Archive for Meet Seeples

Exploring New York City Neighborhoods

This post is brought to you by your fellow 2019-2020 contributors – George-Ann, Stuart, Steven and Nabila.

Start spreadin’ the news
I’m leavin’ today
I want to be a part of it
New York, New York
– Frank Sinatra

New York City can be overwhelming if you’ve never visited, and it can be especially terrifying if you’re trying to figure out where to live. Putting down roots is s.c.a.r.y. especially when there are so many factors! Where’s a cool area to live in? What’s the commute like? Should I live near SIPA? Will I even leave my house during winter? Is it that cold? (No, it’s really not that cold…)

We’ve got you covered! Take a trip with your fellow Seeples and explore New York City’s diverse neighborhoods. We asked the current SIPA community to share where they live, what their commute is like, what they love about their neighbourhood and also some tips and tricks for you to navigate and prepare for life at SIPA @ New York!

Want to experience the commute for yourself? Visit SIPA, see it for yourself and weigh in on the debate! Sit in on a class and/or join us for an on-campus information session. More information on how to do both can be found here

Note: Commute time refers to commute time to SIPA



Name: Steven
Neighborhood: Co-op City, THE Bronx
Commute time & method: 45 min – 1 hr (no traffic one way), 1.5 hr (traffic one way), BX12SBS Bus then 1 Train
What you love about your neighborhood: It’s lowkey highkey pretty much a retirement community so it is quiet and a nice change from the constant speed of the city. It’s chill and there’s green space so it operates as a getaway from the city. There’s also Pelham Bay Park close by which is a really nice park to hang out in. I also like getting out of the SIPA/Columbia campus bubble and seeing other parts of the city. Plus, I’m back where I grew up, so it’s cool to see how my neighborhood has changed.
What’s not so great about it: The obscene distance from Midtown. Living here has taught me the value of express buses and trains. Anyone who lives at the ends of the city knows this plight. The distance really impacts your decision on whether to be social or not, especially if you are going to a party in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn (you will be on the train for at least 2 hours). You also become a time manager, leaving for and the events hours early to get back home before dusk. After a late night at E’s or Amity Hall, I usually take an Uber all the way back. 🙁
Pro tip: Download a lot of Netflix, print out study material, get a lot of reading/Netflix done. Watch some videos on Lynda and learn a new skill. People become very adept at making that travel time productive. Or you can also get a nice nap in. Catch up on that sleep that you’ll definitely lose at SIPA.



Name: George-Ann
Neighborhood: Fort George, Washington Heights
Commute time & method: 15-20 minutes on the downtown 1 trains
What you love about your neighborhood: Oh Washington Heights how I love thee. I can not count the ways. It’s near enough to campus to be an easy commute while not being so close to campus that I feel that I can’t disengage. I also love how walkable it is – I can get groceries, a haircut, and my eyebrows threaded on my block. It is also sooo much cheaper than living in Morningside Heights.
What’s not so great about it: I live pretty near to the GWB bridge to New Jersey so sometimes, when there is bad traffic, I can hear the honking of impatient drivers but it’s nothing that a record player and some good speakers can’t fix.
Pro tip: Washington Heights has plentiful co-ops. Because people own the units, your landlord can be an individual and not a huge real estate company so rent can be a bit cheaper with this kind of arrangement. Also, podcasts are your friend. I can get through half of my favourite podcasts each way during my commute and it makes the time fly by!

Name: Nabila
Neighborhood: Morningside Heights, Manhattan
Commute time & method: 12 minutes, walking
What you love about your neighborhood: The sleepy neighbourhood feel in a busy city and it’s pretty convenient.
What’s not so great about it: You’re always in that SIPA bubble – ALWAYS.

Name: Christina
Neighborhood: Midtown East, Manhattan
Commute time & method: 50 mins on the subway but I take a LOT of Vias because they are cheaper than Uber/Lyft and they’re only 30-40 minutes
What you love about your neighborhood: I hate commuting, but I’ve been in my neighborhood for over 6 years! I’m a creature of habit and I don’t want to move.
What’s not so great about it: My commute is LONG and inconvenient, with a ton of walking.
Pro tip: Sometimes it’s worth it to take a ride-share to cross town and take the subway from there. Otherwise, you will waste your whole life switching trains. Check the train schedules on the weekends – just because Google maps says your train is running doesn’t mean it is.

