July 18, 2017
My stay in New York was probably not as most people would imagine it to be. I was renting an old-fashioned apartment in Queens together with three Indian guys and I liked nothing more than spending my evenings looking for dinner in Little India (aka Jackson Heights) and playing games over a beer in the local pool bar. Despite this, I couldn’t imagine a better way to have spent my time in the Big Apple!
Living with Roommates for the First Time
People who know me personally know that India had left a big impression on me. And because I haven’t had enough, I already bought my tickets to go back! Living together with Indians was something that could never work for someone like me (at first sight), but actually it was an amazing experience: my roommates (who are also my batch mates) offered me a lot of privacy. I think it is a combination between their culture and upbringing, and also their personality. They are just all three very chill dudes!
At first I had some difficulties adapting, but I tried as hard as I could. Because no matter from what angle you look at the situation, I was a minority (being a girl, being European). In the beginning I tried to go with them to dinner at 10PM every day, go to bed late, get up early… But if you aren’t able to catch up on sleep during the day, this isn’t a schedule you can keep up with for long. First of all, I experienced a lot of mood swings and I got digestion problems from eating so late. So after two or three weeks I started doing my own thing.
No matter how much everyone tried to adapt to each other, it was a relief that it only lasted for two months. The biggest bothers on my side were mostly things that all roommates might encounter I guess, it wasn’t really culture-related: different standards in cleanliness are a big one in this (but what do you expect living with three college boys?). But like I said, I wouldn’t have wanted to share an apartment with anyone else. These guys thought me patience, tolerance and unreciprocated kindness.
The Expensive Life in New York
Doing my own thing meant I went more often to the local Diner (Jax Inn Diner). It is one of those retro food spots with booths, free water and free coffee refills like you see in the movies sometimes. Meals at this place were relatively expensive, but still cheaper than in Manhattan. But I tried to be smart: I planned my meals in such a way that I would have enough food to bring home in a doggy bag so I could eat it another day. For example: I could easily eat twice from those $14 mac ’n cheese portion sizes.
Grocery shopping sprees we divided amongst each other: taking turns, we got whatever we needed at that point of time for an average amount of $20. Chores like dish washing, cooking etc. we delegated to those who were best at the task. (So, basically, I was always washing the dishes.)
For going around the city, I mostly used the subway system (a monthly card costs $117). Taking the subway is much cheaper in New York. Usually it is faster too. Nevertheless, a cab in NY is relatively cheaper in New York than in Belgium. Don’t be scared to take the subway by the way. Yes, you will most likely meet the strangest people, but they will cause you no harm.
For laundry, we went to the Laundromat down the street. The Chinese people who manage the place washed our clothes and sheets for us. This saved much needed free time and the price was totally reasonable. (And besides, this also reduced the chances of my white underwear coming out pink.)
Going out we did, as I said, mostly in the local pool bar and not too often in Manhattan. Alcohol in NYC is expensive. You easily pay $7 for a glass of beer, $10 for a glass of wine, and $12 for a cocktail. But if you have two terraces attached to your apartment, then what’s wrong with buying a complete bottle of Campo Viejo for $10 and enjoy it at home?
Going to School in New York
Fordham University is not that different from your typical European university. The only difference is that you have to scan your badge every time you enter and leave the building (even to go from building to building) and that they have a Starbucks coffee machine in the cafeteria. Another difference is that the A/C was constantly turning every room into a fridge; I had to escape to the 30°C outside every break to defrost my hands and feet.
Our professors were amazing. You really got the feeling that most of them really knew what they were talking about. They succeeded in bringing their courses in the most interesting way. What wasn’t as much fun, was the amount of work we got on our backs every week. We all worked our heart out and even walked around as sleepy zombies for a few weeks… just to get the four-months’ work done in two. Sightseeing didn’t happen as much as I wanted it to. On the other hand, I did get the graduation I’d always dreamed of: caps, gowns, honor roll; authentic ceremony with a class valedictorian giving a speech that moved me to tears, and some of my favorite people there to support me.
Every day I used to walk by Central Park, over the busy Columbus Circle, in the direction of the theater center called Lincoln Center. Juilliard is in this area as well. The day I had to go back home, I made that same walk again one last time, just because it is one of those typical New York walks that allow you to feel the real, buzzing New York life.
Calling New York “my home”
Who hasn’t wished or at least imagined calling New York their home at some point in their life? I sure did. Now, I was actually able to call New York home – or at least Queens, because it feels more homely there than Manhattan can ever make you feel. I don’t think I could ever live longer periods of time in the City. Even though I like buzzing streets, there is a reason why I prefer to live in a small city over a metropolitan one. The nice thing about living in Queens (which is basically a small city within New York) is that you still live in a city, but you have the choice to easily go to Manhattan whenever you like to.
I definitely want to go back to New York. I haven’t been able to do everything I wanted to do. But would I ever want to live there again? Maybe. Certainly not forever. The feeling that I could actually live in a city where I have stayed for a longer period of time… I haven’t had that a lot. Besides some cities in Belgium, I could call Barcelona “home”. But not Paris or London, even though I have spent a few weeks in a row there as well. Sometimes I’m afraid my expectations of living in New York were a bit too high after dreaming about it for so long and that this causes my dubious feelings about living there.
Nevertheless, I did leave New York with a bit of heartache. But that was more because the 3CMGM program was over than that I would miss the Big Apple. I can always come back to New York, but I can never experience 3CMGM again.
Financially it was a big relief leaving New York. Living there, it’s not for everyone. I realize that now even more.
Living in New York is an experience everyone who wants it should get once in their life. It’s a dynamic city where you get the honest feeling that everything is possible. Just make sure your wallet is full, but also remember there are a lot of free activities in New York you can participate in.
Where in the world would you like to live if you had the choice?