'New York, New York'
by Kishan Rabadia
With no job in sight and no grad scheme place secured, I decided that maybe I should apply for the Mountbatten Internship Programme, who knew it would be the experience of a lifetime.
All you need to have to apply is to be over 21 at the start of the internship, have a 2.1 degree, be able to type 45 wpm, and have at least 1 years experience in the area that you want to intern in. For more information on the programme and how to apply visit www.mountbatten.org
My sister went on the programme a few years before I did, so I knew what to expect. However, having never lived away from home and not knowing anyone on the programme, I was really taking a leap. Many of you may not have lived truly independent lives, so before you apply be prepared for this. You could convince a friend to apply for the programme as well so that you may have some company. However, even if your friend applies they may not get a placement. There was a rumour when we got to New York that an intern had crossed the Atlantic with us and realised they could not live a year without their family and friends and so they turned back!
My initial thoughts when I got to New York was how tall everything was and I was surprised at how dirty the city was. I had the misleading impression from the Hollywood movies that it was a clean and sparkling city...how wrong was I. Saying all that, I learned to love New York and its simplicity when compared to London. It was so easy to navigate as most of the streets and avenues were numbered. They also had mini areas where you could get Chinese food, Indian food etc.
We lived in Jersey City, New Jersey, so we had the benefits of working in a city and living in a suburban area. It is a great place to live with most things walking distance away from you. Take the PATH and you will be in New York. Most people will take this to get into work if they are working in the city. Some people are lucky (or unlucky) enough to work in Jersey City itself so do not have to spend anything on travel. If you want to get your Jiru, Methi or some other masala you can pop to Journal Square (using the PATH). This place is like Ealing road, filled with Indian shops and restaurants.
I lived with other interns on the programme. There are two intakes, one in March and the other in September. I shared with a mixture of the two intakes. Typically there are six people to an apartment. One person has their own room, two share another room and three share a room with an en-suite. The apartments are normally mixed, you can get all girls apartments, but rarely all boy apartments as it would seem the internship attracts more girls. Normally, the girl to boy ratio is 3:7. Living with people you do not know can be easy, but as I found out you have to learn to confront them about their habits or ignore them. And then you have to organise to clean the apartment together and believe me that can be hard. If you are not happy with the apartment you are put in you can move in with a friend 6 months later.
Within the area that I was living, there are a lot of Indians, so you could get to meet people there. There is also a Swaminarayan Mandir in Weehawken, which is train ride away and takes about half an hour including walking. I only went there twice, but if you wanted to you could go every week and meet the American Swaminarayan community. The intern community is mostly made up from people from the UK and within that I would say 10% is Asian. There are also people from Thailand, India and Australia, so there is the opportunity to get to know an eclectic mix of people.
Going out was so easy and we never had to worry about getting cabs as the subway and PATH run for 24 hours, although there is a reduced service late at night. This meant that we could come back from a night out whenever we wanted to. There are clubs and bars for all types of music. The cheaper bars and clubs tend to be downtown in the Lower East Side or the Village. You will find that alcohol is more expensive but since it is free pour and not measured you get more for your money. Also DO NOT forget to tip (normally $1 per drink).
Being quite lazy in cooking I hardly went to Journal Square as the masalas that I brought with me from the UK lasted me the whole year. Before you come to New York learn how to cook the basics! However if you don’t, it is possible to survive on ready meals, but making the food yourself can be more cost effective and in the end you will look at everything and think “can I afford to buy that?”
This experience taught me how to live on a strict budget! I found budgeting extremely hard as we got paid $460 every two weeks, so $920 every month. From that I had to pay for my travel, food, and also going out costs. There were times when I would have hummus and salad (all brought from home) for lunch! Needless to say when family came to visit I took advantage of them and ate as much as was offered! I took advantage of everything that was free and believe me there is a lot of things in New York that are free especially during the summer. I remember the times when I would go to “Morton Williams” (the local supermarket) and take advantage of the free samples they would have!
Being frugal with your money is a must if you are to survive on the programme. In the end I did cheat and dip into my savings from time to time.
Working in New York was amazing. I was interning with Citi Private Bank and was based on 46th and Lexington Avenue (near Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building). My advice to all is to walk wherever you can, instead of taking the subway or buses, so that you can see the city. Since the “high street” shops were all around me I started to become more of a shopper.
I learnt to expand my palate as there are so many good restaurants around. I had Thai, sushi (yes you get vegetarian sushi!), Indian food but my favourite discovery was “Max Brenner” and Australian chocolate restaurant. My love for chocolate suited this restaurant as almost everything on the menu is derived from chocolate. They do offer normal food like salads, burgers etc but you can get crepes, chocolate pizza, chocolate cocktails and so on. The best Thai restaurant I went to, “Sea”, had good food, good portions and was cheap. It had a great ambiance and the toilets had TV screens inside so that you could see who was waiting for you on the outside!
Then there is the travelling that you could do. The USA is a continent in itself, so you can experience all types of climates. You could go skiing or go to the beach. Take advantage of this. New York is close to Boston and Pennsylvania, so you can take a weekend or day trip to go visit. I did not really spend that much time travelling during the year, but spent a month road tripping around the USA at the end of the internship. It was tiring, but a lot of fun.
Deciding to go on the internship will not be cheap. When I went we paid around £2500, but I believe now it is £6000! When I went the qualification we studied for whilst doing our internship had no meaning, but now the qualification you will get will give you a number of credits towards a post graduate qualification.
The internship is a great opportunity. For me, I gained work experience as well as life experience and many valuable skills for the future. One of the highlights of the year was volunteering for a fashion show, where I saw some famous people. The only advice that I could give to any Baladian, is to be prepared to be open to a new experience in order to make the most of the internship.