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Updated: September 17, 2012 15:56 IST

The Columbia experience

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Anusha Balakrishnan at Columbia University, New York. Photo: Special Arrangement
The Hindu
Anusha Balakrishnan at Columbia University, New York. Photo: Special Arrangement

Anusha Balakrishnan talks about her year at college.

The first week of college is both exciting and terrifying and at times intimidating too. As a member of Columbia’s Class of 2015, however, I was given the opportunity to make sure I had that base covered. As soon as I was accepted, I received a link to join the Class of 2015 Facebook group to network with fellow accepted students —making dozens of new friends online before even setting foot on campus.

As a result, the first week of orientation was spent frantically meeting cyber-friends face-to-face for the first time. The University organised orientation events such as trips to the High Line Park and a party at Governor’s Island open only to the incoming class. In addition, they made sure to introduce us to the campus community. On the fourth day of orientation, the University held its bi-annual ‘Activities Fair’, an opportunity for students to explore the 150 plus clubs and organisations on campus, that all have different mission statements and student participation. The orientation was truly the experience of a lifetime and gave us the seamless transition we needed into our stressful yet rewarding academic and social lives.

I’ll admit it – I’ve never been a fan of the rote-learning methods that my ISC school (and others) employs on a regular basis. My first class at university, then, was an absolute surprise. It was a class called ‘Literature Humanities’, a class that was required of all majors and that covered several dazzling works of Western literature from Homer’s Iliad to Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Literature buffs and physics majors alike found the class incredible. The teaching methods were so very different from what I was used to – from making students analyze subtle elements of theme to showing us related works of art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, everyone attempted to make the study of literature comprehension-centric. Even my more technical classes like computer science attempted to take learning outside of the textbook. We never used the textbook in class to begin with, my professors made sure to show us real-life uses of the concepts we were learning. Most memorably, my algorithms professor treated us to a video demonstration of recent developments in robotic surgery, explaining as far as possible the concepts involved in recent technology in the field.

first day, we were encouraged to play an active role in organisations on the campus. I decided to join the Columbia Daily Spectator, the student-run (and self-funded) daily newspaper of the University community; Columbia Television, the student-run TV club that filmed and developed TV shows created by students; and the Heights-to-Heights mentoring program that connected students of the University with students in Harlem whose second language was English. Each organisation provided me with a different experience altogether — by the end of the year, I had also got selected to be a part of the Global Recruitment Committee, the organisation that is presided by the Office of Admissions and that welcomes international students to the student community.

My year at college definitely kept me challenged; it’s difficult to try and find the balance between maintaining your personal academic standards and exploring all the opportunities that a new country and community has to offer. As a result, I emerged more intellectually stimulated than I had ever been. I may not yet have decided where I want my career to take me, but I’ve definitely been given the chance to consider and examine all my options before making that decision.

I don’t mean to be an ambassador on behalf of the recruitment committee, but I would definitely recommend applying here if you’re looking for a stiff challenge in the next four years of your life; Columbia won’t disappoint.

The writer is a second-year student at Columbia University, U.S.


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