This academic year, the Columbia College experience is taking place in all corners of the world. To help keep our community connected, we’re asking students to share their thoughts about their classes and hobbies and what they’re learning about themselves during the pandemic. This week, we speak with Rhea Sahai CC’21, a neuroscience major with a concentration in public health from McLean, Va.
What’s been your favorite class so far and why?
I took “Marginalization in Medicine” with Professor Samuel Roberts my first semester of sophomore year, and it got me interested in public health. I was pre-med before then, and that course really changed my entire trajectory as a student; Professor Roberts is an amazing teacher. I also took a remarkable public health elective seminar, “Human Nature: DNA, Race and Identity,” with Dr. Marya Pollack and [her father,] Professor Robert Pollack. What I’ve especially realized during the pandemic is that all these issues that people are talking about now, like vaccine distribution problems and inequity in health, are ones that people have been talking about for the past 10 or 15 years. Public health has never gotten more attention than it’s gotten in the past year. It’s sad because we knew that this was going to happen, but it’s good that now there’s momentum for real change. So it’s an interesting time to be studying it.
What do you like to do outside of class?
I love meeting up with friends for coffee at The Hungarian Pastry Shop; it’s one of my favorite things to do. Obviously the pandemic has changed that, but it still feels the same; it’s nice to go there because it feels like my sophomore year instead of feeling like the pandemic.
Also, I live with four people and even though I’m a terrible cook, I’ve been trying. I’m burning a lot fewer things, so I’m improving, I think!
Have you picked up any new hobbies or interests during the pandemic?
Cooking has been the big one, but outside of that, I love to read. When you’re reading 150 pages a day for school, you lose a lot of that interest. So something I’ve been enjoying is diving back into reading for fun. I started with one book last March and I’ve been reading before bed ever since.
What have you been reading/watching/listening to that you would recommend to fellow students, and why?
[The glass-blowing competition] Blown Away; it’s amazing. When my roommate first put it on, I thought, “This will be so stupid,” but now I’m obsessed with it. I follow the glassmakers on Instagram, and it’s such a fun show — I’ve been recommending it to everyone for the past month. I’m trying to slow down and enjoy it, because I have been known to bulldoze through 10 hours of TV in two days.
What’s something you learned about yourself during the pandemic?
I’ve always liked to have friends over and very much love small gatherings, but realizing that I can recreate that feeling of being together — even if we’re not physically together — has been nice, especially because I’m a senior, and when I leave Columbia I don’t know where I’ll be, and I don’t know where a lot of my friends will be. Knowing that we can keep up that sense of warmth and recreate that virtually has been a nice thing to learn.
What message would you want to send to classmates?
Something I’ve been trying to tell myself is that it’s really easy to get wrapped up in thinking about what this year should have been; I always thought about what my graduation day would be like, and obviously the reality will be very different. But [I’ve learned to] try to not focus on what I thought it could have been and focus instead on what I do have. Just because it’s different doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s lesser. We’re still able to make the memories that make college, college; it just might be a little different.