by Hana Uyeda, City Year New Hampshire alumna
My City Year journey began about five years ago. I was a sophomore in high school, a bit bored and very anxious to plan out my future, one that would include adventure. At this point, I hadn’t done any research, and my idea of what a gap year entailed was still very abstract. Then, time flew by, and I was suddenly a senior in high school applying to college. My goal with a gap year was to live in a new place and do something that was different from anything I had experienced up to that point. I learned about City Year through my cousin who served in Cleveland, and I was excited by the seemingly endless new cities I could explore. Other than a couple of years in New York, I spent my whole life on the West Coast. I knew I was going to college in the Midwest, so I decided to serve in the Northeast, and subsequently Manchester, New Hampshire, a city and state I knew nothing about. Choosing City Year as the program to dedicate my gap year to was a great decision, but choosing to serve in a completely new part of the country has made this experience all the more enriching and exciting.
I will not lie, the first time I googled Manchester, NH, I panicked. With no skyline to flaunt, and a population of only 100,000, I was certainly not going to be living the “big city” life. In my state of panic, I tried to transfer to City Year New York. Unfortunately in the moment, but in hindsight very fortunately, I wasn’t able to transfer and stuck with City Year New Hampshire. Turned out to be a great decision.
Manchester is a small city, with tremendous potential. For someone who relaxes by getting outdoors and adventuring, the best parts of serving in Manchester have been exploring all that’s within and nearby Manchester, and the community a small city and small corps create. Locally, Manchester is filled with great coffee shops like Apotheca in Goffstown, or La Reine and Dancing Lion Chocolate in downtown Manchester. Lake Massabesic is also ideal for picnics, runs and beautiful lake views! Living in Manchester, I have been able to explore throughout and around my town to the fullest, mainly because I take time management very seriously. Because I meal prep, clean, and do laundry on a standard weekend day (so I know when I am free), I was able to plan my weekends and say yes to experiences!
Manchester is in a prime location – an hour from Boston, an hour from the beach, and an hour from the mountains. One weekend I hiked a beautiful, snowy, 4,000-foot peak on Saturday, and on Sunday I was walking on the beach and exploring one of New Hampshire’s many quaint coastal towns. Another weekend I camped with some friends in Baxter state park in Maine for a couple nights – which I highly recommend doing! If you come to New Hampshire, both Mt. Washington and Franconia ridge hikes cannot be missed! Even if you are not an avid hiker, there are tons of beautiful, short hikes that will make you glad you came to the Northeast. A winter highlight was doing some winter camping and hiking in the Franconia area. I also tried XC (cross country) skiing for the first time in the beautiful Waterville Valley and was able to ski a couple of times at Jay Peak in Vermont.
If you love to get out and explore, but don’t really enjoy the outdoors that much… not to worry! The Northeast has things to offer you, too. Boston is a great city, only a 45-minute drive, which is even close enough to get dinner on a Sunday night. I spent a long weekend in Kennebunkport, the cutest coastal Maine town, and only 40 minutes from Portland, Maine, another great city. Portsmouth is a fun day trip, and you can combine it with a trip to the beach. If you love the beach, try Kittery Point in Maine, or Plum Island in Massachusetts. I just came back from a two night trip to Montreal, and it is a must-see! Only a four-hour drive, and you land in a country where you can practice your French that is super walkable and bikeable with great food.
I was able to do all these things, and more, without having a car – which means you can, too! Despite the size of the community, it was easy to find people with interests similar to mine. All of the trips I was able to take were possible because of friends I made through City Year. Two of my closest friends were on my school team, and it made my experience even better to be able to get to know teammates outside of our work environment. Without my weekend trips to look forward to, it would have been really hard to power through the winter months. Not only was I able to explore New Hampshire, but I also learned a lot about camping and planning excursions – skills I will definitely use in college. I consider myself really lucky to have met such great people!
Though many are wary of small communities, there are so many perks. Most people live walking distance from you, and most restaurants and shops are close by, which eliminates the need for a car. It also means that you are guaranteed to become friends with people, who have different experiences and new perspectives, who you may never have been friends with otherwise. I’ve formed some great connections with people I would have never expected to, simply because of the small size of City Year New Hampshire’s corps.
Living and serving in Manchester can feel small at times – sometimes you just want to walk downtown without seeing someone you know – but I wouldn’t trade this experience for a big city experience. Rent is cheap, and working with a small corps means that I have more opportunities to form lasting connections with 70 people, rather than be acquaintances with 200 people. So thank you Manchester, for a great AmeriCorps year.
P.S. Joyce Craig just walked into the coffee shop I’m sitting in! In what other city could you boast about a Friday morning Mayor sighting?