Archive for Student Life

Five Things to Know About New York If You’ve Never Been Here

Note from Admissions: When Nabila, who is from Kuala Lumpur, told me that her first time in New York City was also her first day as a SIPA student, I was stunned. She wrote this about NYC in the fall semester. I was saving it for today, April Fools’. As someone born in New York, Nabila’s thoughts on this city made me laugh. She captures what I love about NYC with honesty.

Now that COVID-19 is impacting our city and community so hard, reading her words make me want to laugh and cry! I’m worried for my city – I think we all are – and this post lets me take a moment to appreciate the people who make up the heart of this city.

I hope this brings a little lightness to your day like it did for me, and that it lets you appreciate the people who are going out to keep everything running, as well as the people staying in to make it safer for everyone.

— Emily Tao, Admissions


Before starting school at SIPA, the only time I had been to New York was a 12-hour day trip from Washington, D.C. where I arrived way too early — so early that no tourist sites were open (pro tip: the Empire State building opens at 8am). I spent about half my time in Central Park (don’t laugh but that park is b-e-a-utiful). My knowledge of New York was based solely on television shows and movies — though I doubt that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the best benchmark of the city since it just kept getting destroyed. Looking at you Avengers!

I took the leap to come to New York because, well, it’s New York, and because SIPA is my dream school. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about SIPA and the city, so I didn’t bother joining any virtual sessions or doing any due diligence. Once I got here, I realized I was grossly unprepared to live in this city and that initial shock took some time to adjust myself to.

To help you not be me, here are five things you need to know about New York if you’ve never been here*:
*Actual New Yorkers may fight me on this 🙂 

#1 No, it’s not like Friends, Sex and the City or Gossip Girl
Sadly, your friends will most likely not be your neighbor (maybe, but really – no). If you’re lucky, they might live a 15-minute walk from you which is basically the same thing as being neighbors. Why?

Rent. People have very different budgets and that budget will take people all over the city. Life can be glamorous — hanging out in Lehman Library, sharing snacks from all over the world is glamorous — just not the way that TV does glamour. Having lunch on the steps at the Met? Definitely not. Everyone has very busy schedules and graduate students, I would argue, have 30-hour days. I have friends who juggle internships, part-time jobs, full 18-credit semesters and a thriving social life. Yes, they’re superhuman. Scheduling time to catch-up is a real thing and is really no different elsewhere, with the biggest difference being time taken thanks to public transport. Which brings me to…

#2 Everyone has a love/hate relationship with the subway 
When I first got here, I hated the subway because it’s confusing and always delayed and just so unpredictable.

“Why are some stations not connected for uptown/downtown? Why are there so many people here? I need to leave this station and walk to another ‘connecting’ station? Where can I find train time info? Where is that smell coming from? The B/C is delayed AGAIN? 15 minutes later and still no train. So much for being on time…”

Do I exaggerate? I think not. Ask anyone who lives here. ANYONE. After a year in the City, I still hate the subway but I hate it a lot less. I hate a lot less to the point that maybe I actually do quite like the subway? After visiting some other cities in the U.S. (Bay Area, I’m looking at you) the subway is definitely an old, rusty, sometimes smelly, game changer, and I would rather have it than not have it at all. Pro tip though, trust an actual New Yorker over Google Maps any day because they know the best way to game the system.

#3 The Empire State Building is really not that tall
If you’ve lived or visited any major city in Asia, be prepared to be underwhelmed by the skyscrapers here. Yes, New York has a lot of tall buildings, and yes they are clustered very closely together but compared to many major cities in Asia, the buildings don’t feel exceptionally tall. For reference, here’s a condensed (and selected) list of tallest buildings (excludes the UAE…) :

Shanghai Tower: 2,073 feet
Ping An Finance Center: 1.965 feet
One World Trade Center: 1,776 feet
Taipei 101: 1,667 feet
Petronas Twin Towers: 1,483 feet
Empire State Building: 1,454 feet

That said, the New York skyline is breathtaking an unbeatable and you will very likely travel far distances to get a glimpse of it. Don’t believe me? Google ‘best places to view the NYC skyline’ and I’m sure hundreds of results will show up, one of which is this link. What makes the skyline special is just the sheer number of buildings and the surrounding rivers that somehow reflect the sun at just the perfect angle.

