Program Assistant Introduction: Adriana Popa

Today is our second installment of the new program assistant introductions. Earlier this week we welcomed Eloy, so today we’re hearing from International Security Policy-concentrator, Adriana Popa.

I am originally Romanian, but have lived and studied on three continents. Prior and during SIPA, I have been involved in the governmental, non-governmental and private sectors, but intend to pursue a career in diplomacy. My professional experience and personal interests span a range of fields, from foreign affairs/diplomacy, to education/youth and art.

What attracted you to SIPA?
“The brand and unparalleled resources, the location, the promise of a vibrant intellectual community that I missed from my undergrad days, and the possibility of being part of a school dedicated exclusively to my area of interest (international affairs). I still can’t believe every course in the Bulletin is relevant to what I want to know and what I intend to do after graduation.”

What kind of work do you hope to do when you graduate?
“I hope to become a diplomat or an international civil servant (most likely, with the United Nations). But I definitely see myself working in foreign affairs.”

What has been the best part of your SIPA experience?
“The people; and by this I mean both the friends and wonderful colleagues I have had the privilege to meet, and the leaders and international affairs VIPs I have had access to while here.”

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?
“Balanced. Econ was challenging, but not impossible, and I recognized the value of having a thorough quantitative grounding.”

What has been the most challenging part of your SIPA experience?
“Prioritizing and making difficult decisions. With such a wealth of academic and professional offers, almost any decision can feel frustrating, because whatever you choose, you’re losing another option. It took time to make my peace with that.”

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?
“Yes, I took a history course (Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), and the experience rather turned me off taking classes outside of SIPA. SIPA has its own culture, a certain environment, a certain way of understanding interactions, grading, etc. By comparison, the course I took seemed very outdated, and inefficient, not to mention frustrating when it came to grading. SIPA is very competitive, and what people might consider a good grade outside of SIPA does not necessarily count as one at SIPA, so this, plus the difference in teaching style and class goals made a rather uncomfortable semester. Luckily, it was my only class outside of SIPA.”

Can you describe the nature of the SIPA curriculum? For example, theoretical vs. practical learning?
“I think it’s a god mix. Especially in view of my response to the above question, I really appreciate that SIPA prioritizes real-life and applied experiences. It is a professional school, after all. And I for one feel that my undergrad gave me a very rigorous theoretical basis, so some of the intro theoretical courses felt repetitive and not very useful. I would propose that they be waived for students who already have extensive background in those areas, especially those coming from a US undergraduate system, and majoring in political science, international affairs or similar fields. I certainly didn’t need to waste an entire semester being told what liberalism, realism and constructivism are (I am referring here to the class “Conceptual Foundations”, a requirement for the ISP concentration). ”

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Adriana calls this the ‘obligatory pigeon photo in Venice.’ ]