Dahlberg ’93 Says Columbia was “the Center of the Universe”

Jennifer A Dahlberg


Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg ’93 is a writer based in Stockholm. Prior to moving “way up north” in 1997, she was an executive search consultant for Korn/Ferry International. Life as an expat motivated Dahlberg to pursue her love of writing; her first novel, Uptown and Down, was published by Penguin/NAL in 2005. She spent the next decade researching and writing her second book, Lagging Indicators, which was released independently in 2018. Her third novel, Summer on Nornö, will be translated into Swedish and published this year by Norstedts Förlag.

Dahlberg splits her time between an apartment in Stockholm (where she lives with her husband, Christian; daughter, Yasmine CC’23; and son, James) and a cottage in the archipelago that inspired her latest novel. She loves art exhibitions, binge-watching TV series, traveling and dancing in her kitchen. Dahlberg still misses New York City but gets her fix whenever she visits Yasmine.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

I grew up in Rockland County, about 45 minutes from Manhattan, and was one of those starry-eyed kids who always wanted to get out of the suburbs. I had dreamed of the College since I was 14 and began attending the Columbia Scholastic Press Association conferences (I wanted to be a writer/journalist/editor; anything to do with the written word). The campus took my breath away, imposing yet inspiring, full of knowledge and the dynamic energy of the city. I desperately wanted to be part of that community, so move-in day with my parents, proud Haitian immigrants who valued education enormously, was very special.

My high school was relatively homogeneous and even though I was very active, I always felt a bit removed from my peers. I was blown away by the diverse student body at Columbia and thrilled to meet other kids who had gone through a similar journey. At Orientation, we talked to everyone, eager to make connections, and that’s when I met some of my closest friends, like Diana McClure ’93 and Herby Raynaud ’97. I was also eager to explore NYC — especially clubbing downtown! I would study at Butler until midnight, rush back to my dorm, change into some crazy outfit and then go dancing at Mars or Nell’s, two clubs that ruled Manhattan nightlife at that time. I felt as though I were living in the center of the universe, both academically and socially. It was a heady, glorious period to be young and in New York City before things became so gentrified.

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived on a coed floor in Carman and roomed with another girl named Jennifer (apparently it wasn’t uncommon to end up with your namesake), but we could not have been more different. She was interested in astrophysics; I was more literary. We had different tastes in music, too, and actually played our stereos at the same time! Hers would be strumming classic rock while I blasted house music. How crazy was that?! I don’t know why we didn’t reach some sort of compromise. Carman was like a rite of passage and though the communal atmosphere could feel over-social at times, I have fond memories of people hanging out in the hallway or reading together for Lit Hum. I also had two lovely suitemates, Nicole Angiel ’93 and Rachel Mintz ’93, TC’00, on top of so many other interesting kids on my floor. Fiona Shakoor ’93 and I remained friends for many years after graduation. Rachel, who tragically passed away in 2018, was a dedicated Columbia alum and the person who got me involved with alumni activity. She is deeply missed by the Class of ’93.

What Core class or experience do you most remember, and why?

When I was at the College, the Core Curriculum was a contentious issue, criticized for its focus on “dead white men.” As such, I had a conflicting relationship with Lit Hum and CC and didn’t approach those courses with an open mind, which I regret. One need only look at society today to understand the relevance of the Hobbesian social contract. These texts aren’t static and can be discussed from different angles — for example, The Odyssey from the viewpoint of the people Odysseus intrudes upon. It’s important to not only challenge but also reframe prevailing assumptions, but I didn’t have that perspective back then! Nevertheless, Art Hum and Music Hum were my favorite Core classes. A visit to The Cathedral of St. John the Divine to see the Gothic architecture was practically a transcendent experience and when we deconstructed Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” my professor told us to close our eyes and visualize nature changing. Despite my ambivalence, I was keenly aware it was a privilege to have these opportunities.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

The Low Steps, always and forever! They represent Columbia for me and are the best spot for people-watching and hanging out. I loved when the weather warmed up and each row was filled with students, bringing a jolt of energy to campus after months of being confined indoors. I still make a point of sitting there whenever I visit. I also loved the Butler stacks and discovering old books, marked up with notes from students of yesteryear. This was pre-Google, so the process of unearthing information was very tactile and satisfying.

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I absolutely treasure my time at Columbia — it was a life-defining experience — but I also realize I did not take full advantage of it. Although the choices I made led me to where I am today, I would have spoken up more in certain classes. I would have joined more student clubs. I would have done a study abroad in Paris. If I had to do it over, I would have immersed myself more fully on campus, because those experiences cannot be replicated. Nightclubs and trendy restaurants come and go, but studying at the College can only happen at a unique moment in time. I urge every Columbian to make the most of everything the University has to offer!