#4 There is a never-ending list of things to do
New York is busy. Busy in the best way that word can be used to describe anything. There is always, and I mean always, something to do here. And what’s even better is that there is something for everyone. Literally. If you have a niche interest, do a quick search and you’ll find like-minded folks.

Interested in the arts, theater and culture? Broadway, museums, art shows. Interested in festivals? There are plenty in Central Park and Brooklyn in the summer. Sports? Yep, never-ending options. Parties? Indoors and outdoors. Glamping? Try Governor’s Island.

You’ll never hear any Seeple complain that they’re bored or have too much time in this city. Even SIPA has an endless list of events – from panels and networking sessions to student organisation socials and brunch. There is no such thing as being bored. Personally, I’m a huge foodie so I often travel outside of the SIPA bubble (the trek is real), to explore and find new places to eat. My all-time favorite place though is Central Park, there really is nowhere else quite like it.

That said, this also means that New York can get very crowded, depending on where and when. This might be the only city in the world where there are endless tourists regardless of season, rain or shine, winter or summer. Pro tip: Avoid Times Square because it is truly the worst place and is tourist central. Do it once, but don’t do it again. In fact, if you plan on having visitors, wait to go with them so you only need to go once.

#5 Re-adjust your understanding of time and distance 
When I first moved here, a friend from home gave me the helpful advice that 30 minutes is close after I complained that it took me 20-25 minutes on the C train to Midtown. You heard it here first. THIRTY MINUTES IS CLOSE. I thought she was mad. But now I get it. It took me a while but eventually I understood what she meant. 30 minutes is close and totally manageable in this city because you need to travel that distance to get anywhere, to see anything and to actually explore and enjoy the city. So the next time someone says they live all the way downtown, don’t freak out. Instead, embrace the opportunity to explore a new area and plan your trip so you can go with friends or watch some Netflix on your commute. I promise, that 30+ minute trip will be worth it!

BONUS!!! #6 That grad school life in New York City 
There is nowhere else you should do grad school but New York. Trust me on this. I visited other schools since I’ve been here and really, I couldn’t imagine not being in this city and what it has to offer especially as a grad student. Because New York is such a hub, we have an abundant amount of job prospects and opportunities. In the City (and beyond SIPA), there are plenty of panels, talks, coffee chats, meets up and networking sessions all year round. There are also plenty of opportunities to work part-time (could lead to that dream job! Or maybe supplement income!) and also meet people from different backgrounds. And this ranges from public to private sector opportunities because NYC has the UN but it also has Wall Street so really, NYC is as diverse as it can be. Whatever you’re looking for, this city has it all because New York is always THE stop on people’s list to visit/host an event/find opportunities. Also, there’s that saying that you should live in NYC at least once when you’re in your 20s, so you know you have to do it!

Lastly, you might get to New York and feel completely underwhelmed like me but rest assured that it only gets better from there on out. Don’t trust me, check out the 101 things to love about New York City here.

New York, I love you 3000.

Experiential Learning at SIPA

The objective of the Master of International Affairs (MIA) program at SIPA is to ensure “students acquire the substantive knowledge, practical skills, and real-world experience to address the big issues of international affairs.” But how does that work in practice? What kinds of experiential learning opportunities does SIPA provide to truly immerse students in international affairs?

First off, I’ll dispense with the most well-known factor. New York City is incredibly diverse and is home to numerous organizations that play vital roles in international affairs and public policy. SIPA students have countless opportunities to interact with these organizations via internships, guest speakers, conferences, site visits, and career panels. Not to mention that at SIPA you’ll be surrounded by classmates from over 100 countries and will gain immeasurably from those diverse perspectives in the classroom.

