Report from Columbia University

by Risa Shibata

It has already been two months since I started my master’s degree program here at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) at Columbia University. As I am participating in a dual master’s degree program, I completed my first year at the Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Tokyo last year, and I am currently pursuing my second year at Columbia.
Since I am a dual degree student, at first I struggled with class arrangements and understanding graduation requirements to satisfy both programs. However, I am gradually beginning to settle with classes, and I also finished my mid-term exams this week. At SIPA, I have decided to major in Economic and Political Development, with a specialization in UN Studies. As many professors have background in development particularly in the realm of gender, I have been able to learn different angles of policy making. Moreover, students are also from diverse backgrounds; many with several years of job experience. Through group projects, I have also been able to incorporate so many new learnings and approaches in attaining solutions. I am also excited to start my graduation project soon, where students work in groups to find solutions to projects for international organizations, NGOs, or consulting groups. In addition to classroom learning, the practical experiences offered here have been eye-opening.
In addition to classes, the school has also been an amazing place in extending external academic opportunities to students. During the first week of the United Nations General Assembly, global leaders all gathered in New York, and I was also able to attend side events both at the United Nations and at Columbia University. One of the highlights for me was being able to attend a side event on social inequality and famine in Sub-Saharan Africa, where Presidents and Prime Ministers of the area gathered for a talk and debate on the matter. I was able to gain so much insights from the event, as I previously did not have much knowledge on social inequality in Africa. My stereotypical image of the term was more relevant in countries such as China and India, but through the talk, I also learned that the social inequality issue in Sub-Saharan Africa is also detrimental.
Another exciting event for me was being able to attend a talk by Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono. His speech involved views on Japanese diplomacy and I was most impressed by his warm and friendly character. I also had an opportunity to talk to him directly after the event, and he consulted me with his own experience as a student studying in the U.S.
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Ito Foundation U.S.A and Friends of UTokyo, Inc. for providing me with an outstanding opportunity to study at Columbia University. The experience so far has been invaluable, and will continue to cherish each and every moment. What I have learned and acquired will surely be an asset to my future endeavors, and I am excited to continue my year here at Columbia.