When Gloria Tso CC’19 moved from her hometown of Bartlesville, OK, she already had a clear idea of what she wanted to do at Columbia: “Write, join cultural groups, participate in student activism.” But her most formative experiences and the communities of which she became part, she “met accidentally along the way.”
“A lot of Columbia students, we find our homes on campus where we least expect them to be,” Tso said.
Tso — who will graduate with a double major in American studies and East Asian languages and cultures — was accepted to four Ivies but chose Columbia College. Her first semester she describes as being “really rough,” coming from a small public high school. But Tso made it a point to explore student-sponsored organizations and spent time “getting in touch with my identity and community.”
“What was most ironic, I joined a sorority [Alpha Omicron Pi] and went to Cambridge,” she said. “It was a sorority sister who told me about study abroad. Life opens up directions that you wouldn’t think you were going.”
In the UK, studying abroad made Tso realize that “Columbia showed me a glimpse of what the world looks like. You realize you’re actually going into that world.
“The Core [Curriculum] gives students a global focus. Studying abroad pairs so well with it. I joined the Cambridge Union [Editor’s Note: the largest student society in Cambridge and the oldest continuously running debating society in the world, having hosted Winston Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt among other historic figures] and could talk about European philosophers,” she said. “You don’t realize how much the Core comes in handy until you go out into the world.”
The semester abroad came with its share of challenges, but Tso persevered: “Columbia students definitely develop a sense of independence. We have a go-getter attitude, if you want something, you’ll find a way to make it happen.”
Tso has been making it happen since her first year, leveraging Columbia’s locale in the media capital of the world into opportunities with ABC’s Good Morning America, CNN, NBC News and Universal, and other major companies. She also gained insight into the public sector, serving as a Youth Assembly delegate for the United Nations and interning for the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). She also worked closely with the New York City Department of Education to mentor minority students. An aspiring culture writer — she says reading op-eds is her guilty/geeky pleasure — with a penchant for pop culture that intersects with politics, Tso will either pursue reporting in Asia or continue to work in media and journalism in New York City.
“New York is the hub of everything. You realize how fortunate we are, being here. I also have been fortunate to talk with Columbia Journalism School professors, to have [the Journalism school] on my campus and be able to use the resources as an undergrad,” she said.
Tso also served as photo editor and senior staff photographer for the Columbia Spectator, and belonged to the Taiwanese American Student Association; her parents are immigrants from Taiwan. As a summer intern for the University, she helped answer visitors’ questions about the undergraduate colleges. Reflecting on her years here, Tso said that she would “encourage first years to have fun and live in the moment. Columbia students are overachievers in high school. Trying to focus on finding your niche or being the best can make you miserable,” she said. “Try not to think so far ahead. Be comfortable with not knowing what your next step is, one step at a time.”
“Education isn’t just about learning all you can about a subject but becoming a better person — learn to see things with new eyes. There’s so many things I didn’t notice before. Perhaps it’s the Core realizing itself or [my professors’] amazing teaching skills, but I’m seeing the world around me for what it really is.
“The way I like to describe it is like the Guggenheim — the spiraling up. The CC journey is not a full circle, implying you’re at where you started. Instead, you find yourself on a different level and on a new beginning, another plane. Columbia has really given me, and really gives you what you need to propel you up.”