Lea's Exchange in New York City December 23rd, 2017

From the moment that I decided to go to Maastricht University, I was already looking forward to my exchange. With Maastricht’s enormous amount of partner universities all over the world, finding the right place to go can be quite a challenge. The only thing I knew for sure until the list of available places got published was that I absolutely did not want to go to the US since I already spent an exchange year during high school there. Well, somehow I still ended up in New York City. Though I had already visited the city twice before, when I stepped onto my plane departing to JFK airport in August, I knew it was going to be a completely different experience and I was ready to experience the American college life. This imagination was however already ruined when I found out that New York University (short: NYU) does not even have an American football team. Remembering from my high school year how crazy Americans are about the school’s sports teams, I at least made my way to the Bronx to watch the men’s and women’s soccer team. It turned out that only 5 students showed up and the teams sucked. So I soon figured out that NYU students rather spend their time studying, networking and interning (at least at Stern, which is NYU’s business school). As my courses were not as demanding, I, on the other hand, spend my time exploring the city and traveling around.

After living in the big apple for almost four months now, I find myself complaining about all the tourists that just don’t know how to properly cross the street (because let’s be honest, none of the busy New Yorkers have time to wait for the traffic light to turn green), mostly avoiding Midtown as it is just way too crowded and discovering the beauty of the not so touristy areas of the city that never sleeps. I practically ate my way through New York and often an ice cream place or amazing looking cookies that I saw on Instagram guided me through the city. I am definitely going to miss the variety of food New York has to offer; name any cuisine and I bet you will find a restaurant that serves that food. As a die-hard sweet tooth (and passionate baker), I of course enjoyed several cookies on my mission to find the best cookie place in NYC, ate the best cupcakes in my life and had to try the store right next to uni that sells cookie dough like it’s ice cream. No worries about the calorie intake though as my daily exercise increased significantly when I moved. Not only my daily 1 h walk to the faculty and back, but mostly the exploring of the city on the weekend contributed to that. But honestly, how else would I have found the cute café in Brooklyn that serves delicious peanut butter hot chocolate or the gnoccheria, which serves an insane amount of different gnocchi?! Or randomly walk past a Pringles pop-up store where you could try 20 different kinds of Pringles and personalize your own stack? And that was even for free; the magic keyword as the city is expensive enough on its own. Thanks to NYU, I was also able to enjoy the breathtaking view from the One World Observatory, several delicious dinners and even a couple of Broadway shows for free, which are definitely a must during a visit in NYC. What I like most about NYC though is just the city’s unique vibe, the hustle and bustle, the city lights at night, the random conversations you overhear in the subway and cars honking the horn just for fun.

Exploring New York itself was not the only thing on my bucket list for my exchange though. Of course I also wanted to take advantage of its location and airports and travel. As I’ve already seen most parts of the East Coast south of New York, my first trip was up north to Boston with a couple of exchange students. I really loved the city and it reminded me a bit of Maastricht, maybe because both cities are home to the world’s best universities? I met up with Freija (another third year for the ones who don’t know her) in Chicago where we froze horribly, but would not let the cold or rain ruin our great trip. Finally, I decided to escape the cold weather after Thanksgiving and made my way down south to meet up with Marie and Emiel (another two third years) in Mexico City. Thankfully, after Marie almost got swallowed by the subway (credits to Emiel for this on-point description of our metro experience), we did survive the rest of the trip. After leaving Emiel behind (that was intended though), Marie and I continued our travels through Guatemala and Belize. For a moment, Yasmin (Marie’s house mate who was traveling with us) and I thought our trip would have to end early when the bus driver took off and left the two of us behind at a random stop in the middle of nowhere in Guatemala. Luckily, everything turned out fine in the end and we made it back on the bus. From exploring the depth of the jungle in Tikal, seeing the famous ruins there and monkeys to snorkeling and chilling at the beach in Caye Caulker, it was an unforgettable trip and a nice break right before exams! 

As much as I enjoyed traveling around, I have to admit that I was always happy to see New York’s amazing skyline during the landing on my flight back. I am already dreading the moment when I step onto the plane the next time, not being sure when I will return. I think it is safe to say that wherever you end up on your exchange, you will always carry the place you’ve called your home for a semester in your heart and have an amazing time!