International Student Karen Lopez Finds Community at Columbia

Karen Lopez is an undergraduate international student from Mexico's Tecnológico de Monterrey studying international affairs at Columbia for the summer. Thanks to an honors program at her home university that facilitated her study abroad, she is living and studying in New York City for the first time. It's a crucial first step towards her goal of ultimately returning to Columbia to complete a master's program. We spoke with Lopez about what it's like to live in New York City for the first time, what the international student community is like, and how students and professors alike have welcomed her to Columbia.

What made you want to come to Columbia?

Actually, it was because of a program at my university, Tecnológico de Monterrey. They invited high profile students to study abroad at Yale, Georgetown, Columbia, etc. So my dean invited me to come here; she set me up with the opportunity. It's my first time as an international student, so I was nervous. But It's an Ivy League university. You can't say no to that!

What classes are you taking, and what are your classes like?

I'm here for the summer studying international affairs. I'm taking political philosophy and contemporary literature.

The class environment is really cool because you have the opportunity to hear different opinions. I like that, at Columbia, it's more of a discussion than a lecture: It's more of an open dialogue.

The professors really care about you. In my philosophy class, everyone was speaking really fast, and I was trying to keep up with the conversation. I asked the professor, "How is my contribution?" "Oh, you're doing great, but how can I make you feel more comfortable in class? Do you want me to do more lecturing or more discussion?" I feel like the professor wanted me to learn and wanted me to be comfortable with the course. Not everyone does that.

What about the community here?

I live on campus, so I get to meet a lot of other students. Everyone is from different backgrounds. A lot of people there are from outside the U.S., so we connect and help each other. But also I have met people from the U.S. who have helped me with my English conversation.

What's the best thing about coming to Columbia for the summer?

First of all, it's in New York. It's one of the most interesting cities in the world. It's a huge plus.

Also, because it's an Ivy League school, it's a very respected university. Whenever I researched a program, Columbia was in the top 10 in the whole world, so it's a really big deal to be here. That will be really valuable on my C.V.

Plus, it's great to be around people who also want to learn; they're not wasting their time.

Are you interested in working in the U.S.? Is that why you were interested in coming here?

I might work in the U.S., but also I'd like to come back to Columbia to do my master's. I'm thinking about getting a master's in political science, public administration, or conflict negotiation. Those are really close to the career I want.

Anything else you wanted to mention?

It's my first time as an international student, and it's harder than I thought. It's a really huge deal, especially to be here in New York. But I think it's worth it, all the work is worth it. I will never forget this summer.

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