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Alex Kieu / Columbia Daily Spectator

The following are excerpts from an interview with Spectrum, slightly edited for content and clarity.


For many of us first-years, midterms have already begun, and we find ourselves starting our weekends earlier in search of relaxation time. Having been here for a full month and already being in the midst of test-related stress, it was interesting to see what the class of 2023 opined on Columbia so far. Would I hear apprehension, joy, or that NSOP excitement in the voices of our first-years?


You can start out with your name, your school, and what hall you live in.

Julia: My name’s Julia. I’m at Barnard College and I live in the Quad in Reid Hall.

Sam: My name is Sam. I’m in Columbia College. I’m living in John Jay.

Jonathan: My name is Jonathan. I live in Furnald and I’m in CC.


What aspect of Columbia/Barnard were you most excited about before moving in?

Julia: I think student life, meeting other cool girls. My high school was very small so I didn’t get to know a lot of people, so I was looking forward to getting to know a bunch of cool girls with cool intentions and cool ideas.

Sam: I would say the opportunity to learn, not just from [the] excellent faculty we have here but also the opportunity to learn from students who are so high-achieving in their own right. Just bouncing ideas off of each other and talking casually in the elevators and dining halls, that kind of place.

Jonathan: I was most excited about living in the city. I grew up in the suburbs in Princeton so I did not ever have the experience [of living] in the city. That was probably the most exciting part.


Did your expectations hold true for this?

Julia: Yeah. For the most part, I met wonderful girls, had really intriguing and interesting conversations with everyone in my classes. I haven’t really had a bad experience with anyone I’ve met.

Sam: Definitely. ... two of my professors, I’ve watched TED Talks of them in high school, and it was crazy to walk into class and see them be there and actually talking to us in person. It was mind-blowing. Also just peer-to-peer communication. It was the third night we were here and me and some of my friends were sitting in the lounge talking about how we should improve the U.S. government through something like a New Deal. So these kinds of intellectual conversations that you don’t really have outside of this community are really unique.

Jonathan: Yeah, for sure. I think I’ve experienced more in the past three or four weeks than I have prior. I think the city is a really, really crazy place, and the whole idea of getting anywhere by subway is so crazy to me. Yeah, it’s been cool.


What were some attributes that you didn’t expect about the academic environment here?

Julia: The reading. I didn’t think there was going to be so much reading. That was something to get used to. In high school, we did have readings but they were, like, during the summer and even during the academic year, it wasn’t as crazy as from Monday to Wednesday, [when] I had a class that asked us to read like 120 pages. ... It was a good book, but rough.

Sam: I expected it to be actually a lot more intense than it actually ended up being, I think, in that I was expecting everyone to be studying all day and I was expecting to be studying all day, really, and 100 percent focused on schoolwork. But really, I’ve sort of found myself with an abundance of free time that I don’t really know what to do with. There’d be, like, a two-hour gap between classes and I’m like, “Hmm, I don’t really know what I should be doing right now,” and so that’s, like, a perfect time where I just go relax. I can watch an episode of a TV show, listen to music, just relax. I think coming from an atmosphere of trying to get into a school like this, where you’re always doing things to try to get into a school like this—now that we’re here, you have free time to relax because you’ve already gotten into a school like this.

JY: I had no idea the Core would be as tough as it is. I had no idea that especially Lit Hum would have as much reading as it does, and I’ve been struggling with that recently. I do find the STEM, or like the science, here much less intimidating than I thought it would be.


What did you imagine living in a dorm building would be like?

Julia: I had a couple experiences with dorm rooms with pre-college programs, so living with someone else wasn’t frightening. I also shared a room with my sister throughout childhood since she was born. She’s a little younger, so all my life I’ve shared a room. The bathroom was very daunting; it still is. It’s a very daunting place, very dirty, but manageable I guess.

Sam: I imagined it being incredibly different from how I had been living. I’d always had my own room at home. I’d always lived in a regular normal-sized house with a normal amount of people and so coming here, having a roommate, that was ... interesting. I sort of had the best of both worlds. I’m in a walk-through double of John Jay, and so I have a roommate kind of but I also have my own private space with a door between myself and my roommate. I have this sort of built-in friend as a roommate but also that privacy of my own room. I think that that’s sort of my ideal situation.

Jonathan: I was an only child, so I never had to share a space with people. I have a single now, which is nice. I think it’s actually pretty nice. When I looked at the floor plan originally, I was pretty apprehensive about “is all my stuff going to fit in here?” but it’s definitely been pretty good so far. Furnald’s a pretty nice dorm in terms of facilities.


How has that image held up?

Julia: Roommate situation was trickier than I imagined, but I mean, you never know what you’re going to get, right?

Sam: I was expecting sort of that built-in friend, and that’s what I got, but I also got the added bonus of privacy.

Jonathan: I thought college dorms would be more janky. It’s pretty good here.


What were you most nervous about before coming here?

Julia: Meeting new people. I think everything. I just think being in New York was new to me and the people and having to deal with so many classes and the pressure that comes from being in college that’s so different from high school. There were so many things I was afraid of.

Sam: I was definitely nervous about my own qualifications versus those of my peers. I felt like I hadn’t done anything super exceptional in high school, necessarily, and I was being outweighed by people who had done exceptional things, like one of my friends. He worked in Congress his second semester of senior year, and I heard that and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s crazy. I didn’t do anything like that.” So I think … my biggest fear definitely was being outshined by my other peers.

Jonathan: I went to a prep school before this. I was pretty nervous that my experience at Columbia would be very similar to prep school, especially because I’d already had four years of that experience so I really did not want it to be the same thing as in high school.


How are you managing with this now?

Julia: I do therapy so that helps with stress. I’ve been taking stuff one day at a time, and I’ve been allowing myself to have some quiet moments in which I’m like, “Don’t want to talk to anyone, don’t want to meet anyone.” I went to lunch today on my own just for fun. Yeah, so like, taking moments for myself and planning, planning, planning.

Sam: You have to realize that even though I didn’t have one exceptional experience, I’ve had a lot of moderately exceptional experiences that added up to me getting here. It’s taking pride in what you’ve done, not diminishing your own accomplishments, being honest with yourself with what you have achieved, and being honest with yourself with how good you actually are, not even in comparison to other people.

Jonathan: I think the biggest difference is that the boarding school I went to was in the suburbs and like, now, I have so many opportunities to do things outside of campus, but I do think that the academics are very similar to boarding school.


There you have it! While we might have lost our bright-eyed, wholesome excitement from NSOP, many of us have integrated well into the Columbia/Barnard community and are finding our place within the hallowed campus.


Spectrum Trainee Ariana Novo can be contacted at ariana.novo@columbiaspectator.com

First-year Expectations Reality Columbia Interview
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