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What Were You Like When You Arrived At Columbia?

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For years now, Columbia College Today's series "Take Five" has been asking this question of every alumni it speaks with. As the summer creeps towards Labor Day and a return to school for current students, we've picked out a few of our favorite looks back at what it was like to show up on College Walk for the first time.

To come to Morningside from such a place was to drink from a firehose in basically every way.

— Simon Schwartz ’17


LaToya Tavernier ’05
LaToya Taverner

I first visited the College for an overnight visit organized by the Admissions Office. I was 17 and extremely excited. I’d wanted to attend Columbia since the fifth grade, after learning about it from my favorite show at the time, Saved by the Bell. The smartest character on the show, Jessie Spano, attended Columbia and because I was a “smart girl” I had to attend Columbia, too. Despite having a neglectful student host, I explored campus and Morningside Heights on my own and became even more sure the College was where I belonged.


Ben Philippe ’11
Ben Phillippe

Will my roommates suck? Was my admission a fluke? Will everyone be cartoonishly rich? Did everyone here already read The Iliad in high school? Should I get an internship right away? What does “making connections” even mean? What in the heck is a Learned Foote? (Hi, Learned.) Can I pull off a triple major in economics, creative writing and sociology? (No.) What is “Four Loko?” Is that James Franco? Will you please get this Four Loko away from me before I vomit at the memory? Wait, what do you mean graduation is in three days? Why are all these blue-haired fiction majors now comparing Wall Street incentive packages or heading to Harvard Law? What’s a life plan? Where can I get this wrinkled graduation gown pressed in two hours? What is this salty water in my eyeballs? What’s supposed to happen next? ... Mom?


Simon Schwartz ’17
Simon Schwartz

The first thing that pretty much anyone learns about me is that I grew up on a farm in rural Virginia. It’s the defining part of my identity. To come to Morningside from such a place was to drink from a firehose in basically every way. Before Columbia, I had never lived within 15 miles of a grocery store, never took an econ or computer science class, never had a friend who identified as LGBTQ and never had any idea there was a difference between work jeans and dress jeans.

I was excited beyond measure, way over-confident and blissfully, mercifully unaware as to the vastness of all the things I didn’t know. But I knew for sure that I was ready to get after it.

I walked onto campus with a firm belief that I knew everything the College had to offer and exactly what it would throw at me. I was very wrong.

— Georgia Essig ’20


Kosta Karakashyan ’19
Kosta Karakashyan

I was arriving from my still-homophobic country, and my boyfriend at the time was waiting for me at LaGuardia. I was completely shocked and surprised that we could hold hands on the streets in the city. That first stroll was exhilarating and a little frightening, and I’ll always remember it. New York City and Columbia definitely gave me the confidence to be myself and eventually advocate for other members of the LGBTQ+ community.


Georgia Essig ’20
Georgia Essig

I showed up to Morningside Heights slightly terrified, tentatively excited and realistically overconfident. I knew nothing about Columbia — my roommate had to show me how to get from Carman to the Lawns. I was scared to make friends but thought it would be relatively easy and natural since everyone was in the same position. You can imagine how shocked I was to find out that everyone had been in group chats since getting accepted and these group chat members knew where all the parties were. Even worse were the people who didn’t have to go to the horrifying Carman parties because they had found their lifelong best friends during COOP. I walked onto campus with a firm belief that I knew everything the College had to offer and exactly what it would throw at me. I was very wrong. Despite my tough arrival, everything I had hoped I would get — amazing friends, a major I was passionate about and countless irreplaceable experiences on- and off-campus — came in due time.

Like a fish out of the water. It was my first time in the U.S. — first time taking a flight, even — so everything felt like a dream.

— Alper Bahadir ’07


Derek Lipscomb ’11
Derek Lipscomb

After attending Perspectives on Diversity earlier that year, I left Cincinnati in 2007 already thinking about what I wanted to do with my first few months at the College. I had dreams of exploring all of NYC’s boroughs and being able to learn my way around, in totality, within a few weeks. I was wrong. At the time, I could not fathom just how large the city is; while I thought I was really trekking by taking the 1 train to Houston and walking around, I realized it would take me a solid year to get my full bearings in the labyrinth known as the MTA. I remember taking the V train in the wrong direction on a random Sunday afternoon and ending up in Queens, and then deciding to have lunch in Long Island City. It felt like I was truly embarking on a four-year adventure and I was happy I could take my time to enjoy it.


Alper Bahadir ’07
Alper Badir

Like a fish out of the water. It was my first time in the U.S. — first time taking a flight, even — so everything felt like a dream. I had arrived a week early to participate in a pre-orientation community service program (Columbia Urban Experience), but because my flight was delayed I missed the intro meeting. I didn’t have a cellphone (you’d be amazed what an international student has to go through to get one of those, even today) and I had no idea where to go. I was literally pacing the quad trying to figure out what to do when I walked by two people and overheard one ask, ‘Whatever happened to that Turkish guy?’ ‘I’m here, I’m here!’ I screamed, and I hugged my saviors. I’m still grateful to all my CUE friends for keeping me alive that whole week and helping get me settled.


Sasha de Vogel ’09, GSAS’13
Sasha De Vogel

My older sister advised me that during the first month of school I should try to hang out with people I thought were cooler than I was, and that advice saved me. It helped that there were a lot of cool people to choose from. Within the first two weeks of school, I had secured an abjectly terrible fake ID, had a panic attack at a concert while using it, been kicked in the head during a capoeira demonstration at a meeting of Students for Economic and Environmental Justice, broken onto the roof of at least one campus building, gotten Kanye West to sign my copy of The College Dropout and had a guy hit on me by name-dropping my favorite Situationist philosopher. I decided I would give Columbia the benefit of the doubt.

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Do you remember what it was like to show up at Columbia for the first time? With fall approaching and students getting ready to start another year at the College, we want to hear the memories of your arrival. Join the conversation on our Instagram, Facebook, or simply email your response to us here!