Archive for NYC

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.

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

THE BRONX

Source: TheCultureTrip.com

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.

MANHATTAN

Source: CityandStateNY.com

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

QUEENS

Source: TheCultureTrip.com

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.

BROOKLYN

Source: NYCgo.com

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.

STATEN ISLAND

Source: ny.curbed.com

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 bustime.mta.info. 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…

NEW JERSEY

Source: FortLeeNJ.org

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.

A Quick Guide to New York City Airports

New York is famous for many things; however, having great airports is not one of them. As some of you consider traveling to New York for Admitted Students Day, or are planning your own vacation to the city, here’s are some things to keep in mind before stepping on the plane.

1. John F. Kennedy International Airport
New York City is serviced by three main airports, two of which are located in the city itself. For international travelers, you will likely fly into John F. Kennedy International Airport, which is located in one of Queens most industrial (and distant) neighborhoods.

JFK is about an hour by car into Manhattan and depending on your arrival time, it may take up to an hour and a half with traffic. Expect to pay anywhere between $70-100 for a taxi or Uber one-way.

For the more economical traveler, JFK is serviced by the AirTrain and the A/E trains. The AirTrain is a local line that connects travelers to NYC’s subway system. You will find signs in the JFK baggage area directing you to the AirTrain.

I personally suggest taking the JFK Airtrain Green Line to Howard Beach station. There, you can transfer to the A-Train and take it straight into Manhattan. Depending on where you are staying it will take a little over an hour, but there are no transfers and service is reliable.

2. Newark Liberty International Airport
For international travelers that are not routed to JFK, it is almost a guarantee that you will be flying into Newark. Located just across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Newark is actually a pretty modern and easy airport to navigate.

From my experience, a lot of flights arriving late at night or from East/South Asia tend to head straight to Newark.

Taxis/Ubers from Newark airport into Manhattan are relatively comparable to JFK prices, although at times it may be a bit cheaper.

Travelers that wish to use public transit can take the AirTrain to the Newark Liberty Airport station on the New Jersey Coast line.

You can take the line into Penn Station in Manhattan, which is on 34th St. It is one of New York’s busiest subway/transit stations and you can find connecting subways to pretty much anywhere in the city.

3. LaGuardia Airport
LaGuardia is the most conveniently located of New York’s three airports, as it is located right across the Queens Bridge in the sleepy neighborhood of Astoria. I have almost exclusively flown American carriers (cough, Southwest) into LaGuardia and it’s essentially the airport for domestic travel.

For international travelers flying American airlines or connecting through a major US city (Miami for Caribbean/Central/South American travelers, Houston/Dallas for Mexican and Central American travelers or Los Angeles for travelers from Asia) may have a connecting flight that ends up stopping in LaGuardia.

Depending on where you’re staying, taxis will likely be significantly cheaper and somewhere in the $30-60 range.

That being said, LaGuardia has the absolute best bus line in the city. For those that don’t mind lugging their carry-ons onto a bus, the M60-SBS picks up passengers from the airport and goes right across the Queens Bridge into Harlem.

You can hop off on the stop by the Apollo Theater to take any of the ABCD trains to most places in Manhattan or you can continue riding until Columbia University! The whole trip takes about 30 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic conditions.

While trains do run from LaGuardia, I cannot recommend the bus route enough. Particularly because it costs like 2 dollars.

 

For those that have more general questions about travel, airport conditions or navigating taxis/Ubers/trains in New York from the airport, feel free to reach out! Safe travels!

A Foodie’s Guide to Columbia University’s Food Scene

One of the greatest things about Columbia’s campus is that it is essentially a foodie’s paradise. There’s several different cuisines nearby, from Ethiopian to Mexican and from mass-produced burgers with fries to locally-sourced vegan friendly meals. Columbia offers a smörgåsbord of food options.

Massawa (121st and Amsterdam)

Massawa is an Ethiopian and Eritrean restaurant boasting flavorful and shareable meals, all scooped up with a handful of injera, a sour bread served with all meals. The restaurant holds an impressive menu with several types of meats and vegetables. Meals can be vegetarian friendly also. It’s also a perfect place for a date for those planning. The quiet, dim-lit environment sets a romantic, conversational mood perfect for a first-date or a long-term couple. Meals range from $15-$25 per person including tip.

Shake Shack (116th and Broadway)

You might have heard of Shake Shack if you’re from the Northeast, but for those who don’t know, it’s a franchise burger that rivals the well-known West Coast chain In-n-Out Burgers and the broader burger chain Five Guys Burgers. However, Shake Shack is more than just burgers. They’re also known for their concretes, an ice cream concoction with a few different toppings and flavors mixed in. Shake Shack is often a filled with students looking for a quick bite between classes. A meal costs about $10-$15 dollars, no tip required.

Community (Between 112th and 113th on Broadway)

With an American-eclectic menu that features seasonal, local, organic food whenever possible, Community is a popular place for those who are food conscious. While the restaurant isn’t just for vegetarians, almost all of their meals can be made for vegetarians by request. One of their most popular items on their breakfast menu are their blueberry pancakes, a must-try for all newcomers. It’s also a great place for a Sunday brunch so bring your friends and enjoy a meal on their patio. Average meals range from $13-$20 without tip.

Jin Ramen (Broadway and Tiemann Place)

This is not your microwavable ramen. Though a little bit of a walk from campus, Jim Ramen is one of the Columbia community’s most popular restaurants, boasting several types of ramen noodle bowls. Also a great place for a date because nothing is cuter than watching your boo slurp up noodles. For meals, you can go classic with a soy sauce ramen or go different with a green coconut thai curry ramen bowl. Either way, you’ll love what you’re eating. Meals are around $12 – $18.

