Das Bild zeigt den Campus des Berkely College in NYC.

Why you shouldn’t let the opportunity slide to go to NYC for a semester abroad

Hi, I’m Helena, basically the future you who just came back from the semester abroad in NYC and can’t stop talking or thinking about it because it was the best decision to ever be made. I’m studying Fashion and Design Management (B.A.) at AMD Berlin and will finish in March 2023, and back in September 2021, I hopped on a plane only to touch down in NYC and have the best three months of my life. In this report, I will tell you all about the program AMD is providing for us, how living in New York City and attending classes at Berkeley College has completely changed my life (for the better, of course), and what you need to know and any tips or recommendations I have and would’ve liked to know in advance, too!

The Campus

the image shows the nyc berkely college campus.
The Berkely Campus in the midst of NYC.

The Berkeley College Campus couldn’t be located better. Seriously. There are two midtown Berkeley College campus locations, so be sure to go to the right one,

And not do the same mistake as I did that one of the buildings is on 43rd Street, which is basically the main building where Berkeley college students that are located in New York City are studying. You, on the other hand, will have class on the campus on 41st Street, located right between two Japanese grocery stores, not very obvious at first but seeing the public library standing in all its glory at the end of the street will help you know whether you’re right.

Even though the campus may not seem like the biggest campus from the outside, the 15-story building will convince you otherwise — Classrooms make up most of the building, so don’t be surprised if stories five to twelve are simply that, but be sure to also explore the other working areas or common spaces, like the library, the private presentation rooms (amazing to prepare presentations or simply chill with friends!), Hochschule Fresenius lounge on top of the building, and the kitchen in the common room on the fifth floor.

Other than that, you will see for yourself how the campus is constructed starting when you’ll get there. 😉

The location is the best part! It is right beside Bryant Park, Grand Central Station, and just a few steps away from both Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Even though once seen you might not go to these busy tourist attractions again, but more so meaning that you’re based right in the center of Manhattan and can get anywhere in the entire city and further within minutes. Restaurants, supermarkets (right below campus is the most amazing Japanese grocery store and takeaway bistro!!), cute cafés, and the public library are less than a minute’s walk away, which makes it perfect to step outside for lunch or grab a coffee at the orderahead Starbucks around the corner.

Little Pro-Tip for all of you Matcha lovers: the famous “Cha Cha Matcha” is literally only two minutes away from campus heart eyes

Uni Life, Classes & More

What you definitely need to consider before deciding whether to go to Berkeley College or not is the difference in the everyday class routine. Especially how things are handled in terms of teaching, grading, personal effort, for example, the number of assignments, and what teachers focus on during presentations.

In Germany (maybe in other countries too but I wouldn’t know), we are used to (usually) having a midterm exam and a final exam within a semester, with maybe a presentation or two in-between.

When going to Berkeley College, you’ll notice a huge change in that direction: Every class will have weekly assignments.

The image shows student Helena at a museum in front of statues.

For example, in a class called “Fashion Product Knowledge,” we were obligated to do weekly presentations about different product categories and their current, past, and future trends. Since the program is twelve weeks long, it was a total of ten small weekly presentations and one final “bigger” one. So the amount of work is more as it’s spread over the entire span of 12 weeks, but please let these numbers not discourage you! Preparing these presentations and presenting them to the small group is a lot of fun, especially since the teacher wants you to simply talk about what you have learned rather than have you learn everything by heart.

I must say that this was a lot more fun and also productive in the long term, as we could be creative and free with the structure of the presentation and therefore also learned a lot more whilst researching instead of just learning it for the sake of it. My advice would be to just have fun while doing it and present like you would tell a story with your own twist. The professors love that, trust me.

Speaking of professors, all of the professors I have met/heard of are extremely nice, have so much experience in their fields, obviously mostly in fashion, and let you have so much fun in the class. They are all aware that you are in NYC to experience NYC and not to study all day long, so they adjust the amount of work perfectly fine. Most of the time they even let you work in class so the rest of the work due is brought to a minimum.

Living in NYC

A DREAM COME TRUE. I assume that when choosing the Fashion and Design Management major at AMD, seeing the NYC opportunity, and reading this right now, you must be waiting for your “Devil Wears Prada” fantasy to come true. I did too and honestly, the city exceeded all of my expectations. Especially after having seen all the touristy things (Times Square, Miss Liberty, etc.), you will really start living the city.

