessions recently and they are a great way to connect with likeminded people and meet people in NYC https://www.peptalkher.com/. I’ve also been to the monthly event hosted by Aussie Georgia Clark, Generation Women, which is a great night out hearing stories from women across every generation https://www.generationwomen.us/

What is the biggest difference between home and NYC that comes up in discussion?

A salad in NYC has more than three ingredients, sandwiches are not veggie vs meat but offer choices that area a delightful combo of both. I also find a burger is a reasonable order at a fine dining restaurant. 

Fave place in NYC

My fave places are any of the promenades or parks – Madison Square Park, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, Chelsea Pier, Seaport. These places are fantastic for people watching and seeing the city from different vantage points.

Melanie and James in Dumbo in November 2021

Favorite NYC brunch spot

I have mainly foregone my standard Sydney brunch in favor of NYC bagels and some of the best sandwiches I’ve ever had – shout out to fellow Aussie Ben Gollan who runs tours around New York @_man_and_his_sandwich for the best sandwiches of my life!

Favorite NYC cocktail spot & cocktail of choice

My cocktail of choice is a Mezcal sour, but I’m usually a craft beer gal and love sampling all the different types of beers found across NYC. Top places for beer include The Half Pint, The Brooklyneer, and The Jeffrey but I’m always keen to check out new places.

What are your top 3 tips for friends visiting NYC? 

  1. Find a rooftop bar and see the city from above (it’s much better to see NYC from above with a drink in hand and many have better views than the Empire State Building or Rockefeller).
  2. Go on a ferry – either to Governors Island, Staten Island or across the East River to LIC or Brooklyn.
  3. Walk! While the subway in itself can be a tourist attraction and certainly helpful in getting around, the best part about NYC is what you see when you’re rushing between destinations.

Connect with Melanie

Email: melanieobrien.is@gmail.com or LinkedIn.

Author: Australian Women in New York

Australian Women in New York (AWNY) sources stories and guides that will help make you win the Big Apple. We also love to profile fabulous Aussie and Kiwi women.

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