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Gabi Levy / Columbia Daily Spectator

Congratulations once again, class of 2023, on your acceptance to Columbia and Barnard! Some of you baby lions and bears will be joining us from places from far, far away and will probably be attending the International Student Orientation Program at Columbia or the International Pre-Orientation Program at Barnard.

If you have no idea about what ISOP and iPOP are, or if you’re trying to decide whether it is worth attending, read on to find out.

What is ISOP?

International Student Orientation Program at Columbia and International Pre-Orientation Program at Barnard are programs that precede the college-wide NSOP and are organized specifically for international students. The program for Columbia College and SEAS students is optional and requires a $300 fee, while the Barnard one is mandatory for all international students on F-1 or J-1 visas and requires no fee. These programs focus on transitioning foreign students into life in the United States, with talks and events about culture shock, U.S. customs, and other logistical matters like how to get your bank and cell accounts set up.


1. You get to enjoy your dorm and campus before everyone else!

Coming for ISOP or iPOP means that you’ll get to move into your first-year dorm before everyone else. Since there are significantly fewer international students than domestic ones, you’ll avoid the hassle of having to wait for carts and elevators, which are both scarcities during peak move-in time. If you have a roommate who hasn’t moved in yet, you also get to choose your side of the room first. This extra time is perfect for international students for not only getting over jet lag, but also buying supplies, including minifridges, fans, or bedsheets.

2. Most of your nights will be free—night events are usually during NSOP.

ISOP and iPOP events don’t usually end too late, meaning you have all the time in the world to finally leave campus and get familiar with the city on your own. There is so much to do and see in the city, and you definitely won’t have enough time throughout the semesters to truly take advantage of it. Whether you’re still with your parents or you’ve met some new international friends, make sure to get on that 1 train and find your way downtown or uptown. Alternatively, you can call it a night by sleeping early and catching up on the sleep you lost due to jet lag. It’ll be one of those rare moments when dorms are quieter than usual, since not everyone has moved in yet.

3. You’ll get to meet some of the most interesting people on campus during that weekend.

With people are flying in from all over the world, ISOP and iPOP will be the only time so many international students are concentrated in one single place. This is the perfect opportunity to talk to as many people as you can and hear different stories you all have to tell. Additionally, international students can usually relate to each other since most of us have had to travel long distances, and leave a whole other culture, family, and friends behind. Everyone’s homesick, and you shouldn’t be afraid to admit that!


1. The mandatory talks and meetings can be tedious—bring a snack!

ISOP and iPOP talks about adjusting to college life in the U.S. and navigating New York City tend to be very long. Your day will probably be filled up with meetings about culture shock and how to hail a cab in the city. Everyone already knows (hopefully) that life in New York isn’t one big Gossip Girl episode, which is why you’ll probably get a bit tired after a couple of days. Make sure to pack some snacks to keep you going throughout the day—you’ll need them!

2. The hype really starts during NSOP, so don’t worry if you don’t think you’re not having as much fun as you should be having.

Once NSOP starts, the rest of the class of 2023 will join you on campus, and everything will get busier. You’ll probably be woken up by very enthusiastic orientation leaders shouting out welcoming cheers for new students at the gates on the first day it starts. During ISOP, you’ll probably be tired and a little homesick, especially after saying goodbye to your parents, so it’ll seem like you’re not having as much fun as you should be having. NSOP is infamous for getting a little crazy, so you have that to look forward to. Still, you should make the most of your ISOP experience by trying to meet as many people as you can and really utilizing this time to settle in.

3. The icebreakers will seem endless, but it’s good practice for NSOP.

Throughout your first few weeks at Columbia, you’ll introduce yourself more times than you can count. Orientation leaders like to get creative with their icebreakers, so you’ll probably be playing a game you’ve never heard of. However, although you’ll get tired of them after a couple of days, these introductions will be good practice for NSOP since you’ll already have all your answers and rules down for all the different games you’ll be playing.

Staff Writer Lina Bennani Karim can be contacted at Follow Spectator on Twitter @ColumbiaSpec.

ISOP Orientation International Students Pre-orientation
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