NWNY volunteer profiles: Sandra Merrill, 33, LEAD program assistant

New Women New Yorkers is run by a staff of volunteers. Some work on outreach initiatives to spread the word about the organization’s mission, while others work on the blog team or facilitate events and workshops — among a variety of other jobs. We want to introduce you to each of our fantastic volunteers, one by one.

Extended travel in foreign countries gave native New Yorker Sandra Merrill a taste of the immigrant experience. The 33-year-old East Village resident assists with NWNY’s LEAD program by reviewing participants’ resumes and sharing information about the program with women around the city. She has been volunteering with NWNY since fall 2016.

How do you relate to the immigrant experience?
I believe the immigrant experience is, at its core, about understanding one’s personal and cultural identity as it’s tested in an entirely new environment. Even though I am not an immigrant in the US, I have traveled for extended periods in countries where I was the outsider. In this way, I can relate to the immigrant experience, because during those times I found myself trying to understand a new culture and, more important, drawing conclusions about how I fit in and differed from the people around me. I think the immigrant experience is a truly human experienceit encompasses our deep desires as human beings to succeed in the face of challenges and ultimately find comfort and a sense of home in new environments.

What inspired you to volunteer for NWNY?
As a New York native, I have seen firsthand the beauty of living in a place where diversity is celebrated and people from many cultures mix harmoniously. I believe in cultural inclusion and exchange and feel deeply that all citizens of the world should contribute to each other’s ability to thrive, resulting in a rising tide for all. I was especially drawn to NWNY knowing that many participants in the LEAD program are immigrants from countries where they may not have had the opportunity to easily work in the past. I feel inspired sharing my career experience with the community.  

What is one US or NY cultural habit that you picked up since you came to live here?
I have heard from non-Americans that Americans typically approach new situations with an open attitude, and I think this is a quality I share.

What is a dish that you like to cook from your home country? Where do you find the ingredients for this dish in the city?
I am a pretty healthy eater, so the quintessential dishes people associate with America (fast food) are not really my speed. What I love about living in NYC is our access to food and ingredients from all over the world. In my neighborhood alone, I often shop at groceries specific to cuisine from Asia, India, and the Middle East. Since America is a country of immigrants, especially in the city of NY, I think our cuisine is truly a blend of many influences.

What is your greatest survival skill in NYC?

Do you have any advice you could offer someone who is immigrating to NYC?
New Yorkers have a reputation for being unfriendly, but that is untrue! People are definitely busy and can appear guarded when approached on the street, especially if they are on the move, but I regularly see people here going out of their way for strangers.

What has your experience working with NWNY meant to you?
As a newer member of NWNY, I am still coming to understand what the experience will mean to me in the long run, but am genuinely enjoying my time so far.  




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