Reflection by BRICLab Visiting Scholar Marcos Mortari

The opportunity to study at Columbia University has changed my life.

July 01, 2022

Besides all we are told about the institution (such as faculty excellence, well-designed courses, extensive libraries, and the infrastructure of the campus), the students, their diversity, and commitment to the classes create a unique atmosphere. When it is possible to combine these elements, the outcome is an intense learning experience, even if one joins Columbia for a brief period ‒ which was my case as a visiting scholar for a semester.

During my time at the university, I could attend three courses as an observer in different fields of knowledge: Governing the global economy (POLSUN3648); Politics of violence: conflict, borders, and the carceral state (CLGMUN3700); and Storytelling for social change: skills and narratives (INAFU6123). Governing the global economy is a broad economic policy course conducted by professor Nikhar Gaikwad, assisted by researchers Noah Zucker, Marnie Ginis, and Kylan Rutherford, in a dynamic lecture model.

Taking trade policy, foreign direct investment, the rise of multinational companies, immigration, the international monetary system, and the environment as the main topics of discussion, the discipline offers a plural view of some of the most relevant dilemmas for decision making in the global economy. The solid theoretical background offered during the sections encourages the students to think about world problems and solutions from multiple perspectives.Through case studies carefully designed by Professor Gaikwad to stimulate rich debates in class, the course provides the right tools for those students interested in understanding how the world works and thinking critically about policymaking.

Politics of violence: conflict, borders, and the carceral state is a seminar course conducted by Professor Katherine Stefatos. With a notable selection of readings, the discipline offers tools for analyzing violence in its different contexts and the several ways it can be present in modern life. The course focuses on the role of the state in violent situations, either as the direct perpetrator or as a crucial player that allows their continuity, legitimizing or facilitating political, racist, and gender-based violence worldwide. The case studies cover violence against dissidents, incarcerated populations, refugees, workers, indigenous communities, colonialism, dispossession, environmental injustice, etc. Politics of violence combines a comparative, transnational perspective with a regional view, framed according to the situation.

In the seminar Storytelling for social change: skills and narratives, professor N. Jamiyla Chisholm proves there is no unbiased narrative and shows how the person who tells the story has the power to shape it. The course explores essays, speeches, books, podcasts, news specials, articles, and op-eds, all with a journalistic eye. It encourages the students to go beyond the facts and examine narrative-building, word choices, and sentence structures. Those are relevant tools not only for critical audiences but for aware storytellers. As a visiting scholar, I also had the opportunity to attend several events organized by different groups inside Columbia. There were multiple panels to discuss the war in Ukraine, some about American politics and others about Latin America. The president of Colombia, Mr. Iván Duque, joined a seminar to talk about the peacekeeping process in the country last April.

But I could not forget the outstanding workshop Speak English Clearly presented by Professor Nancy Boblett to international students. I will keep her tips about language improvement and her encouraging advice for my life. The pandemic still imposes obstacles to our activities. As classes started online last Spring, I had additional difficulties adapting to Columbia's own culture and choosing the courses to take. Under those conditions, the support from Theresa and David was also crucial. They were really responsible for improving my experience as a visiting scholar at Columbia. I would be glad to share my gratitude.

I would also like to thank Gabriel Saravalli-Burchfield, senior international scholar adviser at the International Students and Scholars Office, for the attention during my stay in New York City and the support given to the spouses in this exchange program.

Marcos Mortari, BRICLab 2022 Visiting Scholar