Name: Stuart
Neighborhood: Chelsea, Manhattan
Commute time & method: 25 minutes, 1 train
What you love about your neighborhood: It’s a great, walkable neighborhood, and I love that I can escape the Columbia bubble. I can walk to the High Line, Chelsea Market, the West Village, and other great parts of the city.
What’s not so great about it: My commute is just long enough that it never makes sense to go home in between classes.
Pro tip: Take into account the subway locations when you’re choosing an apartment! I have multiple subway lines within a block of my apartment and it makes a huge difference.

Name: Alex
Neighborhood: Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan
Commute time & method: 45 minutes to an hour on the subway / 45 minutes on Citi Bike
What you love about your neighborhood: I love that Stuyvesant Town is like a mini campus within the city. It’s quiet, very green, and has lots of amenities. It’s close to other cool places like the east village. It also has a real neighborhood feel unlike some other places in NYC
What’s not so great about it: It takes 10 minutes to walk to the nearest subway
Pro tip: Check L train times on the weekend before going through the turnstile or you’ll be waiting for the train for 20-30 minutes



Name: Sophia
Neighborhood: Flushing, Queens
Commute time & method: Roundtrip 3 hours, on average. I was taking the Q44 SBS to the 7 Express (pray for no delay) to the 2/3 Express to the 1 every day last year!
What you love about your commute: I love taking the train (nearly) end-to-end because I was able to generally get a seat on every ride. I usually nap on the train in the mornings and read in the evenings. While the commute was long, I feel grounded in my community when I’m on the 7 train– it reminds me of why I decided to study Urban Policy at SIPA!
What’s not so great about it: The train delays can be very rough… especially when you have 9 AMs. (Side note, check outthis great New York Times visualization on unpredictabilities of subway commutes)
Pro tip: Print out your readings (you’re allotted $$ to print from CUIT and SIPAIT) and read them on your commute! In addition, I recommend bringing snacks for your commute if it can skew on the unpredictable side. Last but not least, renting a locker from SIPASA alleviated the burden of carrying a bunch of belongings around with me every day.

Name: Errold
Neighborhood: South Jamaica, Queens
Commute time & method: Long Island Rail Road to Penn Station (34th street) and then the 1 train uptown. This is usually ~1h 15minutes at max. I’m lucky because the Locust Manor Station is across the street from my building. If not I would have to take a bus to the E train at Jamaica Station, and then the E train to 50th street to the 1 train. That takes 2 hours!
What you love about your neighborhood: Tons of Caribbean food options! South Jamaica is known as a rough area, but it is residential and is filled with tons of great people. It’s also a multi- generational neighborhood and there are a lot of mutual connections. Tons of parks as well to play basketball or jog around. I have been here my whole life so its home and will always feel good.
What’s not so great about it: It’s far from everything!!!! The distance means I am always on an adventure. I tend to leave early from events because I know my commute takes longer than all my friends or coworkers.
Pro tip: Bring something to keep your mind off of the commute. I usually read in the mornings and I am able to get through over 20 pages a day in the morning. Check the weather as much as possible. In NYC the weather could be sunny when you leave your home, and then when you get out of the train at 116th or 110th the weather can be something completely different. I have been in situations when the weather would be beautiful at 7:40am, but when I get off of the 1 train it is pouring.

Name: Sasha
Neighborhood: Ozone Park, Queens
Commute time & method: 1 hour 40 minutes door-to-door, A Train
What you love about your commute: It’s nice to take just one subway and not have any transfers or connections. I can get a solid hour of reading (or napping) undisturbed.
What’s not so great about it: During midterms/finals, I tend to stay in the Lehman library as late as possible, and the late-night commute gets even longer.
Pro tip: Always have water and snacks. Either for yourself for when there are long train delays, or to pass along to someone who might be hungry and need it more than you.



