School: Columbia University
Why choose/Application process
I chose this particular program because it offered the opportunity to live and study in two of the most exciting cities in the world, one semester in New York and the following semester in Paris. Having grown up in the South and going to a North Carolina university, this represented an entirely new experience for me. In addition, my desire to pursue a Master’s of Architecture degree made this program a good fit for the chance it gave me to experience what spending a year studying architecture at a graduate level would be like.
This program is on a rolling admissions basis and anyone can apply with no prerequisites required. It is run by the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University. I applied to the program in late July after completing their summer architecture program which was pretty late in the game but still got in. Though I don’t know how selective the program is for sure, I would guess that it isn’t as selective as a school like Columbia would seem to project.
As I had already graduated with a Bachelor’s in Art History and Visual Arts, I didn’t really have to worry as much about fulfilling graduation requirements with the classes I took in this year-long program. There are one of two sections to which you can apply to in this program, architecture and urban planning. The majority of students were in the architecture side with urban planning consisting only of five out of the approximately thirty students in the program. There was a set schedule given to us though one could choose to opt out of some of the classes in the program to take classes offered through the greater university.
With that said, the composition of students in this program was widely varied. A good number consisted of college juniors taking the program to study abroad as well as fulfill graduation requirements while the others consisted of students like me who had just graduated the past year while others had graduated many years ago and had been in the work force. As much as I hate to stereotype, many of the students tended to fall under the artsy/intellectual type which isn’t my cup of tea despite what my undergraduate degree would suggest. Yet, most everyone was friendly and open.
If you do choose to enter this program, be prepared to find your own housing, both in Manhattan and Paris. This was definitely not an enjoyable experience. Since housing is so limited in Manhattan, there is no way Columbia is offering its valuable campus housing to students in this year-long non-degree study abroad program. Columbia does, however, offer to set you up with an organization called New York Habitat that finds you a place according to your preferences and Columbia pays up to 300 dollars of the agency fees. From what I heard from fellow students, NY Habitat was, on the whole, terrible. Places the offer often did not take into account students’ preferences.
I ended up going on Craigslist and luckily found a decent place in Harlem for $875/month with utilities and wireless included which is pretty good for Manhattan. I lived with a 36 year-old woman who worked as a free-lance makeup artist and her two cats. We got along extremely well and I even got used to her cats, which often woke me up in the early morning due to the fact that my “room” was really just a part of her living room that she had sectioned off with a curtain. I got used to that as well. Washer and dryer were located in the basement which was somewhat of a pain but the place was within a 20 minute walk to campus. There were a lot of roaches though which is to be expected if you’re in Manhattan so get used to it. On the whole, the living situation worked out well for me, but it definitely depends on what kind of person you are and how adaptable you can be.
Finding housing in Paris was an even bigger pain. You could still use NY Habitat if you chose for this as well. Luckily for me, I had agreed to live with another student from the program so we could divide the work between us. There are numerous websites with listings for Parisian apartments for long and short term rent. As it turned out, he did most of the work because he got to Paris before me and stayed in a hostel while searching for our apartment. By the time I arrived, he had found a place right in the heart of Paris, a one bedroom flat on the fifth floor of a building in St. Michel near Notre Dame Cathedral. Luckily for us, our landlord was an extremely amiable man who did everything to accommodate us, even getting a pull out couch so one of us could sleep in the living room. The cost came out to be 1500 euros/month split between the two of us with cable and wireless included but not utilities. This was very good especially considering the incredible location we lived in. There was always something happening on the street below us with tons of people all around us. It was the best way to experience Paris as we were pretty much thrown into the heart of it.
