Big, bigger, huge!


New York is big, bigger, huge! When I arrived I was overwhelmed, although it was rather.. quiet and nice too. Anyway that was at the pretty meatpacking district where I arrived. But go downtown to the Financial District and near Fifth Avenue and Times Square, and the sky is the limit, and that is how I have felt since I arrived.

I am Maurit Kroon and I just graduated in Financial Economics. For my second studies, Dutch Law, I wanted to study abroad for a while because I believe it is rather crucial to know something about international matters in law, especially US law. Besides, my whole life I have wanted to go to New York, in the USA, the land of dreams, hope, and unlimited possibilities, despite the Bush presidency and the financial crisis. I still wanted to go to this appealing country and signed up for an exchange at Hofstra University, Long Island at the edge of New York City. And now the country has hope again, not only because I arrived, but also because of Barak Obama, who really is a hero here. He is everywhere. There is an unlimited amount of Obama T-shirts, baseball caps, coffee mugs, you name it. Yet there is also the financial crisis and terrified professors and stickers on university buildings that say ‘this economy sucks’.

Because I am a student Financial Law, I mainly chose finance-related courses. I hear much about the crisis; it is really alive here. The fact that such a thing could happen makes many professors and students anxious. The courses are therefore focused on actuality and all students read the Financial Times every day (which is freely available). Mostly topics are discussed that are useful in practice. Because of the ranking and grading system, all students want to be the number one in their class and now even more, which leads to interesting sights like a full library even during the first school week! But although we have a crisis, still many students have and drive their cars. A large part of the campus is actually parking space. Also interesting, all students use their laptops in class and I even attended a class via video conference. So even though the US economy has gotten a blow, it is still innovative and leading in many other ways. Therefore I am glad to be here and study in such an inspiring environment! Really a dream has come true.

Hofstra University is great


Inauguration day on Tuesday the 20th of January was definitely a historical day for America. The Obama presidency has turned America into a modern, leading country in the world again, and the whole world is watching. Already Obama is busy strengthening the economy and spending the bail-out money a bit smarter than the Bush government did. Instead of giving it to the financial institutions that started the crisis and give them total freedom in spending the money, Obama will use it for the homeowners and stimulate the economy by creating jobs. Awesome! Hopefully people will regain trust in the economy which is the main step in fighting the recession. And his broad smile on pictures and the joy he has in doing his job gives me a very good feeling. We will see where it ends but it is fabulous to have such a charming and inspiring president. Definitely an enrichment for world politics and I feel glad to be here at the start of the Obama period.

However there are some very stupid things about the USA. Like you really need a car here, actually everywhere out of Manhattan, which is why everyone has one except for us exchange students. Luckily there is a bus service to the Manhattan train and in the weekends there is a bus to the shopping mall that you can take to buy some food and do some additional shopping. But all the shops are so big that it takes four minutes to go from one shop to the other.. by car! So we have to rely on taxis here like a sort of public transport. Outside New York City, taxi drivers are allowed to take different passengers in the taxi and therefore the taxis can be very crowded, like last weekend: We went to an outlet village in New Jersey and we needed a taxi from the train station to get there. We were put in a taxi with six passengers: four people on the back seat and one guy and a suitcase in the back. That was a weird experience.

But studying at Hofstra University is great! I have never enjoyed my studies so much. Because we are so close to Wall Street and Washington, the places were everything happens, the studies really come alive. The professors are also very keen on helping everyone and supplying you personally with interesting articles for your research. They also spend plenty of time for (personal) discussions and help with topics for writing requirements. Off course, studying here is very expensive. But despite that I think the approach really triggers students to prepare and to like studying so you get your money’s worth. Already I feel totally enthusiastic and I am sure it will stay that way.

Sunny Miami: the opposite of New York


Our fabulous new president is going to solve all our problems. We get rid of Guantanamo Bay, excessive CEO compensation and we now have a transparent government that cares about all Americans. Even the financial crisis is going to be solved by just spending billions of dollars. Because we can! Everyone is happy and a proud American once more.

