"Mr. Che Chan, is that correct?" I watch the coordinator typing, and I wonder how many times I have heard my name uttered that way. My identity sounds unfamiliar. In the US, people call someone by their first name, then the family name. So for a Hongkonger, it's like hearing your name being spoken backwards.
"Columbia University … from Hong Kong. How long have you been here?" "Nine months."
Yes. I have been here for nine months: longer than a normal exchange period for an overseas student, yet less than visiting (usually one year). To be honest, a year ago, I didn't even know I would be studying full-time overseas for a joint degree.
I remember receiving the letter informing me that I would be among the first group of CityU students to transfer to Columbia University, where I would continue studying economics. I was so happy, yet uncertain and anxious at the same time.
"How do you find Columbia?" "Well…" It is a hard question. The moment I stepped off the plane at JFK Airport, New York, last July, I was sure I was ready for the next chapter of my college education. But I was not sure what to expect from an Ivy League college. Nevertheless, Columbia did not disappoint me.
I turned up to my first class without any materials, with the lecturer instead walking us through new concepts, debating the definition of probability and gauging our understating of Plato and Kant.
From then on, we've been expected to have prepared fully for each class, with a reading list that includes 50 books, 20 journal articles and a textbook. Preparation for my econometrics module involved completing 20 chapters with 40 exercise questions each.
Columbia students have a saying: "play hard and work extremely hard."
I study alongside students with part-time jobs as Wall Street analysts, a fencing team champion, and a teaching assistant by day; and there are parties, networking opportunities, drinking, and hanging out at night.
Everyone seems ambitious and yet they enjoy being college students.
It's important to leave the library and explore what New York City has to offer.
As well as global banking firms, the city has its famous Upper East Side, where you can find nightclubs, Michelin-starred restaurants and high-end designer brands.
That's just Manhattan, though: you can't ignore the non-mainstream fashion of Brooklyn, passionate Chinese cooks in Queens, alternative lifestyles and exotic food in The Bronx, and a sense of nature on Staten Island.
Since joining Columbia, I have become more focused, mature and organised.
Being studious is important, but it isn't everything. I've also benefitted from being in a stimulating new environment and inspiring peers.
"Alright, we are done. You should receive your New York ID card within 10 business days."
The voice of the coordinator brings me back from my thoughts.
"Enjoy your stay here in New York!"
"Thanks!" I smile back at her.