New York City vs Southampton: A Student’s Experience

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Growing up, I always had the ambition to study abroad. New York City is my long-time favourite city, but studying there challenged this.

I went to study in NYC, expecting to stay for four years. I went through the arduous US application process and completed the SATs several times (timed tests in maths, reading and writing). It was no easy task, especially with my dream university (NYU) being hit with 50,000 applicants and accepting less that 10%.

Most NYU buildings are based around Washington Square Park.
Most NYU buildings are based around Washington Square Park.

It was a culture shock when I arrived – even though I had lived in different countries before. I was 18 and not being allowed into bars, clubs or to purchase alcohol was a constraint for student life. I wasn’t a party animal; but what else were students to do if they couldn’t go down to the local bar on a Friday night? The phenomenon of fake IDs came into play, along with a lot of not-so-legal alternatives to alcohol, which just seemed to be a norm for American kids. Maybe, I’d spent too long in the UK but (if you pardon the pun) it wasn’t my cup of tea!

When I arrived the following year at the University of Southampton, I opted for halls. It is commonplace in the US to have a roommate, but at Gateley Halls I had my own bedroom and bathroom. Southampton still has the industrial, city aspect (albeit not the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple), which I prefer over countryside. Three years on since I applied, I have truly grown to love this place as home.

Back in Southampton, UK.
Back in Southampton, UK.

I enjoy how specific UK courses are compared to the US system where you have to complete general courses. It was no fun having to do subjects I’d dropped at GCSE. I also find it far easier to meet people in Southampton: its smaller size means you can easily find like-minded people and you’ll often have mutual friends. It was a common saying that you could live in a city of 20 million (or a university of 50,000) and not find your niche.

Of course, there are perks of living in the city that never sleeps, from the smell of street food to having the tip of the Empire State Building in your view. There is no shortage of students with the city’s numerous colleges (NYU, Columbia, Barnard, Pace plus many more), but this means competition is fierce. The summers are hot but the winters are freezing – I stuck through Hurricane Sandy and Storm Nemo! I went to a few gigs (the highlight being when my roommate got VIP tickets to Jay-Z in his neighbourhood of Brooklyn) and discovered my love for Hispanic food (NYC has thousands of eateries).

You can't go to NYC and not see Times Square.
You can’t go to NYC and not see Times Square.

I could hang in Central Park and people-watch (New Yorkers can be very interesting and you might even spot a celebrity!). However, the NYC I fell in love with was not the one I got at NYU. I didn’t see a show on Broadway or visit the Statue of Liberty, yet on a 5-day vacation I packed in heaps of memories. You might have Starbucks on every corner, but it’s only because you need that coffee!

Perhaps my reason for seeing Southampton as home over what I see as the most epic place in the world is similar to why you choose Jesters over Oceana most night. You’re happy there, with the great atmosphere and great people.

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