So you just landed that big city internship in the biggest of all big cities. Congratulations. If your New York experience is anything like mine, it will be full of ups and downs and all of the wonderful realizations that we humble Midwesterners have when we come to the Big Apple for the first time.
But when I went to New York City for my internship, I had a secret key to success. I was blessed to have one of the most savvy and sweet New Yorkers who ever lived personally walk me through all of the scary first steps that come with moving here. (Thank you, Katie Hay.) But I realize that not everyone is so blessed as to have Katie to take you on your first trip to the Metro station at rush hour or tell you what to do when the only train that services your part of town breaks down. (She was really a lifesaver.)
So I put together a list of everything Katie taught me and everything I learned from personal experience making the transition from Indiana to New York for my internship at a news network. With the high demand for this information, I figured a blog was the best way to share it, and it turned out to be a whopping two-part series, so stay tuned for part two.
But if you know me and you’re planning to go to New York, please call me and ask questions anyway. I still talk about the city all the time, and it’s nice to have an excuse for bringing it up every now and then.
Now let’s get started.
The basics in preparing for your internship:
1. Look up the address of your internship on Google maps.
This will help you figure out your housing and Metro station options. So go to Google, type in the address and see where it lands you. You can even go to the street version and see what it looks like up close.
2. Look for colleges or universities in the area that have student housing.
Different colleges in New York do student housing in different ways. Some have special dorms or residence halls for their students; others rent out rooms or entire floors of pre-existing apartment buildings. Either way, see if you can find a college, and talk with their housing coordinator. Tell them you are a student from whatever college, and you’re looking for housing for one semester. I know that Kings Academy, a Christian college now in the Financial District, will usually help intern students out and fit them into their housing schedule. Some of their arrangements are a little pricy (or at least more than the $650 a month I paid living in my own arrangements), but they will put you with students your age, and they’ll put you in a nice area of town. If you’ve never been to the city before, this might be a good place to start.
Honestly though, you can usually get a better deal if you talk around with some students who are already living or studying in New York. I found my apartment through girls at Kings who weren’t attending school there anymore, and like I said, I was paying $650 a month for a one bedroom on the Upper East Side (granted I was sharing that one bedroom with two other girls).
It’s best to go through a college or live with students because if you’re really only going to be there for one semester, you don’t want to pay rent for any longer than that, and you don’t want to hassle with finding someone to lease your space to. But if you can’t find affordable housing with a school, here’s a link to other options for short term housing: http://www.unionsemester.org/Default.aspx?tabid=132.
3. Consider the city’s cultural districts.
While you’re thinking about housing and where to live, you might want to consider what the major cultural districts have to offer. I’m sure there are tons of districts I’m leaving out here, but these are just the places that I got to know the best while I was there, and I think this will help newcomers get a basic idea of what to expect.
Lower Manhattan: Think Wall Street. This is where you will go to find the World Trade Center Memorial, the Wall Street Bull and easy access to the Statue of Liberty. Everything I experienced in this area of town looked very similar: brown buildings, brown pavement. It’s fun to visit, and it’s a must-see for every first time tourist (the scene at the church in “National Treasure” was filmed here), but it’s one of those places that always had that “doctor’s office/insane asylum” feel where all of the walls and streets are the same color. It’s not a bad place to be, but I wouldn’t highly recommend it.
The West Village: Think “Friends” meets hipsters. Big time hipsters. This is probably the most fun part of the city. All of the best night life is here, and since it’s in NYU’s backyard, who can argue? If you go to the West Village, which you really should, you can find Monica and Rachel’s apartment in “Friends,” even though it’s super disappointing that you can’t go inside. (It also doesn’t really have a balcony, and Central Perk doesn’t exist because the entire TV series was filmed in LA, but I digress.)
Another gem in the West Village is a cute little bakery called Milk & Cookies. It’s very important that you eat a cookie at Milk & Cookies every time you go visit the “Friends” apartment. Don’t ask. Just do it.
Before I get too carried away, let’s get to the point. The West Village is the best place to go to have a good time. But I didn’t want to live there for two major reasons. First, the rent at the apartment I was considering there was higher than the rent other apartments I found. Second, since I was going to NYC for work, I didn’t want the distraction of all of the nightlife right in my backyard. I also figured that as a single girl who might be walking alone sometimes, I wouldn’t want to be near the bars or clubs where drunk people are more likely to be wandering around. But as long as you’re with a group of people and you’re aware of your surroundings, you’re probably fine.
Midtown: Ah, Midtown, the bane of every true New Yorker’s existence. Midtown is home to everything we Midwesterners typically think about when we think of New York. You have the big Macy’s store, Times Square, most of your major news networks, Broadway and some of the best shopping on Fifth Avenue. Needless to say, it’s a huge tourist attraction and most people who live in New York avoid it like the plague. Try walking through Times Square at any hour on any given day, and you’ll know why. I won’t spoil it for you. Just wait and see.
The thing about Midtown is New York knows that it’s a hotspot for tourists, and they jack up the prices on just about everything. So don’t do much in Midtown besides shop for clothes. Fun Fact: There’s no tax on clothes in New York. Katie told me that’s because in New York, clothes are just as important as food. I think I believe her.