So the sun is shining again in the USA and also down in Miami where we spent one of our weekends. We went there for the weekend to relax at the beach, see something of the country and enjoy! Miami is the opposite of New York City. It is a resort of palm trees, boulevards, expensive cars, cruise ships, amazing villas and the hottest clubs. Luckily both evenings we were invited into some VIP zone which was great because it can be very hot and crowded in those clubs and we even saw John Legend! It was such a change from the intellectual, serious and working Empire State atmosphere to the sunny and cheerful Sunshine State.

And the change to Boston, which we visited this Valentine’s weekend, was even larger. Of course most New Yorkers don’t want to go to Boston because of the Red Socks. But we are no real New Yorkers. Boston is really nice, a student and sports city. And yes, we saw students riding bicycles! However, accidentally, we booked a hostel only for men! Really interesting of course for us girls but we were not allowed there. Luckily we found another place to stay.

By the way, we need to make all these trips because we live on campus, away from everything. In addition, Hempstead: the nearest town, just outside Queens, is the most horrible place of the world. There is only a train station and a sort of public living flats. So without a car we are a little bit locked up here during the weeks. Therefore we need to have fabulous weekends. Luckily our fellow students are very understandable and react like: “Oh no you don’t have a car! That is so sad, I can’t even imagine how that would be.”

But now we are back to studying again. I handed in the first draft of one of my papers which was highly appreciated by my professor although he found it a little scholarly. I have learned to give the facts and the major opinions of different leading articles and then come to a conclusion based on empirical evidence. But my professor told me to write a little more joyful, more “American”, and include sentences like “the people were shocked by the new act and disapproved severely on the decrease of corporate freedom which touched their feelings of capitalist Americans”, instead of just “the new act meant more regulation of major corporations”.

The process of self reflection


Last week my mother, my sister and my little brother came to visit me. It was wonderful that they came all the way over to New York just to see me! I had a great time showing them the city and my university and they really, really liked it. And I was so happy to see them again! It is strange to be all alone on the other side of the world without familiar people around. Of course I have met very nice and sweet people here but I miss my close and beloved ones so it was just perfect to have them here.

I always thought that it would be easier for the one who is away because you have so many new impressions and people around, but suddenly you miss all the people you hang out with normally. They only miss you but apart from that, their lives stay pretty much the same. I have no job here, no chairmanships, and no social obligations and since I live on campus everything is close. Even sports are done here! Therefore we are doing these weekend trips and I love going to the theater on Broadway. The musicals are wonderful. I have seen a play with the actor who plays Harry Potter and I even saw a play about potatoes that attacked the people! Furthermore, I really like reading. I read all American books about economics, the depression we are in, the new administration and management. I love to have the time to do this and to have access to all the interesting American books!

As it turns out, I am actually more interested in Economics and securities than in Law. Law is off course fabulous but Economics excites me more because it is so dynamic and it gets you to research and prove things instead of applying the rules and advising on how to apply them. But in the US you study at law school to become a lawyer. If I tell people that I study law they all immediately think I want to become a lawyer. And if I tell them probably will not become one, they cannot understand what I do at law school. But hey, because things are so bad right now in the banking sector, instead of becoming a hot-shot banker, (which always seemed my dream job), I may start in securities litigation (which is now booming after what happened on the financial markets) and be a lawyer after all. Not so bad at all I think because the next reaction after telling that I am at law school is: “oh, you will become so rich”.

The Americans believe in their country


The US and Canada have many things in common. When President Bush started the daylight savings three weeks earlier, because he just wanted to make a difference, so did Canada. And when you are from the US they are very impressed. Though, Canada has the tallest structure in the Americas: Toronto’s CN Tower, which we visited. Even after the future completion new Freedom Tower on ground zero, the CN tower remains the tallest with 553 meters, or 1,815 feet. The new Freedom Tower will be 1776 feet high, (541 meters) which is symbolic of the year the Declaration of Independence was signed.

The Freedom Tower will be able to withstand the impact of planes crashing into it and will test the will of Americans for history not to repeat itself. New Yorkers are glad that something new is finally being built on ground zero. They want to get over it and move on. Visiting the site is highly impressive. The 9/11 attacks made a deep impact, as on the New Yorkers themselves. You can see why security has become so strict. But unlike us Europeans who are constantly complaining about airports and their security checks, the Americans are happy with this, security first!