Beyond that, here are 4 less well-known experiential learning opportunities at SIPA:

  1. Global Immersion Courses

Just this year, SIPA inaugurated a new series of Global Immersion Courses that will enhance the MIA curriculum by providing students the opportunity to explore vital global policy issues firsthand. The first course in this program was titled Beyond the ‘Refugee Crisis’: Refugees in Turkey and Global Public Policy. Students in the course spent 10 days in Turkey taking classes on refugee policy and meeting with policymakers, journalists, multilateral organizations, and refugees. Upon returning to NYC, the course met four additional times during the Spring 2020 semester to further study the issues the students experienced firsthand in Turkey.

SIPA plans to offer additional courses in this innovative format covering additional issues and regions of interest to students. You can read more about SIPA students’ experience in this course here.

  1. Treks

Treks are student-organized trips to various countries that generally occur during the winter or spring breaks. These trips often include a mix of sightseeing as well as meetings with policymakers and business leaders. Past treks have included Korea, China, Taiwan, Israel, Japan, Singapore, Palestine, and Peru. There are even some domestic treks to explore certain industries or policy issues, such as the energy trek to Houston and San Francisco.

Treks have provided SIPA students with enormously valuable firsthand experience with pressing global issues. Amira Dhalla (MPA ’20) had this to say about her experience:

“Attending PalTrek was life-changing and moving. I am beyond thankful to the deeply connected and committed group of students from SIPA who opened their ears and hearts to those in Palestine while engaging and learning among eight days of nonstop events. While in the West Bank we discussed pressing human rights issues, practiced heartfelt allyship for communities, experienced a wondrous culture, and witnessed relentless resilience. All of which would never have been possible within the constraints of a classroom.”

  1. Capstone Workshops

The capstone workshop is a key part of the core curriculum for the MIA, MIA, and MPA-ESP. These workshops provide students the opportunity to immerse themselves in a consulting project for an external client. Some workshops provide opportunities for domestic or international travel to meet with clients or conduct research. Clients have included US and foreign government agencies, New York City government offices, the United Nations, the World Bank, think tanks, non-profits, and private sector companies. This semester, for example, SIPA students are researching sovereign liabilities for JP Morgan, advising NYC Cyber Command on responding to cyber incidents, and evaluating cash transfer programming for Mercy Corps. Check out more about capstone workshops here.

  1. Language Circles

If you’re looking for a way to practice your language skills outside of the classroom, many of Columbia’s language programs offer informal language circles to practice conversation. These voluntary, informal meetings are meant to facilitate speaking practice for students at all levels of the language. The Middle East Institute, for example, hosts a weekly Arabic language circle, and the French department offers weekly sessions of their Café Conversation program. Even if you aren’t taking formal language courses while at SIPA, these discussions can be a great way to connect with the community and immerse yourself in the language.

SIPA in the Time of COVID-19

As many of you have heard, Columbia University switched to online classes and limited most university functions, other than the most necessary ones. Social distancing policies ask us to self-quarantine, limit going out to getting necessities, and keep at least a six-foot distance from others to protect not just us, but also the most vulnerable individuals among us. During this time, we would like to share how our current students have been dealing with the situation, including online classes, group projects, Capstone projects, and everyday life. 

Online Classes

Our classes are now held on Zoom and there is definitely a learning curve with it. There were some funny moments where students forgot to mute their microphones or an awkward pause between asking questions, but overall my professors have made it seem as easy a transition as possible. I much prefer in person classes at SIPA where there’s personal interaction with my professors, friends, and peers.  However, as a second-year who wants to graduate on time, I appreciate the efforts made to finish up my classes.

~MPA 2020

For me, my online class experience has been a little turbulent — professors who are from nations that are especially hard hit by coronavirus such as Italy and France have had to cancel some lectures as they care for professional or personal needs in their home countries. Others have had to restructure their grading or assessment base as their curriculum revolved around in-person assessments. It has been difficult but the professors are all really learning alongside us how to adjust to this new normal with diligence and humour. 

~George-Ann, MIA 2020

Capstone Projects

Capstone projects that included travel for research or meetings with clients have certainly been disrupted, but SIPA students have been adapting in this area just as they have in others. Students are conducting interviews over the phone or video conferencing solutions, and capstones continue to meet with their faculty advisors using Zoom. While the situation is not ideal, students are driving ahead with their research and remain committed to providing innovative research and solutions to their capstone clients. 

