The International Student Experience

The Mailman School boasts a world-class education built on broad thinking and collaboration, deeply enriched by a diverse student body, coming from 46 states and 55 countries. 

Pathways Meet

For international students, Katelyn Yoo (HPM ’16) and Emily Wilkinson Salamea (PopFam ’16), the challenges of attending graduate school in the U.S. were outweighed by career opportunities in a field they’re both passionate about.  

Growing up all around the world – Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Canada, Kenya– Katelyn committed early in life to work in public health, and New York City was a natural choice.

 “My international framing during childhood contributed to recognizing the wide disparities between poor and rich,” Katelyn said. “Inequality, disparities in health and access to healthcare services, and corruption [have] humbled me and made me realize there was definitely something wrong with this world. This is when the pursuit began.”

Emily followed a different path, but reached the same conclusions as Katelyn. Born and raised in Ecuador, Emily moved to western New York for her undergraduate studies. She worked as a volunteer medical emergency technician in college and saw firsthand the persistent poverty and increasing medical needs of the area.

“These pressing needs demanded that I redefine my notions of health, what it encompassed, and what development meant for my community,” Emily said. “My time here, life in Ecuador, and time in Rwanda convinced me that the public health field is where I belong.”

Why Mailman?

At the Mailman School and in New York City, Katelyn and Emily have found a good fit for their passions and goals.

“There are myriad of opportunities for people who are interested in global health, international development, and foreign affairs,” Katelyn said. At Mailman, Katelyn is part of several student groups and has found that her professors to be open and excited to collaborate in research with students.

“I was able to actively engage in the community and learn through rigorous research in public health policy,” she said. “I met some of the most amazing professors at Mailman, and it has truly been my source of motivation to keep pushing myself.”

In the PopFam department, Emily turned classroom experiences into real world change both in New York and abroad during her six-month global health practicum in Palestine and Jordan. She hopes to empower people and facilitate long-term solutions through prevention, management, and a dedication to helping others.

“New York City is one the best cities for global health,” Emily said. “There are so many organizations, grassroots groups, and influential people—all on this island.”

Advice for Overcoming Challenges

Moving to New York City isn’t easy, especially for international students—getting used to a new city, experiencing a new culture, and navigating the job market are all part of the learning curve.

“For internationals, the opportunities for scholarships, grants, and jobs are very limited, or at least, much harder,” Katelyn said. As she works to overcome hurdles, Katelyn hasn’t been alone—she’s found support in peers, faculty members, and the Financial Aid Office.

Adjusting to life in the U.S. is an ongoing process, says Emily: “So many things—streets, highways, buildings, food portions [can be] a lot to take in and it still shocks me, 8 years later.” To help with the transition process, Emily recommends moving about a month or two before school starts.

Columbia’s International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) is a valuable resource for help with logistical issues and meeting other international students. Katelyn suggests visiting their office in person, actively asking for help, and attending their social events, like nights at Carnegie Hall.

Planning to stay in the U.S. and work in health policy after graduation, Katelyn encourages students to take advantage of all that Mailman has to offer: student groups, the faculty, cross-registering at other Columbia schools, and enjoying NYC.

Emily will take her public health skills back to Ecuador, her home country, and advises future international students to not be shy: “Speak up about your experiences and life in your home country – it is so necessary for other students in the U.S. to hear and know what the realities are elsewhere. Try to keep an open heart and mind, and stand up against any injustice – let your voice be heard!”

To read more about what life is like for international students at the Mailman School, check out these Student Voices blog posts, or visit the website for The Office of Diversity, Culture, and Inclusion. Other University resources include the International Students and Scholars Office, as well as the Office of University Life

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