Life in the City

A Wisconsinite becomes a New Yorker

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
December 8, 2021

Note: “Life in the City” is an ongoing column in which freelance writer Ta’Leah Van Sistine will write about her semester in New York City through the National Student Exchange.

Only five miles away from LaGuardia Airport, I constantly hear and see planes flying overhead from the Queens College campus.

Hundreds of planes filled with people come and go every day, and I still can’t believe it’s been four weeks since I was on one of those planes, landing in New York City for the very first time.

New York has always been a dream for me, as it is for many. Once I’d realized at 14 that I wanted to be a writer, it didn’t take long for me to discover New York and the attraction many creators have to it.  

My dream became even more tangible when I learned about the National Student Exchange as an incoming Blugold — a program that allows students to attend another institution in the U.S. for a semester or a year while still paying tuition to UW-Eau Claire. 

And so, for this fall semester, I’ll be here at Queens College, sharing my transition from Wisconsin to city life in this column every other week. 

I’ll also provide insight on what traveling in NYC is like during the continuing COVID-19 pandemic and differences between the midwest and the east coast.


I discovered quite quickly that public transportation isn’t the only thing I’ll be trying to navigate this semester, but also New Yorker jargon.

“We’re going to the city today,” I heard multiple people say on my first couple of days here.

“Aren’t we already in ‘the city’?” I thought to myself. 

The gray skyscraper that stands above all the rest in this photo is the Empire State Building, one of Manhattan’s famous attractions.
(Photo by Ta’Leah Van Sistine)

After all, NYC is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island. But no — to people in any of the outer boroughs, “the city” is Manhattan — the borough that’s home to many famous attractions, including the Empire State Building and Times Square. 

Another New Yorker phrase: “I’ll get a regulah,” my friend said in her Long Island accent when we got pizza in Manhattan one day. 

Translation: a cheese slice of pizza.

I’ve also discovered there is a list of items you always need when commuting throughout NYC:

  • Fully-charged phone set to low-power mode: Both Apple and Google Maps outline the busses and trains you need to take to get to your destination, so if your phone dies, it becomes much more challenging to navigate around the city. Unless you have the routes memorized, leaving with your phone at 100% is always a good idea. 
  • Water bottle: Water is expensive, so it’s best to bring your own. 
  • MetroCard: Having either a MetroCard, or a credit or debit card with the tap-to-pay symbol, is the easiest way to pay for bus and subway rides, especially compared to paying the fare in quarters. 
  • Reusable bag: Most businesses charge five cents for needing a disposable bag at checkout. 
  • Vaccination card: Many businesses, restaurants and attractions in NYC require proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Typically, you can show the physical card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or a digital copy uploaded to one of NYC’s COVID-19 apps, such as NYC COVID Safe.

There is never a dull moment here. An ordinary subway ride may become a concert with a group performing “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire; a walk through the Upper East Side may mean you see actor Sebastian Stan eating dinner — all of this is amazing to me, but to New Yorkers, this is normal. 

New York is romanticized constantly in films and novels, often in ways that misrepresent how life truly is here. 

But this city is incredibly unique. NYC is a haven for people of all professions and a city that embraces and welcomes absolutely everyone — including a Wisconsinite. 

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]