Author Archive for Adriana Popa

Common SIPA stresses and their cures

From 2016:

When we talk about graduate school, especially at elite institutions, we inevitably talk about stress. But Seeples are unique, and so are their sources of stress. Read-on for some of the most common ones, and their cures:

  1. Not having enough money: Refer to my “Managing A Student Budget” post back in February 2016. You may feel poor now, but you won’t for long, and there are ways to deal with the costs of a SIPA education and life in New York. Take advantage of cost-managing resources (campus and off-campus), try finding additional sources of income, and manage your expectations.
  2. Being homesick: See my post on conquering homesickness. From immersing yourself in work, to making new friends and exploring New York, to connecting with your roots and taking trips home when you can, there are countless ways to mitigate the painful effects of being away from home.
  3. Feeling overwhelmed: Take it easy, or rather, take it one activity/task/day at a time. SIPA can be a lot to swallow, between the academic, the professional and the social, but you wouldn’t have gotten in if we hadn’t believed you could do it, and thrive! There are campus resources available for help, from academic support in OSA, to counseling at Columbia Health. Reach out if you feel like you’re drowning, there’s always a solution!
  4. Having your order messed up at (insert café): Be it Alice’s, Artopolis, Nous, etc., we have all had our share of “I asked for a pistachio muffin and a hot latte, not a cold pistachio latte and a coffee-flavored muffin!” moments. It can be particularly stressful when you’re rushing to class, or have a long line of people behind you. Be nice (try! I don’t always succeed, especially in the face of repeated “offenses”), explain your order again, and be patient while the staff gets it together. Or, if you’re truly at wits’ end (like me), ask for your money back and leave empty-handed. Sometimes it’s a relief to just step away.
  5. Administration Woes: Sometimes it’s the student worker in OSA who doesn’t know the answer to your question, or a mistype in an official document you had requested. Mistakes happen, it’s life, and nobody (not even Ivy League schools) is perfect! So take a deep breath, and go through the same steps as for # 4 above. Since leaving empty-handed is less realistic than for # 4, try your best to work with the administration to resolve your issue. Help them help you! Not only will they be grateful for your professionalism, patience and resourcefulness, you will also likely get the problem solved faster!
  6. Professor Woes: The professor didn’t clarify an assignment, or didn’t provide resources to find course readings, or instituted a policy you disagree with/which has the potential to harm your academic performance (such as the dreaded “no laptops” policy). Dialogue is your best friend! Talk to the professor, in person, if possible. Explain your needs, and your position (sometimes professors can be unaware of these), and ask if they can either 1. Change the policy or 2. Make an exception. For e.g., someone in my classes had a documented disability, but, due to miscommunication from the appropriate office, the professor never found out about it, and banned laptop use in class. After the student explained that he was unable to take notes by hand, the professor made an exception in their case. Likewise, when I told one of my professors a book on the syllabus was not available in the library (and was quite expensive to buy), she lent me her copy, and later put it on Reserves in the library for the course. Speaking out can sometimes help your peers, and generations of students who come after you.
  7. Having to buy things you can get for free: This applies to many items, from your graduation caps and gowns (my undergraduate loaned them to us for free, for the graduation ceremony, and at SIPA, I am borrowing them from a SIPA alumna who bought them), to books (professors may recommend that you buy them, but you are in no way obligated to! You can also borrow them, read them at the library, or find them online, if they are available), to materials (such as the guide for Professional Development course – it is really just an introductory guide on how to write resumes, cover letters and the likes, and you can either find that information online, or borrow the guide from a second-year SIPA student. You are required to bring it to one session of the class, but it is barely used).
  8. Housing Woes: You have rats. You roommate plays the saxophone at 3 AM. There is no hot water. The elevator is broken. Talk to Columbia Housing, and seek other resources within Columbia and SIPA. Even if resources are not immediately available, people may have information that can help you. Another SIPA friend of mine had to move out from her apartment in a matter of weeks because her landlady was apparently renting out the apartment illegally. She was casually talking to one of the Deans about it, and they happened to know someone who was looking to sublet their apartment for the year, so she moved into a new building that same week. SIPA/Columbia are a vast network, and this network can offer a multitude of solutions if you reach out.
  9. Stressing about unnecessary things: If # 4 is a genuine source of stress, and you nodded in agreement, instead of just rolling your eyes and scrolling down, then, in Ron Weasley’s words, you need to reassess your priorities! :))
[Image by Kaitlyn Wells | Yes, that’s a SIPA stress ball!]

