Safwan Masri: letter to international students

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Dear international students,

September is an exciting time of the year at Columbia. This is the month that crackles with anticipation and lively chatter as students start a new academic year, some for the first time. Students connect to make new friends, greet old ones, and share summer stories.

This September, however, is unlike any we have ever had. As you very well know, pandemic restrictions have meant that many students will not be on campus this term, including our international students, who are such an important part of our diverse and lively community. President Lee C. Bollinger, in his recent 2020 Welcome Letter, made a point to highlight just how valuable our international students are to the University. This is especially true this fall with our international students spanning the world while taking classes remotely.

We are bringing the Columbia community to you
You are part of the Columbia community no matter where you are physically located this fall. As such, the University has made the decision to bring to you additional opportunities to connect with Columbia, your school, and other students who are, or will be, in the same city as you are.

Within the next few weeks, the University will roll out an initiative for international students that will make available our Columbia Global Centers as sites where our students may convene, collaborate, study, or just hang out with other University students for the duration of the fall term–observing physical distancing and other health and safety protocols that will be announced in due course. In addition to our Global Centers, we plan to offer students access to sites in a number of other cities around the world. There, too, will be study spaces with wifi, printers, and other technical support, and opportunities for students to feel part of a remote satellite community.

Where are the Columbia Global Centers?
The Global Centers are located in nine countries and provide the University with a worldwide network of expertise that facilitates engagement, research, and learning for students, faculty, and the public. Six of these nine Global Centers—Amman, Beijing, Istanbul, Nairobi, Paris, and Tunis—will be ready by mid-September with upgraded technology, equipment, and full-time, onsite, trained staff to receive and support international students. We hope that, by the end of the month, depending on local pandemic conditions, the same will be true for our Mumbai and Rio de Janeiro Centers. Our Center in Santiago will also be able to support the small number of students who are in-country on an individual basis.

In addition, through our anticipated partnership with WeWork, we plan to offer access to additional, dedicated space in Beijing and Mumbai to complement our existing Center space in those two cities.

Additional cities
The University also plans to provide student access to dedicated WeWork sites in additional cities where we have large numbers of students. The initial list includes Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Seoul. There are a number of other cities under consideration.

Finally, the University will provide on-the-ground support for the inaugural cohort of students who will be matriculating this fall in the dual degree program offered by the School of General Studies and Tel Aviv University, which is making dedicated space available for other Columbia students to convene on its campus.

What should international students do first?
In order to be able to access these locations, students must first fill out a quick survey of interest. This will help us ensure the rollout is successful, timely, and sensitive to where it is most needed. The assessment will give us a chance to learn more about individual and collective student interests, where students are located, which locations would be of greatest interest, and potential utilization.

We will be in touch again soon with specific guidance on how to access locations that will serve as study halls and remote satellite communities.

Thank you for taking the time to fill out the survey as immediately as possible.

Sincerely,

Professor Safwan M. Masri
Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development
Columbia University