College students from across the United States are spending the Spring term in New York where they are exploring cultural institutions and getting a taste of life in the big city. The exchange program, run by the private New York University, is a new twist on the tradition of spending a semester abroad.
New York University is billing its new program as "Spring in New York." Instead of studying on campuses abroad - say in Paris, Buenos Aires or Tokyo - 31 American students are taking courses at NYU's campus in the heart of Greenwich Village.
Students have come from as far away as Hawaii to participate in the program. Mimi Cave is majoring in dance and film at Colorado College, a small school in the mountains of the western state.
"There are only 30 of us because it is the first year. I actually did not know it was as competitive to get into the program as it is. It was over 1,000 applicants, so I was like, 'Hey! that's a pat on the back,' " she says.
Administrators say the response from students from colleges all over the United States to this first "Spring in New York" program was overwhelming. "Spring in New York" is the brainchild of Professor Sharon Weinberg, who limited the number of students for the initial program.
"I wanted to conceive this as a pilot semester, because I didn't want to invite people here when we didn't have the right infrastructure ready for them," he explained. "So I really wanted to limit the program to about 20 people. The reality is we had about 1,000 applications and inquiries, of that, we could only take 31."
A new survey by the Princeton Review of students and parents finds that New York University tops the list of "dream" schools young people would like to attend. But New York City itself also draws students to the "Spring in New York" program. The students view the city and its theaters, concert halls, museums and galleries as a huge classroom. Professor Weinberg took this into account when she designed the program, which is geared towards film and arts students.
"What I really wanted to do was to have something that was a value-added experience for the kids," he said. "The notion of having them spend time in a chemistry lab was not what I viewed as something that would be value-added. I wanted them to be able to take advantage of our location in New York and actually get out to the museums, get into the theater and understand our ethnic culture and so on."
The lure of Broadway and a desire to learn about theater first-hand brought Michael Alvarez to the program from California. He has been keeping up a hectic schedule of classes, work, and an internship.
"I told myself before I left that I wanted to be an usher for a Broadway show," he said. "So now I'm ushering for Thoroughly Modern Millie so I get to watch the show for free and get paid to do so," he joked. "And I wanted an internship, so I've got an internship and I'm also working at Manhattan Theater Stores so I'm really along the lines of getting what I wanted for the semester."
The program seems like the perfect fit for an ambitious student like Michael, who knows exactly what he wants to do, and only needs the resources to make it all happen.
"I would like to be the youngest director who ever won a Tony for best director, so I really feel like New York, and being here, it is the best place to get the right training, to meet the right people to get the right connections to put your work out there for the right people to see it," he said.
Michael's busy schedule is typical of the students in the program, who often feel that they need to squeeze as many activities as possible into their one semester in New York.
Mimi Cave says the students have a well-developed sense of purpose and a lot of energy.
"I know the kids in this program are sort of in a different mindset because we are here for a semester whereas NYU students are here for much longer. So we want to take advantage of things now, and we want to do it all now," she said.
New York City can be a little intimidating, especially to young people for rural areas and small cities. But Stephanie Jones, a student at Iowa State University in the Midwest, says she has now adapted to the pace of the city.
"At first I thought I was so insignificant and no one knows who I am, which is kind of depressing, but now it's like this is so enriching to be in my own skin and feel like I can walk around wherever and not know anyone and still feel totally at ease. So I think that's something I've learned," she said
New York University is one of the most expensive institutions of higher education in the United States. The "Spring in New York" program has given many students who could not otherwise afford it a chance to live and study in New York City. They have learned to take advantage of free events and discounts to museums and theaters.