You can notice this everywhere, like when you see all the yellow warning signs they put immediately in place when a few raindrops fall on the pavement or when they are mopping the floor. When only one cupboard collapsed in one of the kitchens in one room of our residence hall, they immediately replaced them all! And we have many fire alarms due to the sensitive smoke and heat detectors in our building. When we travel with the New York Rail Road you can see signs everywhere to remind you to watch the gap, they will call it out on the stations and in the train and they put it on your ticket. But it has its charm; they want to survive, to win and to overcome disasters like September 11th.

That is what I like about America: They believe in themselves, their country and their survival. This country has experienced bad times, not only the terrorist attacks but also the financial crisis and they have to recover from the Bush presidency which many think of as the worst president ever. But still they believe that everything will be okay soon and they happily live in tents and work a little bit harder to regain the lost money put into Madoff investments. There are many things Americans could learn from us like helping jobless people, providing safety guarantees for money, more regulation of companies and create more equality among people. But we can learn from the Americans to be proud of ourselves, to work hard, to be independent and to stand up for what we stand for.

Sports watching 


Americans love sports, to watch, not to do it themselves. If they go to the gym on campus, which is a five-minute walk, they will go there by car. But every normal pub is a sports bar which shows many matches on many TVs. They also really like their TVs; they are everywhere, so this is a good combination I guess. But going to watch those games for real is also very cool! And that is what we have been doing the past weeks.

Last week New York celebrated St Patrick’s Day. I had to skip class because it was on a Tuesday. I went to Manhattan and it was worth it. There was a five-hour parade of soldiers, police officers and high school students walking over Fifth Avenue playing pipes and drums. When we went to a Knicks match the day after in Madison Square Garden and they even had green outfits because of St Patrick’s Day. But I think that made them play horrible because they lost. Still it was great to see the Knicks play. And seeing Madison Square Garden was worthwhile anyway.

Besides basketball we wanted too see some (ice) hockey. So we went to this huge stadium in New Jersey to watch the New Jersey Devils. That was totally awesome! They have a brand new stadium; they play real well and they are very famous so there was a huge audience. They totally won and everyone was in red like the devils themselves! Now we still had to see the New York Islanders who have their stadium next to our campus. So we went there on Saturday evening after spending the day in the shopping mall in Hempstead. As you can see, we had a very cool Long Island weekend. The Islanders game was great. They lost but not easily. Several times they just threw their sticks away and started fighting! The referees were circling around them only interfering when things went really bad. That was so totally weird!

Interestingly, sports are much rougher here, yet the crowds instead are very friendly. Supporters of both teams sit side by side and everyone is enjoying their food and shouting sometimes what the huge displays tell you to do, but out of themselves they are not so involved. They are applauding when the team scores and further enjoy dancing during the game in the hope they will appear on the huge screens and watch the shows to entertain the public during the many intermissions. Maybe because it is easier to just sit and relax and watch those players fight instead of doing it themselves.

Go West


California, here I come! And then.. Vegas baby! That was my fabulous spring break. It was awesome. New York is fast, big, crowded and cold (and amazing of course). California instead is sunny, friendly and laid back. We left on Friday morning right after my Thursday evening classes for our first stop: San Francisco. San Fran is a very clean and stretched-out city. There are beaches, big parks, boulevards and there is the city centre that looks more cosmopolitan with high-rise buildings and large shops. This city has a little bit of all the cities we visited before: the boulevard was like Miami, the centre was a little bit like Toronto, the Golden Gate Park was like Central Park, and the friendly neighborhoods were like Boston. Yet the Golden Gate Bridge was unique. We enjoyed this city by just walking around and eating ice creams and drinking lattes (our favorite activities). On my birthday we had a very nice dinner on a terrace on top of Macy’s. Furthermore we visited Alcatraz, the former prison of prisons. That was interesting.

The next stop was Hollywood. Which was like.. I don’t know, Boskoop maybe, only then just one street, (and a small and old one). So pretty much nothing. The stars in the walk of fame were just there, in that ugly small street full of T-shirt shops and weird gothic places. We went to Santa Monica Beach and Venice Beach as well, which were not fabulous at all either, but it was sunny and nice to walk there. Yet it was definitely fun to see those famous places. We also did a limo tour with our hostel. And we went to a bar on Rodeo Drive which was so cool! So we enjoyed it all anyway. Next we made a funny tour past all the houses of the superstars, which actually was quite fabulous and more like you may imagine Hollywood.