Finding an apartment in the city was definitely one of the bigger quests we had to deal with in the organization process. Of course, the offers for various living opportunities vary based on your personal budget, your preferred neighborhood, and your living standard: Do you want to live alone, share a flat with fellow AMD students taking part in the program, or be adventurous and meet your new roommate(s) once you arrive? These are the first things you need to think about before looking around.

Next, where you want to live. Let me tell you from my experience that at first for me it was: Manhattan, aka Upper East Side, Midtown, SoHo, or East/West Village, but don’t sleep on Brooklyn and Long Island City (LIC)! Not only are the neighborhoods on the other side of the East River absolutely gorgeous and only a short subway ride from Manhattan away, but are also much more budget-friendly! The reason I am emphasizing “the East Side of Manhattan” is because I have had multiple fellow students and friends who have rented an apartment in Jersey City, without knowing that, even though the distance doesn’t seem further than Brooklyn or LIC, everything across the Hudson River is in New Jersey, aka a whole other state. This gets problematic when commuting into the city: as New Jersey does not operate with the MTA (the New York subway system), you will have to first get across the river by bus (extra cost) and then transfer to the MTA, having to pay again separately. When doing the math, getting from Jersey City to the Berkeley College Campus and back costs you at least $12 daily, whereas living in the New York area will be not even half, coming out to $5.50 roundtrip (minimum, of course).

The image explains how the OMNY system works by turning on your digital wallet, tapping on, getting on the public transport and tapping out when getting off.

Speaking of the MTA: OMNY is an easy and comfortable way to use public transit. As the OMNY method is a contactless payment method, anyone with a smartphone and a credit card can simply tap the screen at the subway entrance with their phone and have access to the trains. And trust me when I tell you:

The subway will be your best friend.

Don’t make the mistake of taking Ubers everywhere, unless of course it’s necessary or you’re ready to spend quadruple the time of taking the subway stuck in NYC traffic.

Okay, let’s come back to the apartments. Obviously, I can only talk from my own experiences, but I have found for three months Airbnb to be the easiest option. I mean obviously, if you know someone in New York or have personal connections that might help you find a stay that’s great, but I didn’t have anyone there so I went over Airbnb. personally, I am someone who loves to plan months ahead, just to make sure everything will be planned and organized. But, don’t even bother looking for Airbnb’s over six weeks before arrival. Americans are pretty spontaneous, especially in New York — for example, some students might decide last minute to change college and just rent out their apartment for a semester a week before leaving my first apartment I rented three weeks before arriving, and it was through Airbnb, but a property agency, which made things a lot more trustworthy and reliable, as scammers are not unusual on Airbnb! Luckily, you don’t have to fear, as Airbnb has introduced in new coverage system, where even if you are being scammed, which is unlikely, you will get a full refund and Airbnb will help to find another place. I wouldn’t recommend renting an apartment with her fix lease over a period of only 12 weeks, as it is not only expensive but also may not be equipped with the things you will need.

At the end of the day, everybody’s preferences and standards are completely different so you will have to adjust yours along with your budget and see what will fit you best. I had a friend who lived her best life living with three random people in a tiny, old apartment in East Harlem and another girlfriend living on the 1st floor of a luxury residential building with 360° views of Manhattan – and both had an amazing time studying with their friends at Berkeley and living the NYC life to its fullest. The only real advice I can give you along the way is not to only look for that light-flooded SoHo loft that is eight grand a month but be aware that outside of Manhattan living is just as amazing and distance is not an issue as long as there’s a subway close enough. 🙂

What I wish I knew before

As amazing as living in New York City is, saying that some things didn’t annoy me would be an absolute lie. Therefore, I hope this fraction of this report I call “What I Wish I Knew Before” will help you get a little bit of insight into the things that Gossip Girl didn’t teach you. This is not supposed to discourage or scare you, but moreover, prepare you, so you can avoid being thrown into the cold water. 😉

If you’ve been to the States you already know what’s up with the Tax & Tip culture, as I call it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, be sure to be ready for a culture shock. If you didn’t know, in the U.S. taxes for everything you purchase are not yet included in the price displayed, but will be added on when checking out. So say you’re buying a sweater for $30, and you will notice that in the end, you will have to pay a few dollars more. And that applies to everything: coffee, furniture, restaurants, tourist, attractions, and more.

But, once you get the hang of it, it’s nothing surprising anymore, just good to know beforehand that the price displayed is not always the amount you have to pay.

