As you may or may not know I took part in an exchange program with a school in the Bronx, NY. As described in this blog post, ten American students visited Amsterdam last April. Ten students from our school – I was one of them – gave them a place to stay, showed them around town and of course had a great deal of fun with them.
Three weeks ago though, it was time for the second part of this exchange. The same ten students from Amsterdam went up to the Bronx and the ten students from the Bronx gave us a place to stay and showed us around. Of course, we also had a ton of fun.
In a nutshell: we saw all the highlights from NYC, we’ve seen NYC and the Bronx from an inside perspective (really cool) and we ate loads of junk food (and some proper food)
For this was such an amazing week and a very unique experience, I’ve decided to write a little bit more than just the nutshell version, so read on for the full story.
Day 1 – Arrival and meeting up
After a long but very comfortable and steady flight, we arrived at JFK airport. We were picked up there by a few teachers/staff members of the school in the Bronx (Bronx Collegiate Academy or BCA).
They drove us all the way to the principal’s house in New Jersey where we were gratefully welcomed by our fellow American friends. It was great seeing them again. We then continued to have a delicious barbecue there and we all updated one another with the latest news rumors etc. We even watched fifteen minutes of a high school football game just a few blocks away.
After the barbeque, we all went to our temporary homes with our exchange students. I was staying with Kenneth together with Willem. We were totally knocked out by the time we went to bed and slept like angels.
Day 2 – Central Park bike trip
After we had all found each other at the designated place, we went to get our bikes and made our way to Central Park. There seemed to be some sort of practice for a marathon or a similar run. It was great to cycle through the park, we saw a big part of the park in a relatively short amount of time.
The rest of that day we were free to do whatever we wanted. We decided to spent our day near Times Square where we checked out the M&M store and of course the Toys R Us. The best part was the collection of Nerf guns the size of anti-artillery machine guns. They were really quite impressive.
We had dinner that day at a teacher’s place in the Bronx. We had some trouble finding the place and we left a little late so we were extremely late for dinner… The food was nice though and it was Cherissa’s birthday. We went to see Taken 2 right after dinner on 161st street.
Day 3 – Bronx Zoo
On day three we actually went to BCA for the first time. Not to attend any classes, just to meet up there. But it was nice to see what a school in the Bronx looked like, in fact, not much different from the schools we have back home except for the airport style security at the entrance. That was quite new to us Dutchies.
We made our way to Bronx Zoo where we walked around for an hour or two. We were assisted by a biology teacher from BCA who could tell us all the nuts and bolts about the different species. The zoo was fun and there was a merry-go-round that some of us couldn’t resist.
That evening we had dinner at Charles’ house, props to Charles’ mom and whoever helped her make that delicious food. After dinner, some of us went to the all new Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn where we watched an NBA basketball game. The Nets vs the Wizards, not the most potential teams, but it was a lot of fun anyway. The basketball itself was nice to watch but also the entire happening was really cool to have experienced.
Day 4 – Free day
The fourth day was a free one. However, there was one little thing to it: we Dutchies had to do something in relation to a piece for school. If you had an appointment for this day, even if it was no longer than half an hour the entire day was yours, if not, you had to spend the entire day at school. Fortunately, everybody seemed to have an appointment (not all of them were as solid) so nobody had to stay at school that day.
I had arranged something with a researcher from Columbia University in the field of Astronomy. I got to the beautiful campus and was able to find the right building and even the right room. I knocked the door, paralyzed by adrenaline, and the door was opened. It happened to be the exact person I was looking for that opened the door. He let me in and welcomed me. Then he gave me a one-on-one lecture, about an hour in length. He was very enthusiastic and drew all kinds of things on the blackboard. It was super interesting and the best part is: I actually understood everything and it was a very cohesive story. After a couple of more questions I eventually left the building. Truckloads of thanks for Michele, it was awesome!