Food in NYC and Paris are out of this world incredible. Both are excellent, but of course, extremely different. I am a big fan of sushi and in New York, I was never disappointed. Sushi in Paris, on the other hand, is a different story. I went to a sushi place in Paris just out of curiosity and it was bad and highly overpriced especially taking into account the terrible exchange rate while I was there, approximately 1.6 dollars to 1.0 Euro at its worst. Anyways, I found some great eateries while living in Manhattan and they spanned a very diverse mix of cultural cuisine. Of course, it goes without saying that if you’re craving some authentic Asian or Italian food, then just head down to Chinatown, Koreatown, or Little Italy. I really enjoyed all the great dim sum I ate in Chinatown. There are also a few great restaurants up around the Columbia campus from a hole in the wall burrito place to a pretty fancy Cuban restaurant. Also, there is a lot of Asian fusion places scattered throughout.
Living in Harlem though, I can’t forget to mention the great soul food I had there and there are a number of them around. And definitely the fried chicken was great. There was a Popeye’s a block away from my apartment. Last but not least, I can’t forget to mention all those mobile food carts that seem to reside at every street corner in Manhattan. They’re definitely great if you’re on the run and need a quick bite but if you have time, there are also definitely a number of jewels to be discovered amongst these mobile food carts. Perhaps the best and most famous of all is the chicken n’ rice stand located at 53rd and 6th Ave. On any given day, after a long night of partying in the city, this is where you go if you’ve got a craving for chicken and rice. You’ll find all sorts of people here including many celebrities.
With the former undisputed welterweight champion, Zab Judah
The food in Paris is almost as good. I would give the edge to NYC just because of the diversity of the cuisine. As it turned out, I never cooked and always ate out in New York but ended up cooking most of the time in Paris. This was partly due to the terrible exchange rate of the dollar while I was in Paris. I would buy groceries and more often than not, make myself a baguette sandwich filled with salami, chorizo, prosciutto, peppers, tomato, and cheese. This was perhaps the quintessential French food to eat and it was damn good.
Not exactly what I described, but a glimpse of other food.
There is also an endless array of doner kebab places littered throughout Paris and I lived directly above one of the best. While in NYC, the late night food of choice was chicken and rice, but here in Paris, it’s definitely the doner. These kebab sandwiches could be incredible especially when you have a craving for them. Also, I can’t forget about all the tasty crepes I had while there, perhaps the best of them being sold in and around the Mouffetard area. There is also a great outdoor paella market located on Rue de Rivoli which is open only on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The area I lived in, St. Michel, definitely had some of the best restaurants and bars around on the whole. For fine dining, if you have the money, definitely try out the restaurant at the top of Centre Pompidou. At night, dining here will offer you one of the best views in Paris. The lights of Paris are an incredible sight and its worth the experience at least once but definitely be prepared to shell out a hefty amount on the food if not the drinks. Lastly, I did manage to find some very good authentic Chinese food as well though it wasn’t where I had expected. Paris does have a so-called Chinatown constituted by a loose grouping of Asian restaurants, not just Chinese. Lacking the density of NYC Chinatown, the Parisian Chinatown definitely didn’t have the same feel but offered some decent food nevertheless. The really great authentic Chinese food I found was located elsewhere, but unfortunately its exact location escapes my memory, hopefully to be found by you.
Nothing beats NYC nightlife. Of course it boasts some of the most exclusive nightclubs in the world and getting in is really just a matter of knowing someone. Also, a general rule is to always have at least half and half girls to guys, but having more girls in your group is best. Even then, you might not get in or if they do let you in, you need to get hundreds of dollars worth of bottle service. A lot of these more exclusive clubs are located in the Meatpacking District near Chelsea in lower Manhattan. Getting into Marquee meant having to get 900 dollar bottle service for five people.
I really enjoyed Cielo and Pacha where some of the world’s best DJs spin and one can often buy tickets beforehand to ensure getting in. There are also tons of great bars littered throughout Manhattan. The Lower East Side was one of my favorite places to get a drink. The area around Columbia really isn’t all that great for nightlife so if you plan on going out and having a good time, plan on heading down to Midtown and Lower Manhattan. Meeting resident Columbia students was somewhat hard unless you already knew someone attending Columbia as an undergraduate or graduate student. The one good thing for meeting some of the students in the architecture school is every Friday when the school hosts an event called six on six where they have kegs and snacks on the sixth floor of Avery Hall at six o’clock. This can be an opportunity to meet students outside your program as well as a good pre-game for hitting up the city later.
