If you’re thinking about coming to SIPA, you might also be thinking: Is the school only about studying? How else can I get involved in student life? Where can I meet friends that have similar interests to me?

Don’t worry, there is life beyond the classroom! Once at SIPA, there is an astonishing number of student groups at your fingertips. 40+ student organizations provide social, professional, and educational activities to meet your diverse interests. You can take part in a policy group, a regional focus group, or the annual SIPA Follies — there’s something for everyone. The student-run organizations offer the freedom to explore Columbia’s and New York City’s resources in a relaxed setting. Some groups invite visiting dignitaries to campus for informal discussions, while others coordinate research-focused Spring Break trips abroad. No matter your interests, there are ways to get involved at SIPA without getting lost in a sea of textbooks and policy memos.

I want to share my personal experience in one of these organizations. I’m Sebastian Osorio, a second-year MPA student from Colombia. I was the president of one of the largest, most active and coolest (😎) organizations at SIPA, the Latin American Student Association, known as LASA. When I started school over a year ago, I never imagined I would play an active role in a student group. I had just begun life at SIPA and was still navigating my way through class schedules and the nuances of grad school.

After getting settled in New York and adjusting to student life, I found myself with some free time, especially after being used to working 12+ hour days. With that, I decided to research and participate in more student organizations. While I wanted to be busier, I didn’t realize then the commitment and responsibility required to lead one of these groups. I ended up running for president of LASA (and in a very old school Latin American way, I was the only candidate (but it doesn’t diminish my victory!)).

Being a part of LASA has been the highlight of my graduate school experience. There, I met an incredible team and made amazing friends. The board was composed of thirteen members from eight different countries. The board’s diversity in experience and background helped us overcome obstacles and accomplish many ambitious initiatives. In the beginning, I barely knew any of the board members. But as the semester went on, we collaborated well together, creating a platform for discussions on national, regional and international public affairs of Latin America, while also sharing our broad and diverse cultures with the SIPA student body.

LASA became one of the many prominent student organization at SIPA, and we led multiple activities and events like academic brown bag lunches with professors, cultural walks around El Barrio (East Harlem), movie nights, Spanish and Portuguese language sessions, fundraising events and welcome parties. At LASA, we tried to model our agenda after the age-old motto: work hard, play hard. Students came to depend on LASA as their one-stop shop for both professional and educational seminars as well as celebratory after-exam events.

Overall, I gained a lot from being a part of LASA. Personally speaking, the lessons I learned from my time with LASA paralleled the knowledge I gained from classes. I was given the opportunity to test my leadership and managerial skills, while also coordinating a team with shared goals but different skill sets and interests. I had the chance to network and build relationships with notable speakers, esteemed faculty, and accomplished students from across Latin America. But mainly, I gained a family.

With that said, I strongly encourage you to research the student organizations when you arrive at SIPA and find a place where you can contribute to student life and create an experience that you will carry with you long after you graduate.