Moving to New York is quite daunting if you are an out-of-towner, as I was. The city is huge, expensive, and haphazardly designed; how’s a non-native New Yorker to know what neighborhoods to look at apartments in? Well now you’ll know (because I am telling you!) what I learned by chance: you should move to Queens.
Forget Manhattan, especially anywhere south of Central Park, right away. This is graduate school—you don’t have the cash for that sort of thing. Brooklyn has been the place du jure for grad students, but I have found the neighborhoods less accessible by the subway (in the areas that you will be able to afford at least) to the Graduate Center, more expensive, and a little too hipster-ish for my taste. Plus there are all those buildings with that ugly plastic siding. Who thought that was a good idea?
Queens, on the other hand, is slightly more affordable. Many of the neighborhoods that I know best (like Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, Jackson Heights, etc.) are a single subway line (either the 7, N, or Q, depending) away from the Graduate Center, making for a total commute of less than 45 minutes or even a half an hour. Plus there are more besides these that make for a short commute as well (the F and M lines are also easy ones).
Queens is also the most diverse county in the nation, so we’ve got some killer food of all stripes; you name it, we’ve probably got it. And it’s just generally invigorating being around that variety of people (when we were first looking at apartments in our neighborhood, we heard at least six languages on the street in one afternoon on a walkabout).
I take a lot of pride in the neighborhood that I live in—in embracing it and all it has to offer. We go to the farmer’s market every Saturday for the 8 months of the year that it is there and chat with many other shoppers (and our favorite vendors); we frequent our neighborhood shops with their local owners; we eat at the many restaurants that make it such a great locale. But regardless of whether you take my advice and choose one of the neighborhoods in Queens, these are the sorts of things that you should do when you move to any area of NYC. Being integrated into your local community—not just the academic community in which grad students often find themselves totally absorbed—will really help you enjoy this fantastic city all the more. And a happy grad student is a productive grad student.