Name: Alexon
Neighborhood: Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Commute time & method: 1 hour, 1/2/3/N Trains
What you love about your commute:  Mmm…I love how the NYC subway is this weird social experiment that literally brings people from all walks of life to the same, underground level. I like not paying rent thanks to my favorite roommate: my pops. Also Bay Ridge doesn’t feel like NYC. It’s nice to stay grounded but I hate commuting forever.
What’s not so great about it: The strange stank and occasional rat.
Pro tips: Google Maps’ algorithm is faulty at best in determining optimal subway routes. Trust a true New Yorker’s suggestion.



We’ve heard rumors that a few Seeples live here but sadly, we couldn’t find them… 

Note from Emily at Admissions: I actually know this borough a bit, since I grew up here many years ago and my family lives in Staten Island!

Commute time & method: 90 minutes each way, approximately. You can take the MTA express buses, which you can find real-time updates at You can also take the subway all the way down to the Staten Island Ferry, which is free and runs every hour of every day, and then you’ll be in the northern tip of Staten Island.
What you love about your neighborhood: Most young hip commuters live in the northern St. George neighborhood, I think. The rent is much more affordable here, though the commute to midtown is a lot more manageable than Columbia.
What’s not so great about it: Nobody will ever visit you, unless you are literally family.

And last but not least, a special feature…



Name: Veronica
Neighborhood: Jersey City Heights, Jersey City (JC), New Jersey
Commute time & method: I either take the bus or a car. Commute time to NYC midtown can be as fast as 15 minutes, but Columbia campus is between 30 minutes – 1 hour 30 minutes. The Holland Tunnel connects Jersey City and New York City. Most JC commuters travel to NYC via Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, GW Bridge, the PATH train, NJ Transit bus, the ferry or car.
What you love about your neighborhood: Jersey City has a unique vibe and it’s super diverse. Actually, it’s the most diverse city in the country according to WalletHub! Speaking of diversity, you can find some of the most authentically traditional and flavorful food in Jersey – and super affordable. For Jersey restaurants, day bars and nightlife, check out Surf City, Skinner’s Loft and Razza Pizza. If you’re into history, science and/or parks, go to the Ellis Island Museum, Liberty Science Center and Liberty State Park.
What’s not so great about it: The traffic is the worst! It can take 10-15 minutes just to get out of Jersey City proper.
Name: Hansol
Neighborhood: Fort Lee, NJ
Commute time & method: 40 minutes – 1 hour; carpool, Columbia shuttle, NJ Transit bus or jitney to cross the George Washington Bridge → A train to 125th → 10 minute walk to campus
What you love about your neighborhood: Fort Lee is a small yet vibrant town filled with NYC commuters. Also, with the large Korean community here, you can expect many clean and modern cafes and restaurants (I might be a bit biased). If you take the carpool, you get to jump into a stranger’s air-conditioned car for free and MAYBE strike an interesting conversation (if you are into that sort of thing). Most of the time though, all you will say is “good morning” and “thank you”. Also, you get to enjoy about 20 minutes of quiet time, which can’t be taken for granted in NYC
What’s not so great about it: Living in NJ usually means you will need a car to get to places. In my opinion, Fort Lee is logistically too far from NYC as a sleep-only place. Predicting the Bridge’s traffic conditions is like predicting the weather, do not be surprised if you get stuck for over 30 minutes on the Bridge. It will happen when you least expect it
Pro tip #1: Carpool – This is the best option to cross the Bridge since it is free and takes you directly to the subway station. If you take NJ Transit or Jitney, you will have to walk some distance in the underground tunnel to the subway station. But, carpool requires you to live near a pickup area (near the Bridge), be dropped off there by other means, or know someone who commutes by car and is willing to give you a ride
Pro tip #2: Columbia Shuttle – There is only one stop in NJ but it is free and clean. You can take the 1 train from 168th which will take you directly to campus. Regardless of where you choose to live, SIPA is definitely accessible and you will not only survive the commute but you’ll also bond with your fellow Seeples facing the same plight. Relationships can (maybe?) blossom on the subway. Either way, it’s a win-win!

– George-Ann, Stuart, Steven and Nabila

Interested to experience SIPA for yourself? Register to join our on-campus information sessions. You can also sit in on a class starting mid-October for the fall semester and late February for the spring semester. Click here for more details.

