A year in the life of a Barnard student:
Since fall 2017, when they were fresh-faced first-years new to Barnard’s gates, students from the Class of 2021 have been candidly sharing their experiences at the College in this series. Some entered as introverts and others as part of a legacy of Barnard graduates; regardless, their transformations, from one year to the next, are evidence of the supportive community Barnard fosters, which enables students to grow beyond their expectations.
[Cover photo: Phanesia Pharel '21 performing in Revolt, She Said, Revolt Again—on campus.]
In this next installment of students getting honest, Ellie Harrison, Colette Juran, Phanesia Pharel, and Agie Neneh Sissoho unveil what their second year at Barnard was like, after each semester wrapped.
Summer highlights: I worked at a camp in Maine, where I spent my days teaching kids ukulele and watching them become confident enough to try new things. I feel more confident in myself and in my choices.
No sophomore slump: I want a blank-slate start. Last year was rough, and I want to give myself the space to come back to campus and say, “Yes, that happened, but this is a new year.”
Second-year insights: The biggest difference between this year and last is that I’m no longer scared of the big-university vibes or New York crowds. I struggled with trying to find where I fit in in these two gigantic and competitive places, but now I care less about finding that place so much as making a space for myself.
Note to first-year self: I’d tell freshman Ellie to breathe and think of what she wants, not what she feels boxed into doing because of who she was in high school. This is your moment to branch out. If you can fall gracefully, then you don’t need a giant safety net.
Summer highlights: I spent two weeks in Greece, which gave me the opportunity to reunite with family members that I hadn’t seen in five years and sparked a desire to reconnect to my roots. Additionally, I trained new moderators for Columbia’s chapter of Lean In, which helped me develop leadership and time management skills. I also studied for the LSAT.
No sophomore slump: I am really excited to be an editorial intern at Popular Mechanics, which I read a lot as a child. The magazine’s articles about space helped me develop an interest in astrophysics, so being able to contribute to a magazine that impacted me as a young individual is really rewarding. I am enjoying the Writer’s Process class for Writing Fellows in Training, which enables me to learn from my peers.
Second-year insights: I know how to navigate my schedule, plan my time, and use my resources to best support my learning. The reading I am doing for Comparative Literature, Writer’s Process, and Theoretical Foundations for Political Economics have awakened my interest in creative writing and philosophy, and I plan to experiment in both my writing and my thinking this semester. My friends at Barnard and Columbia are so encouraging; I’m lucky to have them.
Note to first-year self: Take advantage of all the guidance that is available. As a first-year, you have an amazing and thorough support system, making it the optimal time to experiment. Check out Beyond Barnard, and get to know your professors. Joining clubs and organizations helped me discover interests that were important to me. Lastly, pay attention to your health and be kind to yourself.
Summer highlights: Going to Italy and Paris with Barnard’s summer programs was amazing. In Italy, I performed with the Barnard-Columbia Chorus and spent a month in Paris translating and watching French theatre [as part of the study abroad program with senior associate in German and language program coordinator Irene Motyl-Mudretzkyj and senior lecturer in French Laurie Postlewate]. I am Haitian American and have been learning French for 13 years.
No sophomore slump: I am excited to write the lyrics for XMAS!13 (the secular spectacular musical that premieres on the last day of the fall semester), to work as the SGA representative for arts and culture, and to intern at the Writopia Lab.
Second-year insights: I’m a little less angsty but more attentive to my growth and happiness and dedicated to my dreams.
Note to first-year self: Be forgiving. The first year is a tough one full of adjustments.
Summer highlights: Working in a clinical research lab at the hematology and oncology department at Columbia University Irving Medical Center was one of the most meaningful summers of my life. I learned about myelodysplastic syndrome from researchers and witnessed doctors’ interactions with patients, learned about DNA extraction from bone marrow, and more — all valuable information as I continue on the premed track.
No sophomore slump: I started my volunteer opportunity as a patient navigator at Bellevue Hospital Center. I will provide the medicine/geriatrics clinics with assistance in coordinating patient care and connecting patients with resources. This program will allow me to get exposure to what premed life looks like.
Second-year insights: Freshman year, I was introverted because I was conscious of being in a new community and away from home. Now, I am more willing to express myself and surer of my goals.
Note to first-year self: Accept the changes that will happen in your life. Do not focus too much on one thing.
Second year: It’s been hectic and crazy, but an adventure. I work three different sitting jobs off campus, with kids and dogs. On campus, I’m involved with McAC’s wellness committee. For spring, I returned home to Switzerland and visited Wales. I learned how to knit, bake bread by hand, and I have a windowsill of plants. I also declared my major in art history.
A year later: I feel self-reliant and that I have a better concept of what I want to do when I leave school. I have a better understanding of the City’s intricacies.
My Barnard: I have met many amazing people through my art history class, and [professor of art history] Anne Higonnet made that class one of my favorites to date.
Pushing through: Balancing campus, city, and home life has been my biggest challenge. I like to just go and do as much as possible while doing my best, and that is exhausting. I’ve learned to take time for myself, even if [that means] going to bed at 10 p.m.
Second year: I switched my major from economics to comparative literature. My first semester, I started the economics track without experimenting in other disciplines, [which fast-tracked me to being] only five classes away from completing the economics major. But after taking Introduction to Comparative Literature with [senior lecturer] Brian O'Keeffe last fall, I realized comparative literature was perfect for me.
A year later: I am no longer a member of the Class of 2021! As of this March, I officially changed my graduation year and plan to graduate a year early, in spring 2020. This was a difficult decision because I love Barnard and have grown so much here, but graduating early makes sense for my future plans.
Pushing through: My biggest challenge this year was time management. My first semester this year, I interned, worked two different jobs on campus, enrolled in five courses, and served as president of a student organization. I’ve since learned better about myself, as a worker and as a student, and I am now more respectful of my personal limits.
Second year: During my trip to Paris last summer, I met one of my best friends. I also wrote a full-length play, titled Lucky, which was staged through NOMADS this semester, and won the Brandt Playwriting Award. Being in Paris as a Haitian-American woman — because of the trauma of French colonialism — was an interesting experience that was also rejuvenating.
A year later: I wanted to focus on enjoying and tackling the theatre major, spending time with my friends, and exploring the resources in the Media Center.
My Barnard: I am building relationships with professors, and I am a lot more in touch with my creativity and ambitions as a performer. I am also exploring other forms of creativity, such as media design and plant-based cooking.
Pushing through: [I have been telling myself to] just start the theatre major, because you want to do it.
Second year: I had a better hold of time management, as I balanced school, dance, work, and research. I had a beautiful planner that helped me stay on top of things I needed to do.
A year later: I learned to take time for my mental health and friends. I also have more confidence in who I am and why I am here. At the beginning of sophomore year, I started to wonder if Barnard picked the wrong Agie. But I got over that feeling because I know I belong here.
My Barnard: My favorite experience this year was Afropolitan. Having an event that has black people come together, as we celebrate our talents, culture, and laughter, was refreshing and made me feel happy about the people I have met here.
Pushing through: Imposter syndrome was the biggest challenge, but attending Women of Color meetings and having lunch with my friends and discussing our futures made me feel refreshed. Thanks to these groups, I realize I cannot control everything.