Our last stop was Vegas. My gosh, that was amazing. I just loved it! It was big, awesome, and a city of fun. We had more ice creams and lattes and went on a limo tour again, arranged by our hostel arranged to visit a few nice clubs. Besides partying you can gamble all day. But the most interesting experience was our day trip to the Grand Canyon. We though it would be warm in the middle of the dessert. However somehow, when we were there it snowed and it was freezing cold and we could see nothing of the whole Grand Canyon, it was just a big fizzy hole full of snow.

Capital of capitals

Our last trip, already, was to the capital of capitals: Washington D.C. It was an amazing trip. It was so nice to see the Capitol and the White House for real. It was lovely weather and we could relax in the parks surrounding the government buildings and just enjoy. All the museums are free in Washington and I just loved the National Arts Museum! It had all my favorite artists in one museum: Degas, Renoir, and all the other impressionists, and of course Rembrandt and Van Gogh and some statues of Rodin. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time so we had to run the last floors before catching the bus back to New York.

After this last trip I had to study for my final exams and stayed on campus most of the time. We write our exams on our laptops by the way, super handy! Tip for the EUR. Staying on a campus is really weird. It is in the middle of nowhere and like a small village on itself. Well actually it is in the middle of Long Island and in the suburbs of New York City according my fellow students. But to me, a real city girl, it feels like the countryside. Of course in the Netherlands we have no real vast open country like in the US, so I think I may call it that way. Living on campus consists of studying in the library and sporting and eating. Quite boring but yeah, I have done so much already! Interestingly, fellow students on campus walk in their pajamas and jogging outfits all day and they even wore flip-flops and shorts in the middle of the winter when it was freezing! But it definitely makes you feel at home.

With the recent outbreak of swine flue, the campus is hopefully a safe place to live. Although we are quite close to the dangerous high school in Queens, which makes New York a severely affected state. Now the panic is over and the flue has disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers, but just after the outbreak we got emails with warnings and there are signs with prevention tips everywhere. Actually I was myself sick after visiting California but luckily that was an ear infection (of course not so lucky, but much better than swine flue). And on campus on all the dining places, where only Mexicans work, there were announcements immediately that sick employers had to stay home!

Good bye

New York has always been my dream city. And studying here has been fabulous! But every dream comes to an end; and so does my exchange. It seems like I just left home but now the semester is really almost over. Yet, I have seen and done so much, I can hardly believe that I have only lived here for five months! My courses, law school, the traveling, my new international and American friends, I enjoyed every part of it.

I have truly enjoyed the American spirit. The kindness and the chatting in the trains and subway, in stores and on the streets, I will definitely miss that! But I have also become very proud of my Dutch roots. Americans always ask: “Where are you from?” And by telling them that I’m from the Netherlands they really see you as an enlightened and very modern person. Like we think that New York is the road to modernity, they think so of the Netherlands. We have of course, ‘legal’ soft drugs and prostitution but also legal abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and a very developed system of social responsibility. Besides we are the founders of New York and having Dutch roots here is pretty cool. I easily went to a gay bar for example and I am used to people having different opinions and respecting that, so I was seen as a very enlightened girl. Therefore I became more and more proud of my country because all American people were so enthusiastic about it! We are maybe small but we are also a very famous country and appreciated. At least in New York they do. So I look forward to going home, although I will miss New York. But like one American girl told me: “there is no place like home” and that is so true.

After handing in my last papers and a period of hard studying for my exams my father came to visit me, and we spent the last week in Manhattan. It was great showing him all the sights and my favorite places again and enjoying the city one more time. I have my favorite bookstore in the meatpacking district and my special cupcake heaven. I enjoyed sunbathing in Central Park and walking over Fifth Avenue. My favorite shopping place is Soho and I like eating in the small organic restaurants in Brooklyn. I will miss this all so much! But the experience was amazing and I am very fortunate that I got the opportunity to study and live in this fabulous city. I will be back soon!

Other columns Maurit