Program Assistant Introduction: Zulpha Styer MPA ’20

Zulpha is a Master of Public Administration student (SIPA Class of 2020) with a concentration in Urban and Social Policy and specializations in Management; Technology, Media & Communications; and the U.S. Region. Before SIPA, she worked as a senior policy advisor to the Australian Government and then the New South Wales State Government across a broad range of policy areas. Her undergraduate studies were in Law, Development Studies, and Politics and International Relations, and she has a Master of Laws.

Can you talk about your Capstone experience?

In Spring 2019, I was a member of the joint SIPA-Columbia Law School team working on an implementation plan for Peru’s Mining Vision 2020. Our advisor was Professor Jenik Radon, who has a depth of experience and knowledge of natural resource management. Our fieldwork happened during spring break, and we conducted meetings and interviews with stakeholders in Lima, San Marcos, Huarmay, and Arequipa. It was the first time I had traveled to Latin America and I really enjoyed the dynamism and hospitality of Peru. I also visited Cusco and Machu Picchu with my teammates after our fieldwork was done. It was a memorable and unique experience that helped me grow professionally and personally.

What’s your internship experience been like?

My summer internship was the fieldwork component of the Applied Peacebuilding and Conflict Resolution course with Professor Zachary Metz, one of my favorite classes at SIPA. I spent my summer break with Internews at their Regional Headquarters for Asia in Bangkok. Internews is an international non-profit organization that supports local communities to produce and disseminate trustworthy news and information. My specific role was focused on projects on peaceful pluralism, religious freedom, and violent extremism in Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Internews’ work in the Asian region spans from Afghanistan to Vanuatu, and it was fascinating to learn so much about the challenges and opportunities facing the region. It was also my first time in Bangkok, which was a great opportunity to experience Thai culture and learn how to prepare for monsoonal downpours while wearing office-appropriate attire.

Have you taken classes at other Columbia Schools?

In Fall 2019, I took an amazing Columbia Law School class taught by Professor Lee Gelernt, who is the Deputy Director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. The class was called ‘Post-9/11, the Trump Administration and the Rights of Non-Citizens’ and it developed my understanding of the U.S. approach to immigration and national security. Professor Gelernt was very generous in sharing his insights, including his experience of being on the frontlines of challenging the separation of families at the Southern border. During our semester with him, he was interviewed by Hasan Minhaj on The Patriot Act for the episode on seeking asylum!

Do you feel like you have gotten to know some of the faculty members?

Yes, I was initially very surprised by how approachable and helpful my SIPA professors were. In my previous studies, I had only gone to office hours if I needed guidance on course material but the SIPA faculty are so generous with their time and advice that you can speak with them about your career aspirations, professional development, their experiences, and their best tips on what to do in NYC. I have formed valuable relationships with professors in the Urban and Social Policy concentration, and being a teaching assistant helps you build connections too.

Did you have a lot of quantitative experience when you applied to SIPA? How did you perform in those classes?

I had very limited quantitative experience before coming to SIPA so the quantitative aspects of the application and the core class were very nerve-racking for me! I had dropped all mathematics for my final year of high school because I thought I would never need it for my future career in law and policy.

As someone who came to SIPA terrified by the prospect of having to do anything vaguely quantitative, I was able to build new skill sets and gain comfort with quantitative analysis with exceptional support from wonderful professors and teaching assistants. In the end, not only did I survive the quantitative core classes, but I took the more calculus-heavy macroeconomics course and I voluntarily enrolled in two advanced data analysis classes. This semester I am taking Data Analysis for Policy Research and Program Evaluation (affectionately known as Quant III) with Professor Harold Stolper. Studying with Professor Stolper, whose work was instrumental in the Fair Fares campaign, allows me to understand the real-world value of being able to work with datasets and how that can make a meaningful contribution to policy debates.

Photo: Hiking in Battir, Palestine, over the winter break with Palestine Trek. Photo credit: Meron Hailu MPA ’20.

Program Assistant Introduction: Aaron Bhatt MPA ’20

Note from Emily: We have two new program assistants adding their voices to the blog this semester, Aaron and Zulpha!