Throwback Thursday to a Seeple’s Winter Break

[From January 2016]

This winter break held special significance to me, since it is the last while at SIPA – I graduate in May. It was also poignant as perhaps the last winter break when I feel like a student and a young person, with future “winter breaks” likely spent as an adult, likely wherever my career will send me, and with other potential added personal responsibilities. True to myself, I made sure to leave time for “work” and “play” (no “break” has ever been completely a break for me – I feel unproductive and quickly get frustrated if I sit idly by for too long, even in the most magnificent of sceneries), but uncharacteristically, this time, I “played” first and “worked” later.

My significant other surprised me with a wonderful Christmas escapade to Quebec City (see main photo), where we enjoyed an enchanted few days at Château Frontenac (we have a thing for castles – last time we stayed in one, it was in Tuscany’s beautiful Castello di Montegufoni) and took our time exploring the charming bistros hidden all about Vieux Quebec (I highly recommend “Bistro Sous-Le-Fort”, almost at the foot of the Funiculaire), as well as holiday markets and other attractions. I relished in the opportunity to converse in French on non-professional matters (since I get plenty of “professional talk” in my work at the UN), and also enjoyed knowing that, while in a very different world, I was only a few hours away from my beloved City. I first discovered Quebec in 2008, attending the World Youth Congress – it was my first stop on this continent, and I made my way to the US afterwards, to start college. It was therefore a nostalgic, almost full-circle return to the beginning of the 8 years I have now spent in the US, and marking the beginning of a soon-to-unfold next chapter in my life, where I expect my career to take me outside of the US.

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Vieux Quebec]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Vieux Quebec]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Me with toffee bears in the toffee shop in Quebec]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Me with toffee bears in the toffee shop in Quebec]

In January, it was time for “work,” and I flew to Kansas to work in the presidential archives in Abilene with a group of fellow Columbia students as part of my European Institute research fellowship. My work on Cold War diplomacy and Radio Free Europe, while extremely rewarding, was also tiresome, and the very limited healthy options for food intensified the feeling that we missed New York. Kansas was, overall, an interesting experience, both academically, and socially, and we appreciated the generous opportunity awarded through this fellowship, one of Columbia’s many exciting programs. We will be going to Budapest next, and then to Stanford, through the same fellowship, so the next few months (before and right after graduation) are bound to be stimulating!

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Hard at work in the archives]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | Hard at work in the archives]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | European Institute fellows trying on cowboy hats]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | European Institute fellows trying on cowboy hats]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | European Institute fellows with Ike's statue on the grounds of the archives]

[Photo courtesy of Adriana Popa | European Institute fellows with Ike’s statue on the grounds of the archives]

A Seeple’s take on managing a student budget

Being a student generally means you’re poor. Or you feel poor. There, I’ve said it! Now, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone, or all the time, or an inescapable situation. SIPA makes shrinking budgets particularly painful, because most students come from working for a few years before SIPA (it is a graduate/professional school, after all), and losing that stream of full-time income can be downright depressing. However, fear not, future or current SEEPLES, there is a method to the (financial) madness! Read on!

If you’re lucky enough to have generous support from your family, significant other, awesome government, etc., and ALL of your living and tuition expenses are covered, great! You may read the rest of this post as pure amusement or if you really care about saving a few pennies. But really, you can just skip the rest of the post and go have a relaxing afternoon!

For the rest of us plebes: it really comes down to three things: take advantage of cost-managing resources (campus and off-campus), try finding additional sources of income, and manage your expectations.