~Stuart, MIA 2020

Extracurriculars

While SIPA students can’t meet in person and student activities have been put on hold, the SIPA student body has stayed very active! Students shared petitions in solidarity with undergraduates and other vulnerable students to present to the Administration. Our student leaders also spoke with our SIPA Administrators to ensure student concerns were taken into consideration when decisions were made that impacted student life during this time. I’m sad that our active SIPA student leaders won’t be able to hold the amazing events bringing esteemed international leaders, activists, and scholars to this university, but I’m also honored to be a part of a community that keeps on keeping, even in difficult times. 

~MPA 2020

Columbia Community

During this time of uncertainty, the SIPA and broader Columbia community have really come together. Students based in New York are offering places to stay, fellow students are organizing virtual meet ups and conversation with friends as they practise social distancing. Things have been changing rapidly but the communication has been as good as it can be. 

The administration, cognizant of everyone’s different economic and other mobility constraints, have allowed those who can’t leave to stay on campus and are keeping meal options available. They are also offering financial support by way of keeping student workers’ wages stable until the end of the semester and other supports. 

In these times, the Columbia Community has really shown the spirit of resilience and one of justice in ensuring that the most vulnerable members of our community are taken care of. 

~George-Ann, MIA 2020

SIPA in London: The 2020 Global Public Policy Network Conference

Pictured: SIPA Delegation to the conference with Dean Merit Janow and Dean Cory Way.

On Saturday February 29, the London School of Economics (LSE) School of Public Policy hosted the Annual Global Public Policy Network Conference for 2020, which was focused on Global Innovative Public Policy Solutions.

SDG Fellows and Deans, from L-R: Alexon Grochowski, Dean Cory Way, Emily Boytinck, Devina Srivastava, Dean Merit Janow, Zulpha Styer, and Dan Poniachik. Absent: Vera Yang. Photo Credit: LSE Public Policy School

SIPA is a proud founding member of the Global Public Policy Network, which represents seven of the most prestigious public policy schools across the globe. The network includes LSE, the School of Public Affairs at Sciences Po, the Hertie School in Berlin, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo, and the Fundção Getulio Vargas (FGV) at the Escola de Administração de Empresas​ in São Paulo.

​The annual conference has been a highlight of the network since it was founded in 2005, and presents a unique opportunity for students and deans to consider contemporary issues of global public policy and network with colleagues. SIPA students really enjoy meeting colleagues from the other schools and sharing their passion for tackling wicked problems.

I attended the conference as a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fellow to present a project developed with five of my  SIPAcolleagues over the past year. We were part of a cohort of students from SIPA, Sciences Po, Hertie and Lee Kuan Yew who benefitted from a year-long program that included SDG leadership modules in Paris in January 2019, New York City in May 2019, and the opportunity to present in London in 2020. The SIPA team project was ‘StandUp’, a bystander intervention training program for South African boys that seeks to reduce rape and gender-based violence.

SIPA Students Kim Loan and Khanh Vu present on their project to improve mental health resources in Vietnam. Photo Credit: LSE Public Policy School

We were accompanied by SIPA teams who had been selected to compete in the GPPN Competition. The teams selected to attend had the opportunity to present their projects to the Deans of these prestigious schools of public affairs. It was wonderful to hear the range of issues that GPPN students were working on – from improving the social reintegration of recovering drug addicts in São Paulo, wealth redistribution through investment bonds in Italy, and birth assistance tools for isolated communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Just like SIPA students, GPPN students have fascinating backgrounds and perspectives and bring their passion to the projects they’ve been working on.

Conference attendees were also lucky enough to have a skills training session from Dr Barbara Fasolo on Deciding in a Risky World. Dr Fasolo is an Associate Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE, and also heads up their Behavioural Research Lab. Her workshop was timely and relevant because she used the COVID-19 pandemic as a case study for how individuals make decisions, particularly when assessing risks.

