Rebecca (BA Fashion Merchandise Management) has just come back from a semester exchange at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. Let’s see how she got on in the Big Apple!
Why you decided to take part in the exchange programme?
This opportunity was not only a dream of mine, but also a perfect opportunity for a career start. Being able to add ‘studying in New York‘ to my CV for future employers shows off a number of skills and is a good talking point, especially for fashion.
To be able to experience an entirely different city to London and experience it as a local has been amazing, and this is something that made me want to do this in the first place. I wanted to be able to experience different cultures and take on this challenge as my own.
What was your typical day at FIT like?
During my semester exchange, I took 4 different fashion/business related classes: Fashion Forecasting, Advertising & Promotion, Business of Styling and a new class, which I helped pilot for the first time, called Data Analytics and Fashion Insights. These were all very different classes but were all perfect classes for the career path I would like to take. On a regular week, my normal routine would consists of travelling on the subway (only 5 stops) to the 7th avenue campus on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings. These classes would start at 9:10 and last until 11:30/12. For the rest of the day I would be mostly completing assignments or making sure I was up-to-date with all reading. On a Tuesday and Thursday evening, I had a split class that only lasted for 1hr30.
University life at FIT was a different experience to Westminster. Classes were stricter in terms of punctuality and phones/eating/drinking. It felt more like high school than university. However, the work and assignments were a lot simpler than the ones at Westminster. This helped with being able to explore on the weekends and take time to enjoy the city. On a Friday I would usually go to the complimentary gym that came with the university and then complete our house food shop at Trader Joes. Weekends were usually filled with exploring the city! We had so many different areas to explore including exhibitions and food places.
How did you like the programme? What did you find the most enjoyable and most challenging?
I liked the subjects that I chose to study very much. They were all very different and most seemed to be different to what I already study in London. The most enjoyable classes were Business of Styling and Data Insights. These both brought in a physical side to learning, meaning we had to actually go and do things, rather than just writing and referencing. This was a perfect way to learn and really helped when it came to final project and exam season.
In terms of challenges, I found that being a foreign student was difficult. In most of my classes the students and lecturers sometimes struggled to understand my accent or my changes in words. After a few weeks of studying, this sometimes became really tough and meant I had to focus more on assignments to change vocabulary to American. This is also something I found as a big difference between cultures that I hadn’t realised before.
Something I also missed about the UK in terms of education was having all of my classes with the same students. This wasn’t the case in FIT and made it difficult to make a lot of friends, as we only ever met once a week and wouldn’t get a lot of opportunity to work with each other or get to know one another.
What graduate attributes or transferrable skills have you gained through this experience?
I felt that I learnt a lot of business skills such as team communication and leadership. As we had to get a high grade in FIT to get this transferred over to Westminster, it made team work very crucial and a lot of time this took good organisational skills and often a lot of leadership skills. This also meant a lot of presentations, either in groups or by myself. These actually helped with presentation skills as I felt more confident presenting in front of people I didn’t know and I feel that this will help me when I’m back in London.
What message would you like to pass on to students who are considering a similar opportunity?
I would 100% say DO IT! This was THE best experience I have ever done and although I was nervous up until being there a month, it was so worth every emotion.
Any top tips for students going to New York?
There are actually loads of things I experienced by myself I wish someone had told me before. I will list below some of them, that I feel would have been really helpful for a semester abroad in America:
- Don’t open a bank account! You don’t need to for a short amount of time (if you were going for a year, this might be different but still not a necessity). I used a Revolut card which is incredibly easy to apply for online – I only registered for mine a week before I left. This meant I could upload my English money from my English account and exchange this into dollars. I was able to pay my rent from this and easily send money to and from home and my house mates. It was accepted almost everywhere (literally only 1 place didn’t take it) and worked exactly like a debit card. Sometimes it was listed under a credit card on certain pay machines, but worked all the same. Be warned, this card only lets you top up £25,000 a year (which is a lot) but if you’re paying rent with friends and are sending this from one account this could mount up, so be careful.
- As far as accommodation is concerned, as scary as it does sound, look once you’re there! We stayed in a hotel when we got there and it took us 10 days to find a place and fully move in. We originally looked through estate agents, but they usually charge very very high agency fee as well as a security deposit. We eventually went through Airbnb, but asked if we could go and view the property first.
- Do food shopping at Trader Joe’s. In Manhattan there are only 2 or 3, but there’s one really close to 14th Street/6th Avenue station or 23rd/6th Avenue station (which is only 5 minutes from the university). The prices are super cheap for Manhattan and they don’t charge you tax on the end of your bill, so you’ll know exactly what you’re paying for. As much as Whole Foods would have been the dream, for us living on a budget, Trader Joes was the best equivalent at a much cheaper price.
- Be prepared to do your laundry in a launderette! A lot of the cheaper apartments in Manhattan (still more expensive than London!) do not have a washing machine. Launderettes are very common but definitely take some getting used to and is something to add to your weekly budgeting, or twice weekly if that’s how often you do your washing. You’d be surprised how long it takes to do washing and how not often you’ll want to do it.
- This is something related to the ‘before you go’ part of the exchange. You probably won’t believe me until you go yourself, but the embassy appointment is NOT scary! Honestly, for the visa you’re applying for it’s dead easy and they barely even look at you. I will say, make sure you read and read and read again the paperwork as I missed things out and it wasn’t until the night before I remembered! Also, don’t panic if you don’t get an appointment until early December, I was leaving in early January and was panicking as FIT were delayed in their paperwork so I couldn’t get an appointment until late and that was still plenty of time!
- Tax and tipping. Apart from Trader Joes, tax is added onto almost everything after you pick it up, so things rarely cost the price on the tickets. In Manhattan, any retail clothing that is under $100 is also tax free. That was something I found out on my own and it’s a dream for shopping! But on anything else, there will be tax added and in Manhattan this is about 8.5%. In regards to tipping … this is definitely something that throws your budget entirely out the window. By the last month I was out there, I started getting out a certain amount of cash and using this for tipping in restaurants. Tipping % varies from restaurant to restaurant, however it’s usually between the 15-25% bracket, which is a lot, compared to London. This is a serious thing in America and sometimes restaurant staff can get offended if a small amount is given. It takes a lot of getting used to!
Why would you recommend international opportunities to other students?
Travelling to another country, especially to New York, is an experience I can’t explain until you actually experience it! Something has to be said about actually living and having a routine and being a local. It is honestly something I have never felt before! Studying at FIT was a dream come true and it helped me get a different perspective on university life. I would convince people to do this by telling them to not be scared or at least don’t let being scared stop you from doing this! It nearly stopped me but now that I’m home and it’s over I wouldn’t have changed anything about it. The regret I would have felt if I hadn’t gone would have been awful. So please, don’t let nerves stop you if this is a dream!
Any interesting experiences from your trip you would like to share with us?
During my trip to New York, I stayed mainly in Manhattan but obviously explored the likes of Brooklyn, went to baseball games in The Bronx and even managed to take a trip to Coney Island (which is a MUST during the summer time)! During Spring Break, my house mates and I took a trip to Washington DC and saw all of the famous political sites and also managed to take a day trip to Philadelphia! These were so worth the trips and weren’t very expensive as we took the Mega Bus coaches. This was such a good way to spend the week away from studying and really make the most of where you’re staying!