It's been a long, strange semester, but the New Orleans students displaced by Hurricane Katrina are finally preparing to return.
Tulane and Loyola University New Orleans students made Columbia their temporary home following the Gulf Coast disaster that closed many southern colleges and universities for the semester. And after three months of studying, living, and partying like Columbians, most of the 229 students who were here are set to head back home.
"It was a very hard situation for all of us," AJ Katz, Tulane '08, said of coming to Columbia. "We had created a life for ourselves at Tulane."
Forced to live off-campus, many New Orleanians said that they primarily hung out with other visiting students and largely refrained from joining student organizations.
"I didn't really meet any Columbia kids," Gabriel Ascher, Tulane '08, said. "It's my own fault because I'm living with Tulane students."
Though they may not have made many new acquaintances, visiting students said they felt as though they took advantage of the Columbia education. Katz, a history major, said he enjoyed his classes and professors. "Here, I really didn't mind going to class as much as I do at Tulane," he said.
Provost Alan Brinkley, who also teaches the class America Since 1945, reciprocated. "I have been very appreciative to have had them in my class," he said.
At the beginning of the semester, students like Stephanie Philis, Tulane '06, who also enrolled in Brinkley's class, said they were concerned about "the increased level of coursework here." However, the outgoing reactions seem to show that the displaced students had no difficulty keeping up.
"As far as I know, Tulane students did work roughly comparable to Columbia students," Brinkley said.
Now that they've spent an entire semester in Morningside Heights, some visiting students are having trouble letting go. In fact, a small number have expressed an interest in staying in the city. One such visitor, Jessica Figueroa, Tulane '09, said that she is attempting to stay on as a visiting student for the spring term due to medical concerns, though she hopes to stay in New York beyond next semester. Figueroa will learn the status of her application Dec. 15.
There is no official process by which visiting students can change their status to degree candidates at Columbia. Though Brinkley said there might be circumstances under which some students might be permitted to stay for an extended period of time, he affirmed the University hoped that Tulane students would return to their host institution.
"We don't want Columbia to be, in effect, poaching students from Tulane," he said. "We want Tulane students to go back to Tulane. We want Tulane to go back to being a healthy and distinguished institution.
Many of the Tulane students said they were excited to get back, despite difficult conditions in the ravaged city.
"It's going to be more of a college town experience," Katz said, "as opposed to before where you went to school in a city."
Natalie E. Young, Tulane '09, said she chose New Orleans because of the flavor of the city. Nonetheless, she is optimistic about finally beginning school at Tulane. "I'm excited to help rebuild the city," she said.
Hundreds of Columbia students have already contributed to that effort. CU Relief, a student-run organization created in response to Hurricane Katrina, has hosted nearly 20 events this fall to raise funds and gather materials to help New Orleans recover and rebuild.
"I think it's been really good," Ayinwi Muma, CC '06 and head of CU Relief, said of the semester. "A lot has happened-more than I ever expected back when we started-but I'm not surprised by how much people have gotten involved. I'm really excited."
Muma added, however, that because of the overwhelming response, "We don't have to say, 'Our semester is done so we're done.'" She said that the group hopes to continue working to aid those in need next semester.
Funds raised by CU Relief this semester will be split between NOLA Relief and the American Red Cross, though final figures on the amount raised have not been released.
"I'm very proud of the way that many people at Columbia rose to this crisis, and I'm very proud that so many Tulane students have been here, and, I hope, have had a good experience," Brinkley said.