Aaron is a second year MPA-candidate concentrating in Energy and Environment and specializing in Management. He was in born in India and raised in South Jersey. Prior to coming to SIPA, he worked on USAID development projects focused on East and Southern Africa. His work supporting the management of energy and wildlife trafficking projects motivated him to come to SIPA to deepen his knowledge in energy and environmental policy. He is also an alumna of the University of Maryland, College Park, where he danced on and managed an Indian folk dance team. Since joining SIPA, he interned with the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam, and served as Treasurer of SIPA Students of Color. In his free time, he loves to try new recipes and make chai for his friends. He often daydreams about the delicious khao soi he ate every day during his study abroad in Thailand.

Did you choose SIPA to change careers or gain experience in a career path you already had experience in?

Both! I wanted to shift careers into the U.S. Foreign Service as an economic officer. Having worked in international development, I gained experience managing large foreign aid projects in areas of education and private public partnerships. After receiving the Rangel Fellowship, I knew I wanted to focus on macroeconomic policies and country level economic growth. I also wanted to deepen my understanding of how the private and public sector interact and cooperate. I have been able to explore these topics at SIPA.

How did you find the core curriculum at SIPA?

In acknowledging the multidisciplinary nature of many careers in policy, SIPA’s core enabled me to refresh and hone my skills and knowledge in economics, budgeting, management, and writing. I think it prepares you to take on a range of roles including policy experts, managers, advisors, and maybe even finance gurus. For example, the “Analysis of Public Sector Organizations” core course combines behavioral economics, public sector development history, and management strategy. This class helped me conceptually understand why management and bureaucratic structures fail and what strategies a public sector organization can take to remedy them. We then worked in groups to analyze and propose strategies to tackle a real-world management issue. I also have a Bachelor’s in Economics, but needed SIPA’s core classes to get a refresher on the concepts and apply them to international trade and environmental regulatory policy issues.

What advice do you have for current applicants?

The hustle and bustle of applying to schools can be stressful. Take a moment to reflect on why you specifically want to go to SIPA. How will it help you achieve your career goals? The more specific you can be in your answer, the better and stronger your application will be. This seems like general advice, but if you truly take a moment to reflect and strengthen your “why”, you will be able to understand your own professional journey better and relay that to the admissions committee through your application.

From SIPA Student to Cyber Professional—CJ Dixon’s Cyber 9/12 Journey

In November 2019, SIPA hosted the fourth annual Atlantic Council Cyber 9/12 Strategy Challenge in New York City. Planned and run by SIPA’s Digital and Cyber Group, this year’s event featured 31 teams from 18 different schools including Tufts, Harvard, Georgetown, NYU, West Point, and the University of Pennsylvania. Each team was tasked with developing policy recommendations to respond to a rapidly developing cyber incident at both the local and federal level. The teams were judged by experts including former Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert, former Deputy National Security Advisor and Deputy Director of the CIA Avril Haines, and senior executives from numerous private sector entities.

CJ Dixon (MIA ’19), a member of the winning team in 2018, returned to judge this year’s competition in his new role as a senior advisor at NYC Cyber Command. CJ took several cybersecurity courses at SIPA, competed in both the NYC and DC Cyber 9/12 competitions, and served as a Google Public Policy Fellow following graduation. CJ’s journey is a great example of how SIPA’s Tech & Policy Initiative provides students with the academic and professional preparation to pursue cybersecurity and technology policy careers.

A View from the Class: James Courtright MIA ’20

The SIPA Office of Alumni and Development is pleased to share A View from the Class, a SIPA stories series featuring current SIPA students, recently graduated alumni, and faculty. In this issue, we feature James Courtright MIA’20, concentrated in Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy with a regional specialization in Africa.

What were you doing prior to attending SIPA?

I spent my adolescence growing up in Tanzania. After my graduation from Denison University, I worked in agriculture for two seasons before serving in the U.S. Peace Corps in Senegal from 2013-2016. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived in the city of Kolda with a Senegalese family, learned the Pulaar/Fula language, and pursued grassroots projects in urban agriculture, education, and community development. After my third year extension, I moved to the capital of Senegal, Dakar, and worked as a freelance journalist for a year. I covered human rights, food security, the environment, and transitional justice in Senegal, The Gambia, and Sierra Leone for NPR, The Christian Science Monitor, Roads & Kingdoms, African Arguments and Equal Times.