Going out in NYC and Paris definitely requires a bit more planning than other places. Transportation via subway or taxi is easy but getting into places you want to get into is another story so be prepared. Also, it is a good idea to pre-game well and even bring along some road pop for drinking on the way so you’re good and toasty when you get to the venue. This applies to both NYC and Paris. This allows you to buy a few beers at the club/bar to have a good time without overspending as drinks in both cities are ridiculously overpriced.
Nightlife in Paris was quite an experience as well. As I mentioned before, the area I lived in had some great bars. There was an Irish bar right below me that I would go to when big football (soccer that is) games were on. There are some good Canadian bars around as well that I frequented since my roommate was Canadian. Finding a great underground bar by accident is really the way to go and I found some great ones including an incredible sangria bar in Odeon. A great nightclub I lived right beside was called Wagg. Having been there a few times, it was definitely fun and the music was a good mix. The club gained notoriety as the place where Jim Morrison spent his last hours. Other great clubs I frequented most were Mix Club and Duplex. There were Erasmus parties every Tuesday at Duplex and every Thursday at Mix Club. These parties are for exchange students and you can get in without paying cover with a student ID card and before midnight or 1 am. Another good place to go is Favella Chic, a Brazilian nightclub. Though it could get way too crowded, it’s still a fun time. The exclusivity of clubs and bars in Paris is really hit and miss. You’ll really have to see for yourself.
Having never lived in a large city, NYC and Paris were definitely new for me. I got used to NYC pretty quickly. It had a much faster pace but that was to be expected. I felt pretty comfortable in Paris as well though there was a much bigger change from a cultural standpoint. People weren’t unfriendly as the stereotypes often state. In all, I learned to adapt to the cultural difference fairly quickly.
I had taken French in high school but it had been five years since I studied it. While living in Paris, I knew enough to get by but not enough to carry on a conversation and it was definitely harder to understand real French people speak as the speed they speak at is a lot faster. I didn’t encounter any significant problem from the language barrier as a lot of people knew at least some elementary English in Paris.
French people are definitely way more stylish than Americans. If you’re in public in Paris, you would never be caught in sweatpants unless you want to be singled out as an uncultured American. Parisian girls are, on average, hotter than American girls. At least when it comes to putting themselves together, they have much better presentation skills. And one striking difference is that there really are no obese people like in America. Most everyone is thin or normal. This is the most noticeable difference.
The café culture predominates throughout Paris. Sitting outside at a café enjoying a drink on any given day is the norm even when it is cold out. Football is of course very popular as well. Paris St. Germain is the local team and it’s pretty cheap to get a ticket for their games at the Parc des Princes stadium.
When the weather warms up, Parisians flock to their parks and sit or lay in the grass enjoying the day and sipping some wine. Wine is quintessentially Parisian and is more common than water. It’s cheaper too so be prepared for indulging in some great wines.
Some random pictures around Paris!
Traveling within Europe is really easy. I took trips to Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Malta, and the Netherlands. Most of the time I just flew on RyanAir, a really cheap discount airline, though taking the train to Amsterdam was very comfortable and a great way to see the European countryside. I stayed in hostels everywhere I went except Malta. Hostels are generally the cheapest lodging you can find and the best way to meet other travelers. It goes without saying that if you’re living in Europe for an extended period of time, it is a must to travel around a bit as everything is so closely knit. Different cultures and new experiences are a stone’s throw away so don’t miss out.
Interesting Swedish meal
Only daytime picture!
Seems like there are only tourists and old people in Venice…
15 Euro Gelato!
In a castle…
I bought a nice leather jacket in Paris and some perfume and booze for my parents but that’s about it for souvenirs. Not much into souvenirs but you could probably find some great stuff if you look.
Sweltering hot in NYC first two weeks then got progressively colder. Paris was rainy and cloudy for about the first few months but once spring came in and the sun came out, Paris is a different city. Beautiful beyond belief.
An experience of a lifetime.