Q&A with Third Years Imme Koolenbrander ‘25GS and Zaheer Abbas ‘25GS

As Koolenbrander and Abbas make the transition from Sciences Po to Columbia, they reflect on their Dual BA journeys so far.

September 06, 2023

For Dual BA students, their experience is shaped by not one but two transitions: first, commencing college life in France during years one and two, and then shifting to New York City for years three and four. Two acclimations make for unique challenges, but also one-of-a-kind opportunities, and it is those expansive possibilities which make the Dual BA so exceptional.

Third year students and economics majors Imme Koolenbrander ‘25GS and Zaheer Abbas ‘25GS are right in the thick of the Dual BA excitement. As they begin the New York section of their Dual BA journey, they shared what led them to the program, their takeaways so far, and what they are anticipating in the years ahead. 

What brought you to the Dual BA, and what has been the impact of your first two years in the program? 

Imme: “When I saw the program, it was simply the perfect fit for me. I knew I wanted a degree in the social sciences. I'm also Dutch and Chinese, so education in Europe was very appealing to me, and at my campus at Sciences Po, Le Havre, which specialized in Euro-Asia studies, would allow me to engage with the context I grew up in. Apart from these contextual points, I also thought it would be fun and rewarding to dive into two new countries. It's a grand adventure! With this program, I want to experience how different people around the world think, really beyond the context of a classroom.”

Zaheer: “When I was 10 years old, I created a fake country called Huda. It started off as a harmless game, but over the years I worked hard to make it very detailed and precise. Seven years down the line, it has its own wikipage. In order to take it this far, I had to read a lot about politics, economics, and the wider social sciences. I gradually grew interested in these subjects, and all the detailed work made me a better writer. It's what led to me applying to a program like this.

To be honest, I also was super interested in France because I loved Asterix comics and Airbus planes! At the same time, I wanted to fulfill the dreams my grandfather had—he wanted his grandkids to make it to an Ivy League school, and enjoy the same opportunity he had as a Cornell PhD back in the 70s—so the Dual BA Program with Sciences Po struck the right balance.

Two years later, I increasingly see how important my Dual BA experience is for my future aspirations. I think I am gaining the right experiences and skills I need for a future in public service and leadership in my time in Sciences Po and Columbia. I want to go back to my country [of Bangladesh] and lead it, and I believe my time here is equipping me with the right tools to do so.”

What are you most anticipating during your time at Columbia, and in New York City?

Imme: “I'm most looking forward to engaging with interdisciplinary learning not only to enhance my understanding of my major, but learning just for the sake of learning. I'm very interested in the arts, and I'm very excited to work on that both in class and out of class. Also being inspired—GS is definitely filled with inspiring people!”

Zaheer: “I’m most looking forward to engaging with a rich, intellectual community at Columbia that compels me to work harder, and at the same time, enjoying the diversity of experience that is offered not only by the School of General Studies, but by New York City at large. It is this mix of not only academic but social promise that excites me at Columbia, to grow holistically as a person and enjoy the fullness of its education.”

Is there a quote or piece of advice that resonates with your Dual BA journey?

Imme: “It's not one specific phrase, but the idea that your first go at anything will likely be bad, but don't let that hinder you. I think this idea can open you up to many rewarding experiences and opportunities.”

Zaheer: "An Islamic parable: a man asked the Prophet if he should tie his camel down so it cannot run away, or keep it without a leash and leave the matter up to God. The Prophet responded: you must tie the camel and leave it up to God. It's easy to say that some things are meant to happen, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't work hard to make them happen as you want it to be. Being a Columbia or Sciences Po student doesn't automatically mean you will succeed—you have to put your own hard work in!"