An Interview with Lemlem Abreha Baraki: Columbia University

Columbia University is a rigorous private research university in New York City. Its location gives its students access to various industries, from fashion to business to medicine as well as a colorful and vibrant background to their studies. Columbia has three undergraduate schools, the Columbia College, the Fu School for Engineering and the Applied Sciences, and the School of General Studies and affiliation with Barnard College. The university is known for its Core Curriculum which is a set of course requirements focused on western civilization. 

Where did you grow up? Do you speak Amharic?
While I was born in Khartoum, Sudan, I grew up mainly in Rochester, New York, which is where I currently live. And I don’t speak Amharic, but I’m working on it. My parents mostly speak Tigrinya though, so I understand that a bit more.

What is the Ethiopian community like in the US?

It’s great! I didn’t expect to find a large community of Ethiopians when I went to college, but was happily surprised. The first revelation was that Columbia has an Ethiopian-Eritrean Students Association (with both international and non-international members), and the second was that there are two ethiopian restaurants within walking distance of my dorm. So you can always eat injera when you need it, but probably not as often as you’re used to.

What kind of food are served at the cafeterias?
There are four main cafeterias on my campus that generally serve the same variety of things. They have a salad bar, sushi bar, a pasta station, a bagel/toast section, a kosher station, and one station that changes from day to day (burgers & fries/grilled cheese/taco salad etc). And one of them, JJ’s place, mostly serves diner foods. So mainly hamburgers, fries, various sandwiches, omelettes and pancakes.
However, there are many more smaller cafes (such as Butler cafe in the library) to eat at when you’re on the go and have money to spend. Or just want something small to eat like granola bars or coffee.

What are classes like? 
Classes in college are not too different from high school. As in sometimes you have great professors who know what they’re doing and care about their students, and then sometimes you don’t. The nice thing about college though is you always have office hours (meaning a scheduled time when you can freely talk to your teacher one-on-one) and you should definitely take advantage of that. It’s the best time to ask questions about grades and homework and they’re guaranteed to answer them. Classrooms can range from a size of 20 students(usually discussions courses) to 200 students in a lecture hall (usually commonly taken courses like Chemistry or Economics). For the most part, I’ve mainly had middle-aged professors (40-50s), and a couple grad professors. Both are generally pretty good. Deadlines for all classes are usually very strict and must be held unless you’ve spoken to them ahead of time with good reasoning (writing courses are the most generous with deadlines). 

What is the dorm life like in Columbia?
My dorm experience so far has been pretty good! Some people choose to have a single, but for my first year I preferred to have a roommate. Freshmen year I lived in one of the nicest freshman dorms with a roommate and had a great time. The dorm and bathrooms were clean, and my roommate/floor mates were genuinely nice. While this may not always be the case, most of the dorms at Columbia are fairly clean. There are 5 main dorms where freshmen can live and around 22 dorms all together.
When it came to studying, I generally preferred studying in the library because it was less likely for me to get distracted and other people working motivates me. Plus some libraries are open 24 hours, which is convenient when you don’t want to disturb your roommate. 

How did you find your favorite library?
On you’ll love this. Columbia has 22 libraries. I have yet to visit them all but currently my favorite has to be between Lehman library and the Mathematics & Science library. Lehman is great when you want to study in a group and the Mathematics & Science library is really good when you’re doing something that requires complete silence, like writing an essay. I found Lehman one day when I’d agreed to be part of a study group for Statistics, and we used a classroom with a round table and chalkboard to study. And then I found the Mathematics & Science library one day when I was walking to class and decided to cut through the library, only to find it completely silent. All I could hear was the clicking of computer keys. It was a nice surprise. 

How do you enter the buildings? Your room? What is the security like? Do you walk around campus in the evening?  Is it safe?
While some schools may vary, dorm buildings/rooms/libraries/cafeterias are entered by having security swipe your student ID. Other buildings used for class do not require an ID, instead you just walk through the doors. The security on campus overall is very good, as we have security in the buildings and patrolling campus. And if they’re not in sight, Campus Security is always a phone call away (the number is usually given to you at orientation). Also, I’ve found the campus security guards to be some of the friendliest people on campus, as some of them take the time to learn your names and ask how your day is going. In the past, I’ve walked around campus in the evening and I’ve generally always felt safe. Usually, if you’re out at night, there are bound to be other students out and about as well. 

What makes college “the best four years of your life”?
 Hahaha this is a fun one. Well, the great thing about college is you’re totally immersed in a new environment. It’s your time to be independent, make your own decisions, make new friends, and explore your interests. Ultimately, it’s four years of great discoveries about yourselves, building lasting relationships with people you’d never have imagined meeting, and becoming an adult.
 You learn a ton about yourself and your real limits: how you work best, how many all nighters you can do, how to manage your time, what you really love.
You learn how to deal with all the stuff you hate quickly and efficiently. And how to make time for what you love.
You work with and are around brilliant people who love what they do.
You learn how to learn and think critically.
Everything else afterwards is much easier and often less work.

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