The city with skyscrapers further than the eye can see, millions of lights, and endless dreams. On July 13th, the SAWIP 2017 team left for New York City from Washington, D.C. As we entered the NYC area, we saw the Empire State Building in the distance, and we knew that we had made it. Most of us had only dreamed of New York before, and what it could offer, but stepping off that bus, we knew that we were one step closer to achieving our dreams.

We rushed from the bus stop and got onto the subway – coming from the metro system in D.C., the subway was a force to be reckoned with; it was an assault on all of your senses all at once. This complex subway system that included all five boroughs was something we could not possibly get used to in 3 days, especially as each stop had street names! In D.C., we simply had the five lines with the five different colours, and each stop was distinctly related to the area. However, it was a challenge that we willingly embraced. The plan was: do as much as you can in three days, and the #NoSleepChallenge was born.

We jumped onto the subway and went to our hostel in Manhattan before heading off to the South African Consulate for a night of good food and excellent conversation. Charné gave an inspiring speech about the crisis in the public health system and how we can remedy it. Anelisiwe also touched the hearts of the attendees as he spoke about unity in Africa, and our own shortcomings as South Africans for not stepping up to the plate to protect our fellow Africans. The words ‘Africa Matters’ resonated in our hearts and we recommitted ourselves to making sure that we live up to these words.

We left the embassy only to be mesmerised by Times Square, with thousands of flashing lights in every direction, each billboard upstaging the next. Not knowing where to start, we stood in the center just basking in all New York had to offer. The team then split up, some chasing the city for all it could offer, and the rest of us (read me), retreating to bed! The next day, we arose early and headed off to Standard Americas and had an engaging talk about the finance world in relation to South Africa and how to be successful in the finance capital of the world. We then stepped outside and were met with some summer rain through which we ran to the United Nations headquarters – a dream for some of us since they were thirteen years old (again, read me). We were given a tour of the United Nations, and for many of us, our eyes lit up and saw our future selves there. When I stepped into the General Assembly room, I made a promise to myself that I would sit in that Assembly one day and represent South Africa; that dream will become a reality.

We then took the Staten Island ferry and saw Lady Liberty in all her glory! A few people (again, read me) missed the ferry back and were left behind, and had to take the next one in (the experience was entertaining and we made the most of it). Upon our return to the mainland, some went to Broadway, fulfilling childhood dreams to see the very best of theatre! 1984 by George Orwell was on, with Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge starring in the dystopian play. This was one for the books – we were literally on the edge of our seats as it was a 4D experience. (Read this article that discusses whether the violence and graphic scenes should be slightly toned down.)

I won’t get into too much detail about the events that ran between 10PM and 4AM, but let’s just say almost none of us made it to bed! Some of us even attempted to watch the sunrise the next morning at Central Park (spoiler: no sun, only rain). Some of us ended the weekend with a walk across Brooklyn Bridge, and said goodbye to Times Square.

It was an unforgettable weekend, walking more than 32,000 steps! It’s safe to say that we all left a little bit of our hearts in New York City, the place where we will definitely return to fulfil our dreams.