Before sending my previous blog post for editing, I read the final version and realized I had just finished writing a boring piece of text… Columbia this, Columbia that, Ivy league, Nobel prize winners, presidents, big shots and that kind of thing – all that you know from Wiki pages. I finally decided to write something more personal about mobility stay during the Spring semester, 2011 at Columbia University.
Just to make clear, I never saw Joseph Stigliz or Jeffry Sachs. I just randomly met a student who took Stigliz’s class long time ago. I asked him whether he heard him mentioning CERGE-EI and he said (looking puzzled) he didn’t, and that was it.
Columbia University is not a great place due to the facility or impressive history; it is all about current people – students and professors. I took some grad courses and I was impressed how everybody is engaged, it seemed to be the best one and a half hour of their day. Besides courses, students’ workshops (similar to our brown-bags) are the most visited sessions both by students and faculty (sometimes needing an extra chair). This type of reciprocity and feedback makes everyone’s time more productive and the work far more interesting.
For mobility stay you may choose a university with resources and make use of them. For example, having a Columbia Uni email account can get you practically anything. You can even text your “library account manager” for the data you need. The staff are very polite and call you at the time you specify for any clarification you need. In addition, there is always a feedback questionnaire for your satisfaction with the quality of the service (imagine that!).
Spending some time on mobility in different environment can expose you to new experiences and give you ideas that you didn’t necessarily have before, this especially in NYC. One evening after going out from library I saw an advertisement for the “Columbia Bartending Agency” that offered a four weeks course in bartending… After thinking for couple of moments whether I should do it, I decided to go for it, since there is no better place than NYC to learn how to make cocktails. (And it can serve as my plan B if thesis work does not lead anywhere).
Being a visiting student at some large university with campus that locates all schools at one place can expose you to different people. I had a chance to meet and hang out with students of production and film. Seeing their New York was an interesting experience and added more color to my time there.
The Columbia Campus is just above Central Park on the West side of the island known as Morningside Heights, which is next to Harlem. This location gives a unique flavor to the experience of staying in NYC. There are still coffee shops and diners from 80es, like the little Hungarian bakery that works from 6am where you can get bagel and coffee for $2.
I spent part of my stay in Harlem at my friend’s place. This was very convenient because it was at walking distance from the campus. Harlem, some of you might know from the movies, this last couple of years has become a new residential hot spot for young professionals. It is not as fancy as Upper West Side or Midtown and it still has that “real feel” of NYC. Our building was home to two lawyers, a performer (dancer I believe), an Italian businessman who liked to have a place in NYC, a brother and sister financial analysts, and their guest, a student from Prague on mobility at Columbia. The building was newly renovated, fashionable, and part of the old city. Next door there was a rehab clinic for drug and alcohol abusers whose guests sometimes seemed to be singing their lungs out on the way to recovery. We all kind of lived together since I could clearly hear the wake-up siren around 7.15am and call for breakfast, which worked perfectly for my schedule. I enjoyed immensely being in the middle of this contrast as I walked to the campus in the morning.
Wherever you end up for mobility, try to travel a bit and visit other places. I was lucky to have a chance to take a “mobility week off” and travel to west coast – San Francisco (experience for whole new blog post), but I also went to places like Princeton, which is close by in New Jersey. Princeton University has definitely the prettiest campus of all, I was enchanted. Being there will make you feel like you are in a Harry Potter movie (If you start running around imagining playing Quidditch (wizarding sport played on broomsticks), I can bet people would understand).
To conclude, I recommend you all to take up the chance and go for mobility. You will gain in many respects, research wise but also on a personal level. Be bold and open, you have nothing to lose (as I was told), so ask questions and have an open mind. CERGE-EI provides you with solid grounds so that you can brush elbows with the best in economics and benefit from it.
Dragana Stanisic, 4th year student at CERGE-EI
Editing: Ilir Maci, CERGE-EI