Strokos (114th and Amsterdam)

If you’re looking for something quick and pretty cheap, Strokos is the way to go. It’s a gourmet deli serving dozens upon dozens of options, from pizza to salad to sandwiches to chicken and vegetables. The place also has enough room there for studying so you’ll usually find several students eating with their laptops. Stop by Strokos and get a meal for usually under $10.

Oaxaca Taqueria (Between 122nd and 123rd on Amsterdam)

As a lover of tacos, I must say Oaxaca Taqueria does an amazing job at making the signature Mexican meal. You can get three tacos for around $10 and they have a little under a dozen of different styles of tacos. My favorites are the classic carnitas tacos and the savory Korean taco. It’s a casual place so you can either eat there or take it to go. Either way, you won’t regret it.

A Case for Urban and Social Policy

Like many prospective graduate school applicants, I had a hard time deciding exactly which school or program was right for me. It’s incredibly difficult to think about places, schools, and classes you’ve never taken in the abstract, let alone even trying to compare them. While being incredibly fortunate, my situation is also a little complicated; as a Pickering Fellow, I am required to serve in the U.S. Foreign Service for five years after graduating from SIPA. While applying, I was attempting to reconcile my interest in domestic politics and cities, with my career and general interest in international relations. I wanted a degree that would wholly prepare me for my time in the Service, while also providing me the skills and expertise to succeed if I ever decided to leave the organization.

SIPA made sense on a variety of baseline levels; it’s incredibly diverse, and very international, two things I value both personally and professionally. It is prestigious and known for producing top-end talent in almost every profession related to public service and government. When I got in, it was almost a no-brainer; I knew this is where I wanted to be.

However, I had a much harder time deciding which concentration was right for me. As someone who has worked with numerous organizations engaged in human rights and refugee-related work, Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy was appealing. Similarly, Economic and Political Development sounded like a natural fit with the work I’d be doing in the Service. Urban and Social Policy, with its focus on development and broad social issues, also piqued my interest.

As you can probably guess, I ultimately decided to concentrate in USP. Now let me tell you why.

An Excellent Urban Studies Education…in the Greatest City in the World

Ever since I moved to my hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I have been in love with cities. I want to know their population density, the history behind their most famous landmarks, the backgrounds of the migrants that shaped them. I want to know what sports teams the locals support, and the rivalries that may exist between different parts of town. Understanding a city, and its working class people is something that gives me immense joy and a feeling of understanding and solidarity with others, even if I am an outsider.

It just so happens that SIPA is located in arguably the greatest, or at least the most culturally significant city in the world. USP concentrators have the unique opportunity to study their favorite policy issues with leaders in the field, who are often engaged in their work while teaching. If housing is your favorite issue, you can study with William Eimecke, the previous Secretary of Housing for New York State, and then witness every day how city and state leaders are attempting to solve the affordable housing crisis. If you’re interested in education, you can cross enroll in classes at Columbia’s prestigious Teachers College, and intern at the NY Department of Education, one of the biggest city agencies of its kind in the world. If you’re considering running for political office, you can take classes with ex-Mayor of Philadelphia Michael Nutter, and the legendary New York City Mayor David Dinkins. In summary, SIPA and New York attract some of the best minds in urban governance, and for this reason alone, SIPA has a comparative advantage to other schools with urban studies programs.

It’s Broad but You Can Make It Your Own

If you say you study Urban and Social Policy, you inevitably have to tell someone what that actually means. That’s partly because it is so broad; almost every social issue is now inherently an urban issue and vice versa. That being said, SIPA’s requirements make it incredibly easy to find your niche within the concentration, while also providing students with a generalist background that will prepare them for any type of work in the field. I am personally passionate about anti-corruption and good governance initiatives, and have therefore taken numerous management and systems analysis oriented courses. One of my friends in the concentration has explored the growth of data and algorithms in public sector decision making, and its impact on communities of color. Another friend of mine is committed to understanding the intersection of gender and development in urban communities. As a future diplomat, I know I will be serving in some of the world’s truly global cities; therefore, my USP education will provide me with the skills and knowledge I need to understand the key challenges these cities face, while also allowing me to dive deeper into many of my domestic interests. In turn, by drawing upon the experiences and interests of your peers, and the expertise of USP’s great faculty, you too can find your own place in this passionate and driven community.

The People

USP is a relatively small concentration, compared to some of the others available at SIPA. However, I consider this one of its greatest strengths. USP attracts bright, motivated and culturally savvy people from around the world, with many hailing from the world’s fastest growing and important urban centers. On an intellectual level, this is incredibly rewarding; often, you will find yourself in the halls or off-campus at a small meet up, casually discussing an urban policy issue with people from entirely separate countries and cities, each one providing their perspectives and experiences. Socially, you are surrounded by people who also love the city, and all that it has to offer. Personally, I have felt that my education has extended well beyond the walls of SIPA, as my network of USPers continues to challenge me, and introduce me to new concepts and ideas on a daily basis.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions…

No matter where you are in the admissions process, I encourage all prospective or recently admitted students to think critically about what they want out of their graduate school experience and how every concentration or program may advance your personal and professional growth. Nonetheless, if you are passionate about cities and social issues, I suggest that you take a look at the concentration’s requirements and electives which are available on the SIPA website. It will give you a better idea of the type of coursework you can expect, while also hopefully inspiring some excitement at the prospect of being a USP concentrator!

"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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