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.