Chelsea’s Postcard from New York

Chelsea Large is a Bachelor of Arts student, majoring in Screen and Cultural Studies. Chelsea fulfilled her dream of living in New York and spent Semester 1 of 2020 studying at Barnard College, Columbia University. Despite her program being cut short due to the pandemic, Chelsea shares her New York experience with us.

Why did you choose the institution and location of your overseas program?

I’d actually never been overseas before and thought New York is such an iconic place that I’ve always really wanted to go to. Luckily I got into Barnard College which I really wanted to go to because it’s situated within Columbia University. It also has this really fantastic feminist history about it because it’s a women’s college. I’m so happy with my choice, it was incredible going there. It was great seeing a big statue of Zora Neale Hurston and all of these other really iconic feminist figures. The college also had a library for zines, which was really cool. It was good because you could combine classes with Columbia, so you didn’t just have to just stick within the Barnard ecosystem.

What was the highlight of your overseas program?

My highlight was first driving into the city, I caught a bus in to the city and got to see all the lights for the first time. We ended up driving in and around Times Square at midnight because that was when my plane got in. It felt so strange and weirdly familiar, because I’d seen it all before but was actually now there. It was an overwhelming feeling of being in this amazing city. Sitting on that bus staring out the window was so impactful.

What was your biggest culture shock moment?

There was one thing within the university that’s really different, the relationship between the teacher and the student is a lot more formal than at Australian universities. I normally call all of my lecturers by their first name, but in the US you need to call them Professor. Over there, it was a lot more rigid and felt like there was more of a power divide. It wasn’t necessarily bad, but I found it very strange to get used to.

What is one thing any student visiting your destination must see or do?

Go to a lot of the flea markets that pop up all over the city. They’re usually on basketball courts in public schools and there were so many interesting people there selling things like jewellery by the pound. Going to those was really fun, because you meet so many people and when they hear you’re Australian or foreign, they’re always up for a chat.

Keeping your eyes peeled is important in New York because so much is happening, you won’t find out about it unless you’re looking for it. There’s always posters around and little things that are happening down side streets, keep your eye out because not everything is going to be on Facebook or signposted.

What is the one piece of advice or tip you wish you had known before you went on your overseas program?

Be prepared to feel homesick. You do lose your support system of the people you see everyday. Have a plan in place for someone you can have a chat with back home.

At Barnard, there was also about eight of us from Melbourne University and getting to know those people as well is helpful. They know the same things you know and have had similar experiences, like ‘I really miss coffee that tastes good’.

What is the most important lesson that you learnt from your experience?

We’re all a bit more resilient and pliable than anyone ever gives themselves credit for. I think that was definitely a big lesson for me.

As things were happening with COVID, there were lots of mixed messages and it was a very tumultuous two weeks where New York turned into a ghost town, the streets were empty, but the sense of community definitely really helped. When we all got the email telling us that we needed to leave New York, we were all wondering what to do, but then we realised, we’re all good, we’re all on flights, we’re all going to be ok quarantining.

When we all came home, I also had classes from 2am to 6am twice a week, so I was up in the middle of the night on Zoom trying to understand dense academic theory. It was really tough going to bed and having to set an alarm for 1:55am. I’m glad that I did get to finish the classes though because I found them really riveting, so I’m glad I had that opportunity.