Q and A: Aliza Goldberg, Global Scholar

August 14, 2013


Aliza Goldberg
Age: 21
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Major: English/Creative Writing
Degree and completion date: 2014

Aliza was one of thirteen competitively selected undergraduates spent three weeks this summer in Beijing, China, and three weeks in Santiago, Chile, as part of the 2013 Columbia University Global Scholars Program Summer Research Workshop. She is a rising Barnard senior majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing.


What prompted you to seek this opportunity at the center?

At Barnard I often compare two works by the same author, two authors who discuss the same theme, or two artists conveying the same idea. I hoped to broaden my academic perspective by delving into issues common to two foreign countries and compare how each one approaches its problems.

In a classroom setting, most students learn about the theories of economics and political science in textbooks.  What interested me the most is how these theories actually affect the people within these different types of government and economic systems.  Theory and reality are often very different.  The fieldwork in Beijing and Santiago would illuminate the disparity.  I wanted to see how economic and sociopolitical concerns present themselves in both countries.  The Global Scholars Program allowed for exploration not only of national politics but also of local governments and the role they play.


What was the major attraction for you?

I became interested in Beijing after spending the summer of 2012 in Hanoi, Vietnam funded by a Weatherhead Undergraduate Training Grant.  Not only is it apparent that Vietnamese culture is influenced by the Chinese, but China has played an important role in Vietnam’s history.  Studying Vietnamese for two years and living in Vietnam both as a student and as an intern at the U.S. Embassy allowed me to see first hand the role China plays in Asian affairs and therefore understanding China is crucial to understanding Asia.  Studying in Beijing would further and complement my understanding of Vietnam.     

Comparing the issues of a large communist country like China to those of a much smaller democratic country like Chile would bring to light the challenges faced by each of these very different countries.  I was interested in issues of labor rights, censorship, intellectual property, and the problem of income disparity in the context of the great economic changes taking place, and I wanted to study this further by having the opportunity to speak directly to people in each country.


How did your experience meet or exceed your expectations?

I was astonished by how many places we visited.  Most of our mornings and afternoons were devoted to site visits.  We had the opportunity to speak to many high level officials, such as the deputy manager of a famous Chinese company, Tencent, and the former president of Chile, Ricardo Lagos.  At every meeting we had ample opportunity to ask questions and everyone treated us with respect.


What were the one or two highlights for you from your time here?

I learned so much outside of the classroom.  I would discuss the previous night's readings at breakfast with my professor or compare sociological observations with friends over dinner.  More specifically, I enjoyed our parallel visits to Teach For China and Enseña Chile, as well as our industry visits to a Chinese pharmaceutical and a Chilean slaughterhouse.


What tips do you suggest to students embarking on this program in the future?

Discuss impressions and ideas with your classmates.  Arrive on time.  Try everything.  Be curious.  Observe the details.


What is your career goal?

I am participating in the Columbia School of International and Public Affairs' five year program, which means that I begin my master's degree while a senior at Barnard.  I will study international security policy and hope to become a Foreign Service Officer.


How did this experience have an impact on that goal, if at all?

Working at the US State Department often involves comparative research and cultural analyses.  Learning about the political structures of China and Chile and their contemporary issues provided me with tools I can use as a Foreign Service Officer.  Additionally, my final research report on the role of media in political development interested me so much that I plan to continue studying the topic further at SIPA.