Why did you choose SIPA?

I started my graduate school search by looking at the resumes of people in positions I want to fill someday. One of few common threads across people’s backgrounds was a SIPA education. When I began looking deeper at the SIPA program, I saw that I could take classes across Columbia and engage with my interests from a critical academic perspective while also learning practical skills for a future career in the field. Also, after going to an international school in Tanzania for secondary school, I was excited to be in a school where over half of the students come from outside the U.S. It also helps that SIPA is here in New York City, one of the most cosmopolitan places in North America.

Why did you choose the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program and the Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy concentration?

An MIA gives me the flexibility to work in a variety of positions in the future, and through the human rights concentration, I am learning how to use my privilege and experiences in the cause of furthering justice in all its forms. My interest in human rights specifically stems from my undergraduate thesis in history, in which I investigated mass violence in Zanzibar in the early 1960s. Examining how violence is mobilized made me interested in what can be done to mitigate and prevent it. During my service in the Peace Corps, I also saw how structural human rights issues related to the global political and economic order further marginalize those already on the periphery. As a journalist, I was drawn towards stories that shed light on survivors of human rights abuses and those that fight entrenched power for the betterment of society.

What has been your experience at SIPA so far?

I have had a rich academic and professional experience at SIPA. In spring 2019, I interned in the Africa division of Human Rights Watch as a research assistant. My responsibilities included helping with background research on oil exploration and academic freedom in South Sudan, the protests in Sudan, and land conflicts in Northern Uganda. Last summer, I interned with the Jammeh2Justice coalition in The Gambia. I compiled detailed weekly summaries of Gambian news related to transitional justice, organized a press conference for human rights activists, and conducted an impact study on how the #IAmToufah movement changed gender activism in The Gambia. I also worked with, and continue to assist, the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED), transcribing and summarizing testimony for the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission.

How have your Peace Corps and journalism experiences shaped your SIPA experience?

They have profoundly shaped my SIPA experience, enabling me to connect things I learn in the classroom to the real world, which helps me understand what we are learning and gives those experiences a deeper meaning. For example, in one class we were discussing the inevitability of conflict in everyday life and the importance of having mechanisms to manage that conflict. I immediately thought about Mamoudou, a friend I made in the neighborhood I lived in on the outskirts of the city of Kolda. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I saw Mamoudou every few months when he would return home from university in Dakar to visit his family. I knew he was studying international law and human rights, and spent his breaks working for a Senegalese NGO in Kolda, but I never understood precisely what he did. While doing my summer internship, supported by SIPA, in The Gambia in 2019, I was able to return to Kolda twice to visit friends and celebrate Tabaski (Eid al Adha) with my host family. I ended up spending an afternoon with Mamoudou. After catching up, I asked him more about his work. He explained he spent his time helping rural communities mediate conflicts, and if need be, seek restitution with the Senegalese justice system. He explained that most of the issues his organization dealt with regarded conflicting claims over land deeds, divorce, and occasional conflicts between herders and farmers. After my classes at SIPA, I had a greater appreciation for the importance of Mamoudou’s work and plan on learning more about how to support people like Mamoudou next time I visit Kolda.

Is there are particular SIPA experience that stands out to you?

In spring 2019, I took “Civil War and Peacebuilding” with Dr. Severine Autesserre. Her class changed my outlook on the roots of conflict and strategies outsiders can use to help foster peace. Her focus on the importance of hyper local dynamics in the outbreak of conflict and potential solutions to build peace from the bottom up resonated with my experiences in West Africa. I still reference the material we read in that class in my other classes, and increasingly, in my day-to-day life.

What are your plans after SIPA?

After SIPA, I would like to return to West Africa. I am currently applying to positions with various human rights and peacebuilding organizations in the region, as well as with the United Nations. Depending on my success on these fronts, I would always be happy to return to Dakar, Senegal and continue writing as a freelance journalist and working with organizations for which I have developed new connections.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank SIPA’s generous donors for helping to make my attendance at this extraordinary School possible.

"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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