Columbia Alumni Gather to Launch Fourth Version of “Stories of a Chilean in New York”

January 20, 2022

Four Columbia alumni came together in a webinar to reminisce of their times while living and studying in New York, within the context of the launch of the fourth book in the series "Relatos de un Chileno en Nueva York" (Stories of a Chilean in New York), which narrates the adventures of Roberto Romero and his life in NY as a student at Columbia University.

“NY is fascinating, monstrous and a movie set all at the same time. Few cities can make you, without ever having been there, look around and it feels strangely familiar because you’ve seen it somewhere before,” said Rodrigo Mayorga (TC'20), the author of the book, with a PhD in Anthropology and Education from Teachers College; and founder and CEO of Momento Constituyente.

At the same time, “the NY of today is no longer the one I lived in and you can no longer go back to that NY. I’m an historian and [with the book] we are also doing an historical exercise of learning and processing what my life was there,” he added.

The webinar participants lived in NY at different points in time. Marcos Singer (SEAS'96), a professor at the Universidad Católica School of Business, with a PhD in Operations Research from Columbia Engineering, having studied at Columbia between 1992 and 1996, said that the book brought back memories. “They’re familiar stories, yet different from my own experience,” he said. “I was basically studying applied mathematics at the School of Engineering, and I had Indian, Russian, Chinese classmates, and one had to explain the most basic of things regarding Chile. It made me feel very provincial,” he remembered.

In turn, the historian and creator of the “Historiadicta” podcast, Ximena Vial (GSAS'16), who at Columbia studied a Master’s in Museum Anthropology, was living in NY when Donald Trump was elected president. “We didn't turn on the TV until suddenly we began to feel in the environment that something was happening that no one expected. That was an important lesson for us,” she said. “If you have a certain political affinity, you choose a certain university, a certain city and it was shocking to experience that in Columbia because the professors did not teach the next day, there was a general feeling of mourning, with people crying in the street.”

The latest panelist to study in NY was the journalist Muriel Alarcón (JN'20), Master in Science and Health Journalism, who lived in NY during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. “I was finishing my master’s and I decided to stay in NY… The pandemic was like a big scientific story that I always wanted to see, covered by different media. It was like real-time schooling for me, in how the journalists and editors responded to that uncertainty… It was a very much scared NY, it was the epicenter of the pandemic and no one could escape it,” she recalled.

The event was moderated by Vivian Fosk, Finance and Operations Manager at the Santiago Center, who herself lived for several years in New York.