Later that day, I went to B&H (the huge photo and video store) with a few other fellas and we checked out all the awesome gear. The store was cool, but the number of things that we could actually try out wasn’t as big as I hoped it would be.
Jim and I bought 20$ phones at Radio Shack so we could call without wasting too much money. Then we had some whoppers at the Burger King next to the Empire State. Especially the cokes were frighteningly big, it didn’t say it on the cup itself, but I would estimate somewhere around 1,5 liters or about 51 fl oz. Crazy. We ended the day with watching the musical Annie on Broadway. The musical was pretty cool, but not super exciting.
Day 5 – Lower Manhattan
We met up at BCA again, where we had a little history lesson on New York City. Most of this wasn’t much new for us Dutchies, we’re technically the folks that founded the city so we’ve been told about all that more than once. It was good to have it refreshed though, as a matter of preparation for the rest of the day.
We went to Battery Park and from there we walked through financial district, China Town, Little Italy and eventually SoHo. Along the way we were told some more facts about certain buildings, statues etc.
Then we decided to climb the Empire State Building. What was pretty amazing was the absence of any queues/lines. There was barely anyone in the building. Our chaperon Bram had even forgotten his credit card so we had to go back down where he got some cash and then went back up. All this took about five minutes. Everybody shot a bunch of photos on top of the building and it was great to see the entire city.
We had dinner at Harlem Bar-B-Q at 127th street with our group of Dutchies and the other exchange group (there was another exchange going on simultaneously, also from our school but with a different school in NYC). The Triple Decker burger was very very tasty.
When we had all finished our delicious burgers, we went to the Apollo theater which was just a few block away. We came to watch the amateur night which was pretty cool. There were some very talented people. The most impressive was a young man from Tokyo who did an amazing job beat boxing. He was incredible, everybody seemed to agree, and therefor he won that night.
Day 6 – 9/11 memorial, Staten Island and Brooklyn Bridge
The sixth day started with a trip all the way down to ground zero for the 9/11 memorial, which was very impressive. The colossal fountains give a very strange feeling. They do really stand for the immense disaster that took place at the 11th of September. Knowing what has happened and what’s left of it really makes quite some emotional impact.
After the memorial we walked down even further to where the Staten Island ferry departs. We got on the first ferry and took the very first ferry back. It’s lovely to see that gorgeous skyline and of course the Statue Of Liberty.
We proceeded to Brooklyn Bridge and walked about halfway. We saw a bunch of Chinooks flying in and a couple of police boats setting up perimeters about some pier. Eventually the Airforce One chopper came in, apparently to drop off Mr. Obama for his campaign. That was a fun thing to witness, it was too bad though that the bridge was under construction so we couldn’t really look around from on the bridge.
The rest of the day we did some shopping, not my favorite thing to do, but it was fun with the little group we were with. We also tried Wendy’s, the expectations were about average but the burger was definitely below average. The only great thing about the place is that they’ve got a burger called Son Of A Baconator, I have to give them credit for that name.
We had dinner at Esmeralda’s place, once again some very nice food. Thanks so much to whoever was responsible for it. We spent the rest of the evening over at the arcade hall at Chelsea Piers. We danced our butts of with Dance Dance Revolution and played some more Deal or No Deal. We definitely had a lot of fun there and it was a nice ending of the day.
Day 7 – The cultural day
Day seven was clearly dedicated to culture. We went to two very significant museums that day, the Metropolitan and the MoMA.
The Metropolitan was still as big as I remembered, easy to get lost. We had a few things in mind that we wanted to see so we ran through the museum to see those things and still be back for meeting up in time. We saw an interesting exposition of work by Andy Warhol and artists with similar styles. We also saw an exposition of photo editing from back in the days, days far before the existence of tools like computers and photoshop. I had quite high expectations from this exposition, but was rather disappointed by it. There were too many photos and they weren’t organized very well. It was also quite unclear what kind of manipulations had been done to the photos.
