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Monday, April 15, 2024 — Houston, TX

Despite differences, Rice and Columbia share equal worth

By Shamsa Mangalji     12/3/09 6:00pm

To the 99 percent of people at Rice whom I have yet to meet: Hi. My name is Shamsa, and I'm a visiting student and sophomore who will be here for a year. Normally, I attend New York City's Columbia University.When I tell people in Houston that I live in New York City, this usually prompts eyebrow raises and incredulous gasps of "What? What are you doing here?" These queries are typically followed by long, boisterous speeches about how exciting the city is, how Times Square is the most enchanting place ever and, inexplicably, how great the street-vendor hot dogs taste. I smile politely, agreeing that New York is a fascinating city and that Columbia is an incredible university.

But since I've returned to Houston, my home, I've realized how much the Space City and Rice University actually have to offer.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my first year in New York City; I loved the fact that all I needed was a little, yellow MetroCard to hop around all over the place, at all hours and in all manners of dress. It becomes quickly apparent that the city turns everybody into a crazed, ADD maniac. One warm night (a precious phenomenon that happens approximately twice a year), I had dinner at a sushi restaurant with some buddies, participated in a Scrabble tournament with some elderly barhoppers and had my fake ID harshly denied at a salsa club. By night's end, I found myself dancing at a silent iPod rave in the middle of some park. I adored this completely spontaneous lifestyle. In New York, I could cater to my every random whim or desire.

Houston may not have the same penchant for unpredictability, but the city is wide enough to keep me exploring. I've lived in a standard, middle-class neighborhood for 19 years, and I still have yet to meet my neighbors. My most exciting days consisted of battling Houston smog and taking trips to the Galleria. As a student here, I've discovered areas I would never have imagined existed within the city, meandering through Rice Village, Downtown and Montrose, vibrant and colorful areas that make Houston seem exponentially more appealing to me.

During my time at Columbia, I found my teachers incredible, my classes amazing and my friends wonderful. I loved the diversity of my city and my school; during one walk across the urban campus, it was not uncommon to hear 12 different languages. People in the city are indelibly quirky and unique, and I fit in perfectly. More times than I'll admit, I would wander around with a friend, speaking loudly in some nonsensical language just to see if anyone would turn around. No one ever gave us a second glance.

But one thing bothered me: Everyone's New York-ADD manifested itself in different ways. One friend worked long hours as a waitress in her free time. Some friends chose to set up camp in the library 28 hours a day. Some were concert-hoppers or museum whores. And some people, myself included, just spent most of their time meandering agape around the city, taking in the sights, smells and sounds. We were all over the place, all the time. Simply getting in touch with friends was a huge task in and of itself, because everyone's schedule changed daily. If I didn't tell my best friends to "meet me at this pole at 4:27 p.m.," I would lose all hope of seeing them that day.

Rice, however, is a different story - here, the campus and the city are not one and the same. The college system fosters a comfy, family-style atmosphere with the cozy servery dinners and hilarious college nights. And I've noticed that many students here are different: While New York City is prone to throw even the most low-key person into manic stress mode, Rice kids, I've noticed, take some time to relax. You don't sprint to class, you stroll.

Many conversations with city-stressed students in New York consisted of them talking about how much studying they had left to do. Prime example: One day, I was dancing with some kid at a club by campus. Apparently, he had decided that the best way to "get to know me a little better" was to whisper seductively in my ear that he came to the club even though he hadn't started his 80-page paper due the next day.

That "bad boy" vibe was extremely appealing, let me tell you.

Fortunately, no one has attempted to dust off that pick-up line here at Rice. Even though people work extremely hard, they make time for fun. While schoolwork is surely a major part of campus life, schoolwork isn't life: Lots of Rice students I've met refuse to forget that there's still a life to live.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not bashing New York or Columbia in the slightest. My main point is that Rice's incredible, community-centered ethic is completely foreign to me, since I'm so accustomed to Columbia's hectic, city-as-campus feel.

Houston and New York - and, by degrees, Rice and Columbia - simply have different atmospheres. One is spontaneous; the other is relaxed.

Despite what some may think, Rice has just as much value, just as much worth, as Columbia.

And who says I can't speak a nonsensical language here? Isn't that what college nights are for?

Shamsa Mangalji is a visiting student from Columbia University.

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