Clusters of incoming Union College students roamed downtown Schenectady on Thursday evening, getting a taste of the food and entertainment options available in their new home away from home.
The orientation brought about 150 young adults downtown, many of them international students. They broke into a dozen groups for their taste tour, so as not to overwhelm the participating restaurants with too many visitors at once.
Chong Yi of China was a bit surprised at what he saw. He thinks his search engine back home gave him false results when he went online to check out Schenectady. Instead of a quiet little town, it turns out to be a bustling little city, at least on its downtown strip. He liked what he saw.
Alex Merrill didn’t need the orientation, having visited Schenectady often while growing up in Niskayuna, but she came anyway. She said the downtown appeared to be “back on its feet” compared to what it looked like when she came downtown for dance lessons as a young child.
“I think it’s a lot bigger than it used to be,” she said.
Andreina Negretti, who had been to a few big U.S. cities but never to Schenectady, enjoyed the various stops. It’s a nice change from the situation in her native Venezuela — her hometown isn’t as chaotic as Caracas but the shortages are worse, she said. And one doesn’t go out at night unless it’s to a friend’s house.
She expects she’ll spend a lot of time on campus until she gets acclimated, then venture downtown more. “I like hanging out,” she said.
Elyse Clark came along on Thursday’s tour even though this will be her fourth year in the city. She just hasn’t gone out to eat very often, because of time constraints and wanting to get the most value out of her meal plan. Mostly when she comes downtown, she’s going to Proctors.
“I love going to the theater,” she said.
She’s from a small village in Michigan, and Schenectady has been her first urban environment. “I’ve never had a downtown before.”
Dylan Banever of Connecticut, a junior leading one of the groups of students on the tour, didn’t need much convincing of her own. Restaurants, she said, are the best part of Schenectady: “I love the food here.”
The specialties of the dozen-plus stops on the tour range from steak (Rare) to coffee (Happy Cappucino) to cannoli (Villa Italia) to little burgers (Slidin’ Dirty) to that old favorite, pizza (Nico’s).
Taj Mahal owner M.A. Waheed was by the door, welcoming each successive crowd into his Clinton Street restaurant, where his wife, Shammi Waheed, is the cook.
“I think it’s a great idea,” he said of the tour, which Union organized. “We have found that our food is very popular with students.”
Young people seem more willing to experiment with food, so they’re a natural audience for Indian cuisine, which varies greatly by region, Waheed said. “We have such a great story to tell.”
There’s a lot of that going on downtown, he added: “Schenectady has become a food destination.”