Across Two Continents, An Education Brought to Life By a Sense of Place

2023 Grad Profile: Isabella Noonen ‘23GS shares how diving into the opportunities offered by two great cities, Dublin and New York, made her time at GS an exuberant adventure.

April 28, 2023

Isabella Noonen ‘23GS, a graduating senior majoring in European Studies and History, shares how the vibrancy of Dublin and New York immeasurably enriched her GS experience. 

Tell us about your path to GS!

I learned about the then-brand-new Dual BA Program between Trinity College Dublin and Columbia University a week after I submitted what I had thought would be my last college application. My first thought was: Is this real? And then: I can really study at two universities, on two continents, in two of my favorite cities in the world? I knew I had to apply.

At Trinity, I majored in European Studies, which for me meant a grab bag of history, politics, and French and Russian language classes. During holiday breaks, I loved being able to take 15 euro flights, bunk at youth hostels, and spend time in all these cities we had just talked about in class. 

During COVID-19, I ended up taking a gap year during what was supposed to be my first year at Columbia. I did a Russian language exchange program online from my family home in Nevada in the middle of the night due to the time difference. For a while, I was worried I would regret my gap year, but now I feel so lucky—when I finally arrived in New York a year later than planned, the city was in the midst of reopening! Here at Columbia I’m majoring in history and planning to complete a concentration in Russian language and culture. I love New York and Morningside Heights; my thesis, many of my essays, and most of the articles I’ve written as a writer for the “Columbia Spectator” (Spec) and Deputy Editor for its longform magazine “The Eye” have to do with the city and campus history. 

What has been your proudest accomplishment at Columbia?

Finishing my senior history thesis! It’s by far the longest piece of academic writing that I’ve ever completed, and I learned so much about archival research, peer feedback, and simply figuring out how to manage a project that huge along the way. My first and second readers—Rhiannon Stephens and Thai Jones of the Department of History—were so helpful and encouraging, even when I myself had no idea where my argument was going! I was also lucky enough to find a topic that genuinely fascinated me: The underground hippie newspapers of 1960s New York City, a focus that combined my passion for journalism with my love of the city and its history. Working on this thesis meant many long days of research and writing, looking at my word count and wondering “why hasn’t that number gone up at all?!?,” and triple-checking which of 10 books a certain quote was pulled from…but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

What are some classes or groups that have contributed the most to your Columbia experience?

When I moved to a gradually-reopening New York in the summer of 2021, the first class that I took was the “Summer Ecosystem Experience for Undergraduates NYC,” a course about agroecology, the study of ecological processes as applied to agriculture. In practice, this meant taking a bunch of field trips to farms across the Hudson Valley and New Jersey, making it an incredibly fun and fitting re-introduction to academia after a year of quarantine. Our instructor, Amanda Caudill, was so engaging and planned many memorable things for us to do. I picked berries, I petted a cow: Lifelong memories!

The course also stands out because about half of the students were in GS—a higher proportion than most of my other classes. A few of my agroecology cohorts were in the Dual BA with Sciences Po, so they were able to answer my questions about agriculture in France. Other classmates contributed what they had learned from their careers before starting at GS, like a classmate who had worked as a chef shared what he had learned about sustainability while working in a professional kitchen. Though I hadn’t anticipated it going in, the class ended up being such a lovely introduction to the GS community.

At Columbia, I have also enjoyed being part of Spec, and love all of my friends I’ve made here, especially the roommates I’ve had at Nussbaum (600 West 113th Street, Columbia Residential). Everyone here is just so interesting, passionate about what they do, and have such fascinating life stories.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I plan to go to grad school eventually—writing my thesis didn’t scare me away from my dreams of entering a history Ph.D. program! But first I want to take some time to explore the real world outside of academia.

What advice would you give to a student who's about to start their GS journey?

Your time as an undergraduate will go by a lot quicker than you think, especially for those in the Dual BA who only have two years in Morningside Heights. Particularly for people who are new to New York, make sure to get out of the Columbia bubble. There are beaches, forests, and so many great city parks (Riverside and Central Park are great, but check out Prospect, Van Cortlandt, and Inwood Hill too!), all an hour or less away by transit. Also take advantage of all the free museum entries, discount theater and movie tickets, and other student perks. Columbia can be stressful during even the best of times, so give yourself permission to take a break and enjoy the city!