At the MoMA we had a bit of an extraordinary tour. Instead of showing us the highlights of the museum at high speed, we halted at three random pieces in the museum to generate very deep and philosophical thoughts about them. Not everybody was as amused by this approach although I thought it was fun to let my creativity go nuts on these pieces and find all kinds of metaphorical and symbolic meanings in them (whether intended or not).
When the cultural part was done, we had some tacos at Taco Bell (high expectations which were met to a certain degree) and we went to FAO to see all the candy.
After having dinner at Kenneth’s place (where Willem and I were staying) – thanks so much to his mom and Moises’s mom for the food – we went to Moises’ place for a great party. We had a lot of fun there up on the sixteenth floor somewhere in the middle of the Bronx.
Day 8 – Coney Island
On eighth and for last full length day we went to Coney Island with both NY groups. We checked out a couple of cool rides in the amusement park and tried Popeys which was a big succes (very tasty food they sell over there). We also had the original hot dogs on the boardwalk, but I couldn’t really taste the difference between that one and the one that I bought from a stand earlier that week…
We walked a little with both groups together and then dispersed. With a small group we went to China Town and Little Italy where we wandered around for a bit and eventually found a suitable place to eat in China Town (Suzie’s). We had some great food there for a very reasonable price.
That day was ended with another party, this time a full scale house party. I still don’t understand how neighbors can not complain about the insanely loud music, but apparently that’s the way things work there. Another thing that was rather unusual for us Dutchies was the dancing, especially the way boys danced with girls. Really quite odd… This was a fun and unique experience as well so I’m glad we were able to see what the house parties in the Bronx are like.
Day 9 – Free Day
Day nine, the last day. The feeling of it being the last day was very sad, but we definitely still had fun that day. Jim, Lukas, Charles and me met up with Javon, who was staying with me here in Amsterdam, but who we hadn’t been able to see a lot throughout the week unfortunately. So it was good to at least spend that last day with him, we didn’t do much though, we just hung around Broadway and Times Square.
We had dinner at Ms. Rivas’ place, the chaperon from the NY side. We toasted to what had been an amazing week. Right after we left her place I went to Shake Shack with Jim. As though he hadn’t already eaten enough, he wanted to try out one of their burgers. I was pretty stuffed so I decided not to take one, apart from one bite from his burger and wow, that was one hell of a burger. Incredible. So tasty. “Above Burger King” as he said it, and I have to prove him right.
From Shake Shack (up on 79th street) we walked a bit through Central Park, which was lovely and quiet around that time, and then proceeded to Times Square. We spend our last evening there with almost everybody and it was a good ending of the week. Some people even had photos of them taken in the American Eagle store which were then put up on the huge display. That was really cool.
Day 10 – final day
The final day had come. There wasn’t much time to do anything as we had to meet up at BCA somewhere in the afternoon. We went to try White Castle, our expectations were quite high (thanks to the movie Harold & Kumar go to White Castle) even though some people had tried to warn us very subtly. We all just had one of these little burgers and we were glad. Never have I tasted such a disgusting burger, no need to spend more words on that piece of ****.
With the plastic still in our stomachs, we went to Manhattan so Jim could buy a David Letterman T-Shirt for his dad. We didn’t stay in Manhattan for long, but returned quite early to avoid any problems with being on time. We had some trouble with the subway – they were malfunctioning again… – but were still easily able to make it in time.
And then it was time for the inevitable. We had to say goodbye. Tears dropped, people hugging and thanking one another. It was beautiful in one way and stupid in another. But one thing was for sure: we had had a wonderful week, never to forget.
Thanks again to everybody who has made this possible and especially to Javon and Kenneth!
Forgot to put this in at first, but of course there’s videos to:
This is a great video made by my buddy Jim.
And here’s a ‘video’ by me
Thanks for reading this post, or just checking the photos. I could live with that, I understand that reading 2500+ words requires quite some endeavor. For whoever did read it, I hope it was fun to read! And of course feel free to comment/share/whatever.