May & June 2016: Living in New York, What Is That Like?

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!

indian food friends jackson heights

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.

new york expensive living me

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?

fordham university new york

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.

graduation fordham new york

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.

graduation fordham new york

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?



Free Stuff To Do in New York

July 11, 2016

I only had two weeks to recover from my trimester in India. Before I had time to get settled in again in Belgium, I left already for my third and last destination: NEW YORK!

After just one week it became clear to me that we would have to fight to get some free time. We all know New York to be a fast-paced and buzzing place and that high pace and busyness we would encounter everywhere we went and in all the things we did.

Even though I spent two whole months in the Big Apple, I still didn’t have time to do everything I wanted to do. I decided to first tick off free and budget-friendly things on the list to compensate the high cost of living.

Today, I am sharing with you a list of free (or almost free) activities that will make your trip to New York exciting and wallet-proof!


Free Activities in New York


1. Roosevelt Island Tram

Between the isles of Manhattan and Queens you’ll find Roosevelt Island. Mainly, it is a residential area, but it is still worth a visit because of the Roosevelt Memorial on one side of the island. Take the orange F train towards the island and as soon as you go above ground, you’ll get that amazing view of the Midtown Manhattan skyline. It is nice to go both during the day and in the evening. At night, you can sit in the grass and admire the city lights. During the day, you can stroll take a stroll by the water. When leaving the island, take the hanging tram. The ride is free is you have a subway ticket. The view over Midtown is a nice and different experience. Definitely worth a try! Mind you, during the summer the cabins are suuuuper hot inside!


2. Staten Island Ferry

Staying in the transport theme, I want to introduce to you the free boat ride that will take you by the Statue of Liberty, all the way to Staten Island. Just like the Roosevelt Island Tram, the Staten Island Ferry is an official transport system in New York that commuters use to go to work every day. That’s why you can take the ferry for free – even when you don’t have a subway ticket! The boat is really big and takes off every half hour. On the island itself there isn’t much to see. There is a nice terrace by the water where you could go have a drink, but you could also just go and sit on the boardwalk to enjoy the view on Manhattan and Lady Liberty.


3. High Line

Let’s switch to the green stuff: the New York High Line is an elevated railroad transformed into a greenway. The railroad had long been deteriorating and, eventually, the city decided to break down the railway. Until the citizens came with the idea to turn the railway into a park, based on Paris’s Promenade Plantée. Today, the High Line is a favored spot for a picnic or a walk/jog. You’ll enjoy wonderful views over the Hudson River, Meatpacking District and Chelsea. Pieces of art are placed on strategic places between all the greenery. I was super happy that I finally got to discover this place for myself and walk all the way from one end (14th Street) till the other end (Gansevoort Street). And also, entrance is completely free!


Source: Traveldigg

4. Central Park

To stay in the park’s theme, I probably shouldn’t have to tell you anymore that you can visit Central Park for free? A few centuries ago, the New Yorkers realized that very soon they wouldn’t have enough green and nature left in the fast-expanding city. That is exactly why they created one of the biggest parks of the world. You can participate in many paid activities in Central Park which are also worth trying – like renting a boat on the lake, going for a bike ride, or lunching at The Tavern on the Green – but like in all other parks, you could also organize your own picnic, go for a jog, or have fun people-watching (which is a fun pass-time anywhere in New York). You could entertain yourself watching one of the frequent baseball practices or attend one of the many free festivals (theater, concert, yoga) that are organized during the summer.


5. Coney Island

Coney Island has been on my to-do list for a looooong while. The peninsula is mainly known for its “peculiar” residents, the Mermaid Parade that takes place every beginning of June, the amusement parks and the white sand beaches. Even though the rollercoasters were my main point of attraction, it turned out the amusement parks are actually really expensive! Just like at the fair, you pay separately for each attraction. This means you’ll be putting down 10-12 bucks easily per ride. In the end, I went for the Mermaid Parade (check out this video) and the beach. If you are in New York for just a few days, skip this place. It takes a long while to get here. But if you are in NYC for a longer while or just really want to go for the rides, then go ahead and enjoy!


Extra Tips for a Wallet-proof New York Experience

Free museum nights: take a look at the website of your favorite museums to find out how you can get an (almost) free entry ticket. Some have a donation-based entrance policy after a certain hour. So basically you could visit the MoMa for just $1!

Discount discoveries: start following Time Out on Facebook or look out for the booklets they hand out near the entrance of big subway stations. Time Out lists the free or cheap activities that will take place each week all over New York.


Don’t mind spending a little more?

Top of the Rock: if you have to choose, go to the top of the Rockefeller Center. Not only won’t you have to stand in line as long, you’ll also be able to take pictures of panoramic views of New York with the Empire State Building in it! I went at night and got blown away by the city lights! (Price: $29, with time slots)

Bicycle Tour in Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan: many parts of Brooklyn are quite impossible to reach because there is hardly any public transport going there and it’s too far to walk. Yet, they are totally worth visiting! Going on a guided bicycle tour was the perfect decision if you ask me. (Price: $49 with Rolling Orange Bikes)

Broadway Musical: Broadway… where stars are born and dreams turn into reality. I attended the Disney produced musical Aladdin and let me tell you: it was fucking awe-some! Genie was sublime and I got to sing along to all my favorite songs. I also heard positive reviews about Matilda, The Lion King, and Book of Mormon. (Price: from $50 during low-season)


Ready for your trip to New York? What are your budget tips to survive New York?