In a recent “Going to IEU” podcast, students Chiara Rodriguez and Quentin Emiliano opened up about their experience as first-year students.

They talked about life in Segovia, having a good school/life balance and soaking everything up as a first-year student. For many students, the learning curve in that first year of university can be very steep, and every student needs some advice to make it a year worth talking about in the future.

First year of college during a pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic swept the world into a tumultuous couple of years of lockdowns, mask-wearing, curfews, social distancing and numerous other restrictions. But life also had to go on. People had to go back to work and students had to study.

For both Chiara and Quentin, they started their first year of university during the pandemic. Chiara recalls what it was like when she started: “The first month was amazing. You got to meet a lot of people. But obviously, bars only stayed open until 1 am. It was really fun until the curfew hit, which restricted us a lot.” The restrictions came in their second semester, but for Quentin, he was happy just to meet people and start university life with some kind of normality. Hailing from France, Quentin said, “Back home, everything non-essential was closed, but when I came to Spain, everything was open, though there was a curfew. That was a positive thing for us.”

What to do in your first year

At the very start of their IE University career, first-year students begin classes a week after second-year students. The first week is mainly focused on building interpersonal relationships with others—something that’s key in university life.

“Instead of living alone, you wake up every morning with different people and you start getting to know them. You build really good relationships with people who become your best friends.”

Quentin recommends to live the first years in student residences.

The day-to-day schedule of each student is different, and IE University is not only about classroom study. There’s an unrivalled range of extracurricular activites for students to get involved in. Whether it’s joining the boxing club or cheerleading, it’s an essential part of the experience and a chance to broaden your interests, experiences, and network. But be careful not to spend too much time on the fun stuff—both students pointed out how quickly they learned the importance of time management. Creating a balance between academic work, extracurricular activites and a busy social life will give you the satisfaction of a really good first year.

Segovia has a unique charm for students living there. You can walk anywhere in around fifteen minutes, and from going up the hill and taking in the beautiful view of the town, to the weekend hikes and historical walks, Segovia is a beautiful place to experience. Another tip from both Chiara and Quentin is that Madrid is only half an hour away by train. So if you’re looking to escape Madrid for the quieter experience of Segovia, or to enjoy the busier atmosphere of a world city in contrast to Segovia’s more intimate atmosphere, it’s easy. Both Chiara and Quentin mentioned traveling to the capital to enjoy what it has to offer, from taking a walk in Retiro park to visiting museums or even enjoying a beer in the eclectic communities of Chueca or La Latina.

Tips, tricks and advice

However, the number one tip they considered essential for students is making sure you keep Student Services in your favorites list. As Quentin said, “They really help you. For example, they helped me to obtain my DNI, and I know they help non-Spanish students get their NIEs.” Besides that, Student Services helps students if they’re struggling with classwork, as well.

Another important tip comes the second week of school. After making friends during the first week, our two students recommended you buckle down and focus on classwork. They realised quickly that to get the most out of their programs they had to get to grips with workloads they weren’t necessarily used to before they came to IE University. Creating schedules and being organized is important for a successful first year—before you know it, the midterms will “come out of nowhere!” Having open communication with your professors is another aspect of IE University life they both found extremely important.

“IE University really sets itself apart from other universities, because any student has the opportunity and encouragement to ask teachers any questions they have. The teachers will open their timetables for you and schedule a one-to-one meeting. They will explain things to you if you’re struggling.”

Quentin was hugely positive about how accessible IE University’s faculty are.

Since there’s always so much going on, both Chiara and Quentin also stressed to students the need to read all email communication from IE University—both professors and classmates. It’s important, they said, to stay in touch with what’s happening.

A learning experience

Both Chiara and Quentin learned valuable personal lessons in their first year too. For Quentin, he learned self-control, particularly with regard to his spending and social life. For Chiara, it was all about balance: “I just learned a lot more responsibility and control. You mature a lot from the first week until the last week of the first year. You become a completely different person,” she asserted. Quentin agreed, saying, “Your insights on how you view everything from uni work, to spending, to going out is completely different from high school.”

Finally, both admitted that homesickness could have been an issue, and in line with one of IE University’s core values, they leveraged the modern tech available to help deal with that, particularly during the period when international travel was impossible. Both said they spoke face-to-face by computer with their loved ones. Even learning to deal with these feelings, however, played a part in making them feel more independent. It helped them feel calmer about the whole first-year experience, improved their confidence and in turn helped them both grow as people.

Some great advice for incoming first years from two students who have lived the experience. We wish Chiara and Quentin well with the rest of their programs and thank them for their valuable insights!