New to New York: First glance observations

After about a year and a half of trying to get to New York I am finally hear living the dream! So the first thing I noted when I got out of the airport was that the airport is situated in Queens. Now understand that every single thing I know about New York is based on movies, television shows and perhaps a book or two. When I heard Queens I immediately pictured a scene form Coming to America with Eddie Murphy. To me, Queens is not a place you want to get lost in if you are a young African woman who has no idea how to navigate her way around the concrete jungle of New York City. Ron Nixon, a New York Times journalist who I have the privilege of knowing, was the one who shared that information with me. Of course he laughed at me for my silly reference and said Queens was actually not that bad. I’ll find out but for now my television references are how I will understand the way New York is setup.

I live in a place called Morningside Heights – Manhattan on the Upper West side near Columbia University. Now according to Gossip Girl, although the area I live in is gorgeous and looks like it is for the affluent, it is nowhere near what the Upper East Side has to offer. I haven’t been there yet but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing Blair Waldorf and Serena van der Woodson types walking around the neighbourhood. Yesterday, my friend Thuli and I walked down to Harlem. According to the movies, Harlem is a gangster’s paradise. When we went there our intention was not to go to Harlem but just to do some shopping.  stumbled upon Harlem because GPS led us to the closest store. I shared some of what we saw there on Instagram.

Now the first signs that we had walked out of Morningside was a hair salon run by a woman from the Ivory Coast. We walked in to ask the cost of braids just so we could a rough idea of how much braiding our hair would be. She kept asking us if we wanted to do our hair immediately and eventually had someone hand us a business card. She then whispered that she did not want the other customers to hear her quote us. Just before that I had told her we were from South Africa because I picked up that most of the people in the salon were speaking a foreign tongue. She told us to call her when were ready to do our hair – only then would she give us a cost. When we walked out of there we laughed, realising that she was probably charging these American women exorbitant prices because they don’t know any better.

Another thing that made it painfully obvious that we were in Harlem was the fact that there were suddenly a lot more black and Hispanic faces. Suddenly there weren’t any white people and the stores, restaurants and streets were sprawling with faces that looked like ours. I find it interesting that you would see it so quickly as someone foreign to an area that people clearly stick to the places they feel they belong in. Thuli questioned why the people in Harlem – by our observation – choose to isolate themselves even in a hanging out and chilling sense. It would be one thing to say they cannot afford to live in Morningside but what about just spending some time there for their shopping or whatever else people do to pass time? It was like there was a clearly demarcated line that shows where the people are allowed to be.

There was also heavier police presence in Harlem. We just noticed a lot more NYPD cars there than in Morningside. But hey, what do we know. Obviously these are very narrow and shallow views of what New York City is like but the more we live and explore the more we will be able to delve into what this city is like and how we  can learn and immerse ourselves in its culture. What is fantastic about our course is that we will spend very little time on campus and a lot of time in the city learning an being a part of the communities we will be serving.

I’m excited to learn new things, to open my mind to new ideas, ideologies and ways of life. Most of all I’m excited to remove the veil over my eyes which, is conceived by ill-informed prejudice that has no place in a global community and the diverse world we live in today


I’ll be posting strange words or phrases that Americans use that we don’t too. This place has some weird quirks but it’s so beautiful we’ll let them slide.

Words of the day

Ginger Ale vs Ginger Beer

Stair Lobby vs Stairwell

Granola vs Muesli

Next guest please vs Next Customer please


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