Balancing Relaxation and Motivation: Cafe Culture at Stuyvesant

Stuyvesant culture is a pipeline for cafe culture—awkward commuting times, school stress, and necessary productiveness cause many students to flock to them after school. However, is this really the right choice for everyone, and what are the positives and negatives of building such a habit?

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Stuyvesant students are always yearning to find ways to maximize their time and efficiency. For many, the first place they go to when they want to expand their productivity is a cafe. It is a popular practice for students to walk into a nearby cafe right after school, sit, open their computers, and start working immediately. The peaceful and soothing aura of the establishment combined with the alluring aroma of the baked goods can motivate students to work. Such a contrast to the busy, bustling atmosphere of the school, and the city makes cafes more than a place to eat and drink. Other than being a comfortable working space, they can also serve as a social environment to relax and unwind after an exhausting school day.

Cafes are a place where students can complete a variety of their demanding tasks, such as studying for tests, finishing homework, completing projects, and even attending extracurricular activities. A good reason for the prevalent cafe culture at Stuyvesant can be attributed to the abundance of cafes in the Chambers Street area. Junior David Paul stated, “I like Takahachi bakery near Stuy and Genkiya Mart on the East Side if I am already getting food there. In the morning I sometimes sit in Dunkin’ Donuts and drink some of my coffee for the day while waiting for school to open.” Stuyvesant is conveniently located in the midst of a vast network of shops, including delis, food shops, and drink stands.

 The abundance of cafes in the area, combined with ample amounts of free time due to unfavorable train schedules or extracurricular activities, allow students to wander into them. “I usually just find myself in [cafes] because I want a coffee, other drink, or little snack and I am waiting after school for a club or event to start or for the LIRR to come,” Paul explained. “I usually go to cafes the most right after school when waiting for friends, and when it is rainy or cold outside.”

Another reason for the prominent cafe culture is that cafes provide a fresh and ambient environment for students stressed by the competitive nature of school or their academic and social responsibilities. Freshman Zihan (Aulinda) Wei explained that going to cafes in her free periods has been a great getaway from the constant stresses of adapting to such a rigorous curriculum during her first year of high school. “I really need to escape school for at least 30 [minutes]. When I’m stressed, I buy more food,” she stated. The need for a break from such a challenging environment makes cafes attractive. 

Stuyvesant’s lucrative location, cut-throat nature, and the necessity of being time-efficient make cafe culture at the school especially prevalent compared to other schools. “I feel like going to cafes is pretty normalized at Stuyvesant, even when considering the schools in NYC where cafes are extremely accessible. Other friends of mine that do not go to Stuy are pretty astonished when I tell them I like to study at cafes, which makes Stuy culture pretty unique and distinctive from other schools,” sophomore Hyunseo (Eileen) Lee shared.

Some students prefer to work at cafes rather than at home. “Working at home makes me procrastinate more because I tend to go to my bed or be like ‘oh I will restart this in 30 [minutes] or I will take a quick nap and do it,’ which doesn't always work. Staying elsewhere that is distant from home generally is better motivation for me because I know that I need to finish my work before I get home,” Lee stated. In contrast to the cozy nature of home which can promote unproductiveness, cafes can stimulate productiveness. “Just by being in clothes that are not pajamas, the fact that I am paying to help me study, and that I will not be able to go home unless I finish all work keeps me motivated and focused,” Lee added.

 Common household items that create a familiar setting for students will promote unproductive habits, which is why students go to cafes to stay away from these distractions. “I usually go to cafes when I have a lot of homework, and I know that my brain, when I get home, [is] not going to do anything. It’s probably just going to go on the computer and spend hours playing games instead of being useful,” sophomore Scott Chu admitted. “At school, sometimes I’m productive, but do I really want to be doing more work in a place that’s solely about work, work, work?” For Chu, cafes provide an in-between: “Home is high comfort, low productivity, and school is low comfort, high productivity. [Cafes] aren’t really either of those two, which makes me a lot more productive,” he said.

At the same time, some students believe working at a cafe will have the opposite effect. A majority of the favorable attributes of cafes that attract students—such as its calming environment, its free WiFi, and its food—are the main reasons that cafes can cause students to lose focus. “I become distracted by the littlest things like the furniture in the cafe or people passing by,” Paul explained. Moreover, although Wei loves to go to cafes to disconnect from the stresses of school, free WiFi can be distracting. “Every time I access free WiFi, I start to go on my phone,” Wei added. Unconsciously, she is connected to her stresses once again.

The relaxing atmosphere a cafe promises can be tempting, especially at the end of a long, tiring school day, which rarely ends at the 10th-period bell for many students. It can even be problematic. “Sometimes, I decide to skip out on some of my clubs because I want to go to a cafe,” Chu said. The almost addictive appeal is heightened by the work environment that cafes provide. “If I end up becoming too overly dependent on [cafes], then I just start prioritizing going there over other stuff like clubs,” he added.

However, sometimes cafes tend to be crowded rather than quiet. “There will probably be other customers that are loud, distracting, or unpleasant to be around in general if you stay for too long, which might be not the best place to study depending on the day,” Lee stated.

Cafes serve as great hubs for groups of students to come together. Whether it’s for group projects or study sessions, it is common for friends to work together, sharing their knowledge amongst each other while grabbing a bite. Contrary to other locations such as the library where one is obligated to stay quiet, or the school, which can be too hectic, the cafe is a balance of the two. Nevertheless, cafes might provide too much comfort. “We can work for maybe 10 minutes and then have to take a conversation break because it’s just hard to focus with people you like and talk with a lot right next to you,” Lee stated. “I try to go to cafes on my own if I have a lot of work to do because I often end up talking too much to my friends and do not get work done as much.”

Although many students go to cafes with the intention of finishing their work, cafes might be better to use for enjoyment, which can have just as big of a positive impact on a student’s academic life as studying. Paul shared a memorable anecdote that he attributes as one of the greatest benefits of cafes: “Once, I was sitting in a Dunkin' in the morning by the window looking outside and listening to music. I was just idly and sleepily watching and taking in my music, and it was really relaxing and gave me a chance to mentally prepare for the day while drinking my coffee,” he said. “If you are just going for fun and to enjoy the offerings, then it is a great option that is cheaper and less effort than a restaurant. Overall, in my opinion, cafes are a really positive space for communities and a generally good place to be in.” 

Lee also shared advice about working at cafes. “I would not go to a cafe every time I need to get work done. It is good if you really want to enjoy some good pastries there and be able to focus on your work simultaneously, but once it gets excessively repeated you will have to figure out some other ways to keep you focused, which defeats the purpose of you going to a cafe to study,” she said.

For a high school like Stuyvesant, many students have come together to realize that quiet study spots can be a great advantage. The motivation of students to be productive as well as the convenient location of the school makes cafe culture thrive. However, it is important to acknowledge that cafes are not productive study spots for everyone, as different students have different standards. Whether cafes are the most productive study spaces or the greatest place to simply sit back, take a sip of coffee, and enjoy the ambience, all students should evaluate their priorities when going to cafes.