  1. Cost-managing resources: while general wisdom dictates that being a student is financially sucky, I tend to disagree. Students have a variety of perks available to them, which allow them to get access to everything from academic resources to leisure/entertainment choices for a fraction of the cost “normal people” have to pay for them. A few of my personal favorites include:
    • Cuts on buying and renting books (if you think you need to pay at all! I haven’t bought a book since my freshman year of college. They’re all usually at the library, or the profs have copies you can borrow).
    • Cuts on electronic and IT equipment and software (stores from Apple to B&H offer student discounts)
    • Fitness/physical education discounts at gyms throughout the city, including Columbia’s own Dodge Fitness Center, where you get special rates
    • Entertainment/art discounts (see Columbia’s Art Initiative for free concerts and plays, discounted performances, and special events; also, if you’re a Met Opera fan, like me, check out their Met Students Program – you pay $ 25 for seats that are normally in the hundreds!) Cost management also includes assiduous financial aid research – apply to everything you are eligible for!
    • You should also talk to the Admissions and Financial Aid Office, OSA, advisors, etc., and identify external and within-Columbia/SIPA fellowships, scholarships and funds you can apply for. I had my second year and half of my first year entirely covered, tuition-wise, all thanks to fellowships and scholarships! I also got reimbursed for participating in conferences and other academic opportunities, such as research fellowships.
  2. Find additional sources of income: from campus opportunities (assistantships: TA-ships, PA-ships, Reader-ships; paid research opportunities; fellowships and scholarships) to off-campus streams of income (paid internships, part-time jobs, consultancies, etc.), you will find that with careful planning and excellent time-management skills, SIPA allows for enough room to take advantage of these options. But it’s up to you to find them. They will rarely fall into your lap. I have successfully supplemented my income with most of the above-mentioned (some of the oddest, and least-SIPA related have involved modeling and selling stock photography. Some of the most-SIPA related have included paid research and assistantships).
  3. Manage your expectations: you will see this stressed everywhere, and even though I’m not personally a great believer in it (do you adjust your dreams to your life, or your life to your dreams?), it is worth mentioning. My mother always reminds me that I’m a “student” now (again! gah!), and that I’m supposed to live within my means. Luckily, I have a SO who disagrees, and an ambitious, resourceful personality that helps me in finding opportunities to support my needs and interests. But generally, yes, it is a very wise and mature approach to downsize your travel, living arrangement, eating preferences, entertainment, etc. to match your available resources while at SIPA. It might hurt in the beginning, but you’ll get used to it, and remember: it’s temporary!

So there you have it, peeps, the essence of managing a student budget! Fret not, you will not be on it for long! 🙂

[Edited Photo by Donald Bowers Photography | Adriana Popa, MIA 2016, holding stacks of money and listening to music, because why not?!]

Conquering homesickness like a Seeple

For this post, I’ve chosen to tackle a rarely discussed subject, especially in grad school. While, as an international, I spend time in groups of international students, I spend the bulk of my time with Americans. I find that the topic of homesickness creeps up in discussions in both groups, under different forms. My Hungarian friend might yearn for guláš, my Texan friend might miss his childhood friends or his high school buddies, and I may reflect on the pace of life in Romania, and how differently things move in New York.

I remember we talked a lot more about being homesick in college, when we had just left home for the first time for an extended period of time (most of us), had arrived in a new/strange country (some of us) and we were younger and less quipped to deal with stress and separation anxiety (all of us). By grad school, when we are supposedly “adults”, have traveled, worked, gone through a variety of social relationships and reached a new level of maturity, it’s almost embarrassing sometimes to admit that we are “homesick”. I said the word to one of my friends in my second semester at SIPA, and they replied with “aww, miss your momma’s cookies?” I laughed it off, but I did indeed miss my mother’s homemade desserts, and so much more.

As for all of life’s deepest existential/soul-related afflictions, there are no easy solutions. But there are ways to cope. I, like most SIPA students, take refuge in my work, in the day-to-day marathon of keeping on top of coursework, jobs/internships and professional opportunities. Making friends in your new environment is also, of course, important, and I am fortunate to have wonderful friends of all backgrounds here in the US, and in New York in particular. Having friends of your own nationality/from your own culture can be even more helpful, if that’s your thing (it’s not mine, but it is most people’s). Reconnecting with your roots can mitigate homesickness – I sometimes go to the Romanian restaurant in Queens, or to the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral on the Upper West Side (not for religious, but for cultural reasons). And, naturally, staying connected to the people you love, the people back home, can do a lot for your suffering heart: I talk to my parents on Skype or WhatsApp weekly, and we text/email daily (I am an only child, and we have a very tight relationship). I also keep in touch with several high school friends. I watch old Romanian movies, listen to traditional Romanian music (I don’t care for the contemporary one) and of course, whenever I can, go back to Romania and go on trips around the country. I also have traditional Romanian knick-knacks scattered around my NYC apartment, and they remind me of home, in a warm and touching way. I have made it my mission, though, to take advantage of New York while I am here, and so, most of the times, I focus on the present and the geographically immediate, immersing myself in discovering this wonderful city.

It’s worth noting that homesickness has been recognized as a factor that affects students, and that there are resources on campus that can help: and

A peek into the ‘Contemporary Diplomacy’ class

Today we met for a special session of the Contemporary Diplomacy class, with Professor John Hirsch. Read More →

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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