Baboons at Dusk

Reasons to Venture Out of the "Columbia Bubble"

Maia Berlow CC'18

What I study at Columbia is completely different than most of what I was studying in Kenya, but it didn’t matter.

As a junior I wasn’t convinced that studying abroad was right for me. I loved Columbia, loved my friends here, the activities I was involved in and the endless amount of classes that I could take. I was worried that if I studied abroad I would be missing out on a semester at being at this incredible university. Then walking out of class one day I saw a flier for an info session about the Kenya Field Semester. After looking a little more into the program I was convinced. Here was another way for me to take advantage of Columbia’s incredible resources, just in a very different way on a different continent. I wouldn’t be missing out on a semester of growth, I’d be in an intellectual environment, taking classes in the field and learning about research in a hands-on way.

So off to Kenya I went. My initial assumptions about study abroad being a hole in my academic and personal growth was completely wrong. During my semester I had the opportunity to design and carry out research projects on topics ranging from animal behavior to the effectiveness of HIV/AIDS prevention programs. I talked to locals about the upcoming Kenyan elections and gained an international perspective on American politics. I learned about the challenges of elephant conservation and how conservation can have negative impacts on local communities. I lay under the most exquisite night sky and learned about local mythologies surrounding the stars while looking through a telescope and hearing from astronomers about the birth of our solar system. Everything was hands on from the interviews conducted to the observation of giraffes to begin to understand why their populations might be decreasing.

What I study at Columbia is completely different than most of what I was studying in Kenya, but it didn’t matter. The small class size and incredibly close interactions with my professors and TA’s made it so that I never felt behind, and the skills I gained in research design and implementation is something that I will be able to apply to many things that I would want to pursue. It’s rare to have an opportunity that is so exciting and fun, yet challenges you to grow on many levels.