Something that will always shock me and I will never completely get used to is the tipping culture, especially in Manhattan.

While we’re not unfamiliar, with waiters, waitresses, bartenders, etc getting a small tip after they provide their service, going out in the US, especially in New York is a different caliber.

It is normal to give at least 18 to 22% tip, regardless of the effort, treatment, and niceness of the employee, it is standard for the customer to give at least 18% tip added to the full amount. Most of the time they even calculate the tip at the bottom of the receipt and you simply have to click the percentage.

Saving some Coin

I don’t think it’s a secret that New York City is one of the most expensive cities to live in, so let’s skip that part of me telling you that groceries, going out and simply existing are more expensive than it is in Germany. Yes it is, but it’s worth it and there’s always a price you have to pay. But just because New York City is New York City, it doesn’t mean that you have to spend a fortune on everyday things. So let me tell you some things I did in order to save some money here and there.

1 Fruit Carts

You will see them on every street everywhere around the city (I was lucky and even had two carts right in front of my apartment). Fruit and vegetables are extremely expensive, even if you don’t go to Whole Foods, getting your produce at the fruit stands will save you a lot of money. Especially when buying multiple things, the people there will always make a special offer and you’ll end up spending ten bucks for a week worth of veggies and fruit. I did have one experience where I bought a huge pack of strawberries and they ended up tasting really bad, but this also happens when finding them at the grocery store, and I’d rather support the people who are sitting by their carts, 24/7 and get perfectly fine produce than spending 20 bucks on avocados and some raspberries.

2 Grocery delivery services

While grocery shopping is always a lot of fun and definitely an experience that I used to love doing in the states, sometimes I definitely took advantage of delivery services. FreshDirect, 1520 minutes, getir, Uber eats, gorillas, and many more after so-called grocery delivery services. While many of them have different suppliers, I would definitely recommend having all of the heavy grocery things, such as canned goods, bottles, yogurt, et cetera delivered, as you don’t have to carry them around the city and break your back. Obviously, this business model isn’t news, but why I included this in my report is mainly the “first order” offers. Definitely look out on social media and the subway for any advertisements for any special offers that those delivery services may have at the moment. My boyfriend and I often times used those offers to save a lot of money. For example, $50 off when spending $100 at fresh direct. That way, we did not only not have to carry all of our heavy groceries home but also saved a total of $50+, which is a huge deal. Of course, you don’t have to do this for every single thing, but on those big grocery trips, you can definitely save and comfortably shop online whilst also saving money!

3 Pret Coffee Subscription

I truly hope that when you’re reading this Pret coffee subscription still exists and if it does: do it. This is not only a piece of advice but more of an order for you to immediately take advantage of the subscription if you are a coffee and/or tea drinker. Pret A Manger you might know is a coffee chain with a similar approach to Starbucks, except for it makes food freshly every single day and has a lot more to offer in terms of lunch, snacks, and food in general. With this coffee subscription, you can get unlimited, yes, unlimited, coffee and tea for the entire month for just 30 bucks my go-to order was an iced vanilla latte with an extra shot of espresso, which usually would have cost me over seven dollars, but with my Pret coffee subscription, I got four of them every single day, every single month. Every coffee and tea drink on the menu is included, so don’t even think about not doing it, it will totally be worth it as there is a Pret A Manger close by anywhere in Manhattan (also just a five-minute walk away from the Berkeley College campus, very important for before class, lunch break, and post-class refreshments!)

Some final words of wisdom

In conclusion, you will have to decide based on your preferences, desires, ability to adapt, and (of course) your budget whether you want to go to New York or not.

As I have mentioned multiple times in these past few paragraphs, if I wouldn’t have done it, I would have totally regretted it. Yes, it was expensive, but if you can make it work don’t spend another second contemplating whether to go or not because in the end, what did you “lose”? Three months in NYC? The opportunity to do an internship in addition to those three months? Making connections and having the time of your life?

Opportunities like this don’t happen very often in life, so take advantage of this one AMD and Hochschule Fresenius offers you and go for it!

If you still have any questions regarding apartments, visas, classes, or generally just life feel free to contact me any time, I’m always available and would be happy to help! You can find me on social media (IG, TikTok, LinkedIn, etc) under @helenaziogas or via e-mail at ziogashelena@gmail.com or the AMD address; ziogas.helena@amd.de