The Upper East Side: Think “Gossip Girl.” This is where I lived when I was in New York, and it’s not a bad place. Actually, most of the city’s ultra-elite live there, so it’s a nice place to be if you want a side-job as a nanny. But the main reason I would tell you to avoid the Upper East Side is that it’s very inconvenient. There’s only one subway line that runs through that side of town whereas most other areas have at least two or three or five. To help alleviate this problem, New York is building a second subway line to service the Upper East Side, but it’s not set to be finished until 2016 (last I heard), and sometimes I think the construction messes up traffic on the one good subway that’s already there, which is even more inconvenient.
If the subway isn’t working, you have to flag down a cab, which can be really hard to do during rush hour or you can wait for one of the buses to come. The Upper East Side is absolutely reliant on the bus system because sometimes it’s the best way to get around. If you live here, make sure you know your bus stops well (more on this later).
No pictures 😦
The Upper West Side: Think “You’ve Got Mail.” This is it—the most beautiful and magical part of the city that is “God’s gift to Manhattan,” or so they say. The Upper West side is home to the beautiful Columbia University and so many other good things I can’t even begin to name them all. You must, must, must go there. When you do, go to Zabar’s (the classic grocery store where Meg Ryan tries to avoid Tom Hanks in “You’ve Got Mail”). Make sure you go to the Zabar’s café and get yourself a cup of coffee in the Zabar’s mug that you get to keep for just a dollar extra. My Zabar’s mug is still one of my favorite souvenirs.
While you’re on the Upper West Side, you should also go to Café Lalo. It’s a delicious and adorable dessert spot (where Meg Ryan’s mystery man who turns out to be Tom Hanks stands her up). In real life, the café is much brighter and busier than in the movie. Most days, you’ll have to wait to get a seat. But it’s totally worth it, and it stays open obscenely late (something to the tune of 3 a.m.), so it’s a good place to go after a late night Broadway show or something.
But before I stop talking about the Upper West Side, I want to take time to talk about something you might not consider: Harlem. When I first went to New York, I thought it would be a super sketchy place with a ton of crime, but it’s actually not too bad. A lot of students are starting to move there because the rent is cheaper than most of city, and it’s easy access to the Upper West Side without the price tag. Also, if you plan to go to Midwest favorites like Target, you’ll probably have to go to Harlem at some point anyway.
4. Getting around the city.
If I attempt to tell you everything you need to know about navigating New York’s public transit systems, this blog would never end. Seriously. Katie told me they make the New York subway system especially difficult to understand just to ward off newcomers and tourists, and anyone who has ever gotten lost on the subway knows that their plan is working.
Unfortunately, so much of finding your way around the city is trial and error. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hopped on a subway, tapped someone on the shoulder and asked him/her where the train was going just to see if I was on the right one.
The important rule to remember is that for most stops, there is an Uptown train and a Downtown train. The Uptown trains run south to north. The Downtown trains run north to south. So if you want the Green line 4, you can’t just hop on any Green line 4 train that comes. You have to figure out if you want the Uptown or the Downtown depending on where you currently are.
To make things even more complicated, not all of the subways stop at all of the stops along their route even if it says so on the map (here’s the map). When you’re looking at this map of the system, you’ll notice that some of the stops (the dots along the colored lines) are plain black and others are white with black outlines. The white ones are the Express stops. If you get on an Express train, it will only stop at the stops along its route with the little white dots. This is very convenient if you’re in a rush, and your stop is at one of the white dots. But if it’s not, you’ll need to get off and find another train that’s not Express.
All trains stop at the white dots. Only trains that aren’t Express stop at the plain black dots.
To help you out, someone created this wonderful tool called Hopstop.com, which is also a free app. It’s like a Google maps for the Manhattan transit system. Just type in your current address and the address you want to get to, and it will give you directions complete with which subway line and bus to take. If you don’t have the internet on your phone, you can go into any Staples and use their computer for just a couple of dollars to print off directions.
When you’re trying to navigate the streets while walking, it’s important to know how to use the numbers on the avenues and the streets to your advantage. Let’s start with the avenues. You have 12 avenues, starting with 1st Avenue on the far east and ending with 12th Avenue on the far west. (Yes, the famous 5th Avenue is about right in the center.)
With the streets, the numbers start low at the bottom of Manhattan and count up. By that I mean, 3rd street is further south than 33rd street. (Just as a rule of thumb, you probably won’t want to travel much further north than 100th or 120th street.)
As far as the bus system goes, just know whether you want to travel east or west, north or south. The bus system was the hardest for me to get the hang of, and even after three months, I had trouble navigating it, so good luck. The best rule of thumb here is: When in doubt, just ask. Contrary to popular opinion, most people in New York are very helpful and friendly and were new to the city themselves at one time. I found that strangely few New Yorkers were actually from New York.
Another good rule of thumb is: When in doubt, take a taxi. It costs a little more than the Metro or bus, but it will get you where you need to go if you’re lost or pressed on time.
Wow. That’s a lot of information for one blog post, and I still have a lot more left to say about what type of metro card to buy, how to dress for success and how to conserve money. I’ll put that in a separate blog so I don’t overwhelm you.