Welcome to Mailman and NYC: Settling In

by Grace Lee, MPH ’14 in Sociomedical Sciences

For East-coasters who dream of California beaches, it is hard to understand why someone from LA would ever want to leave.  Yet, as a native Californian, I can tell you that I am not the only one to hold a romantic notion of moving to the Big Apple and experiencing things on the “other” coast.

When I was accepted into Columbia’s Mailman School, I really couldn’t ask for anything better. Not only would I be studying at a top university in my field of choice, but I would be living in the big city.

After quite the apartment-hunting experience in July, here I was at the La Guardia Airport the evening of August 19, 2012. I could only imagine what living in Washington Heights in uptown Manhattan would be like. With only one week before the start of Orientation, I had only one mission: to settle in.

This was a larger task than expected. But basically, it boiled down to a few items, some of which I had to learn the hard way.

#1. Getting the basics. I decided not to drive my car across the country, not wanting to face parking dilemmas, angry drivers, and worse-than-LA traffic. But that meant the large chain Targets and Costcos that I was so accustomed to at home were no longer easily accessible.  Luckily, I found a lot of cheap household items in the plentiful mom-and-pop supply stores (bodegas) around the neighborhood. I did manage to hunt down a Costco and a Target in East Harlem (After all, what student doesn’t need a 48-pack box of ramen or 2-months worth of frozen chicken?) As I waited in what seemed to be an endless amusement park line, I questioned how these stores catered to the 75% who do not own a vehicle. The answer: flat-rate taxi service.

The infamous coffee table and rug we dragged halfway across the city.

#2. Getting furniture. There is only one IKEA in New York City—and it’s in Brooklyn. When it comes to moving furniture, there are really only a few options if you don’t own a car. While you can borrow a U-Haul or hire “van-service” on Craigslist (I give a word of caution on this), I personally recommend delivery.  At one point, we hauled a coffee table and rug from Brooklyn to the Heights—subway, bus, stairs and all. A good workout, no doubt, but not easy when you have limited time and energy. We had the larger pieces (bed, table, and futon) delivered from the store.

#3. Getting groceries. Those collapsible grocery carts aren’t just for old people. The carts come in handy—especially for trips to the farmers market, supply stores, or Trader Joes! (About Trader Joes: the stores are popular to no end in Manhattan.) Either pick up the groceries at an off-hour, or get ready to wait in a line that wraps around the entire store. Another viable option is to support your local farm and become a Community Supported Agriculture member.  Every week, a fresh batch of vegetables is available for pickup at a convenient location just a few blocks away from the CUMC campus.  The produce selection changes from week to week, requiring some experimentation on my part. But who wouldn’t appreciate the opportunity to learn (albeit the hard way) that you are not supposed to cook the bitter, outer leaves of red cabbage?

Home Sweet Home

After a week of scrambling to get things apartment-perfect, the big day finally arrived. That first day of Orientation, I found myself standing in the Hammer Building lobby, 8:30am, one in a sea of new and confused students. The hoard of new faces, multiple welcome sessions, and fast-paced mingling brought back fears of going through another undergraduate freshman experience. It was not until I got past the polite hellos and small talk that I hit some really inspirational background stories from my new colleagues. These next two years are definitely going to be different. And I look forward to it!

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