Life in the city

A Wisconsinite says goodbye to NYC

TaLeah Van Sistine

More stories from Ta'Leah Van Sistine

Life in the city
November 17, 2021

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

I’ve been having flashbacks lately of the first day I arrived in New York City — the camaraderie I immediately felt from New Yorkers when they heard I was moving here, but also the frightening nature of change, as I grasped how different life would be for the next four months.

In late August, when I was adjusting to a place I had never been to before, I was also working through changes in my personal life and realizing just how far away I was from many family members and friends. 

I was lonely those first couple of weeks, but felt more comforted when National Student Exchange coordinators told myself and other NSE participants that students typically feel this way at the start of the program. 

Now, less than a week away before my flight back home, I’m still experiencing many of the same emotions I had four months ago. What has changed, however, is that throughout the program, I have encountered many people, places and experiences for which I will forever be grateful.

Students who attend Queens College through NSE or the international exchange program normally are gathered together for an in-person orientation at the start of the semester, but because of COVID-19, all introductory meetings for exchange students were virtual.

Nevertheless, all of us were determined to meet and explore NYC together, so we made an Instagram groupchat where we would announce plans and events to attend.

I’m thankful I was able to meet people from all over the world this way, ranging from Los Angeles to Atlanta and Germany to Japan. 

Living on campus at Queens College also was extremely helpful in meeting people, as many classes were online this semester. 

About half of the exchange students this year also live on campus, and this allowed us to commute to events and navigate public transportation together when many of us were just learning how. 

Ending my time here in NYC with the holiday season has been an amazing experience as well, with decorations adorning skyscrapers, markets taking place in city parks and lively window displays welcoming shoppers inside. 

Attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade was definitely one of the most exciting events I’ve done, but it required careful planning since people typically begin claiming spots along Central Park West — where the parade route begins — at 6 a.m. (three hours before it starts).

Myself and several other exchange students who stayed in New York for Thanksgiving left campus at 5:30 a.m., and because buses and trains were running on a limited schedule due to the holiday, we didn’t arrive at Central Park West until around 7:30 a.m.

There were still a few spots available at the parade route’s barricades, so luckily enough, we had front row views, and therefore, had a significant amount of confetti tossed onto us, too.

A balloon of Ada Twist, the main character of the show “Ada Twist, Scientist,” floats along Central Park West during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. (Photo by Ta’Leah Van Sistine)

Ice skating has been another fun winter activity to do in the city, and there are plenty of places that have rinks, including Rockefeller Center, Bryant Park and Central Park. 

A sign that says “Believe” hangs at the Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan. Holiday window displays are also located right below the sign. (Photo by Ta’Leah Van Sistine)

But my departure is in a matter of days now, and my thoughts have shifted away from the list I made at the very beginning of the semester, outlining everything I wanted to do while I was here. 

I’ve been reflecting less on this city and more on the friends I’ve made — the people who have shown me nothing but kindness during my stay and who made this initially scary journey into an incredibly special adventure. 

I’ve been thinking about how they are the ones I will miss the most.

Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]