Another benefit of attending SIPA is that as a GPPN member school we also offer our students access to international dual degrees programs, to pursue interest for public policy in different university and national settings. Students like Theotis Sharpe MPA ’20 benefit from experiencing SIPA and NYC, and the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin.

RISE Up!

This post is co-authored by George-Ann Ryan and Nabila Hassan, both of whom were members of RISE’s steering committee

Are you a potential SIPA student who wants to know what student organizations are available to satisfy your interest in social justice, inequality, and similar topics? At SIPA there are many organizations that cater to students who want to know how to apply their coursework and experience to issues of social and economic equity, one of which is RISE.

But first, who is RISE? 

RISE is the student working group on Race, Inequality, Solidarity and Economics (RISE) whose mission is to create a safe environment for students to work towards solutions to problems of social inequality, such as wealth and income inequality, poverty, and racial, economic and gender disparities.

How will RISE achieve this? 

  1. Knowledge sharing: Bringing together students, scholars and activists who are researching and working on all dimensions of inequality. RISE frequently partners with other student organizations and committees to explore multiple dimensions of inequalities
  2. Inclusivity advocacy: Advocate for greater inclusion of income disparity, poverty, racial divides and other dimensions of inequality in public policy curriculum
  3. Community building: Promote and enhance organizational efforts for social, economic and racial justice through active partnership with other student organizations
  4. Civic and political engagement: By connecting SIPA students to relevant volunteer and activism opportunities across New York City

Our main avenue to achieving our goals is through events where we invite practitioners, academics, artists, activists, and social entrepreneurs to educate and share with us about how their work has improved conditions for the communities they serve. 

Flagship event: Inequality of Rights Workshop

Last April, RISE held our inaugural Inequality of Rights Workshop, analyzing inequality through an intersectional lens. All of our privileges lie at the intersections of all our identities. Whether it be gender, race, economic status, or migration, our multifaceted identities provide insight into how we approach policy problems. RISE, along with other students groups, wanted to analyze how our intersecting identities impact how we are impacted by public policy decisions and start a conversation about what it really means to create policy that positively impacts everyone. Speakers were a combination of practitioners and academics including Dr. Suresh Naidu (Columbia SIPA), Ravi Ragbir (New Sanctuary Coalition of New York City), Eddie Taveras (FWD.us), and Helen Ho (Biking Public Project).

At the Workshop, Suresh Naidu gave an overview of the role of economic rights in the fight for equity through economic research and policy as well as all the ways in which our present policy framework denies us our economic rights. Ravi Ragbir shared his battle with and the importance of knowing your rights when navigating the migration process.

Why did you join RISE? 

George-Ann: My background in economics and public policy, especially as it relates to economic inequality and the ways in which racial and gender identities exacerbate it, meant that when I came to SIPA and saw the group’s name I was hooked from the get go. Making equitable policy begins with being able to see and propose remedies for the equalities present in our society

Nabila: I am interested in racial inequality and that was a huge motivator for me to pursue graduate school. RISE was a perfect fit that expanded on my interest and taught me that inequality exists across broad dimensions and often times multiple dimensions are intersecting with one another making the problem of inequality intertwined and complex 

Why is RISE an important dimension to the conversations at SIPA? 

RISE is a great way for those of us whose course load does not have the room to directly explore issues of equity in depth to discuss how we can apply our learned skill set to these issues, meet a diverse pool of like-minded students, and share resources and materials.

How does RISE engage with the broader SIPA community?

RISE also engages with the broader SIPA community through having representation on the Diversity Committee where a member of RISE’s Steering Committee, alongside chosen Steering Committee members of whom many are also representatives of student organizations,  acts as a student voice to the administration in reflecting our sentiments in how the school manages issues facing students from marginalized communities, driving diversity initiatives, and letting them know how students feel about the campus climate to that effect. RISE also collaborates with faculty and other student groups on events and programs to further the conversation beyond our membership and, sometimes, beyond SIPA’s doors!

Interested in what SIPA students are doing to further diversity? Check out this article, ‘The Quest to Build a More Diverse, Equitable and Inclusive SIPA’ here.

Want to learn more about RISE and what we’re up to? Like and follow our Facebook page!

"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

Boiler Image