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What is university like as an international student during the pandemic?

By Stephanie L

Updated May 10, 2021 Updated May 10, 2021

Sponsored by IE University

It has been six months since universities around the world opened their doors again to welcome returning students and first-year students since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

TopUniversities caught up with two international students at IE University about what life on campus has been like during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nervous but excited to get back on campus 

Arabella is from England and has spent the last two years studying in the city of Segovia, not far from Spain’s sunny capital, Madrid. In September 2020, Arabella moved to Madrid for the penultimate year of her communication and digital media undergraduate degree.

Understandably, she was nervous about moving to a new city – especially given the current circumstances.

“I wasn’t sure how the social life would be due to the restrictions. Having never been to the campus, I felt very overwhelmed with what everything would be like,” she said.

“But I was also very excited to get back to my studies after spending so many months at home with my parents. I was really looking forward to having my independence back and to feel my age again living away from home,” she added.

Getting used to a new way of learning

Institutions around the world have had to be innovative and adapt the way they teach and deliver classes over the last year. IE University has introduced a new hybrid learning model which allows students to attend class in-person and online.

Colombian student, María José, who was awarded the Cubico Celsia Young Talented Leaders Scholarship is studying a dual degree in Business Administration and International Relations. Due to the uncertainty and unpredictable travel windows, she had to postpone her study abroad plans and instead begin her studies online in September 2020 with IE’s new Liquid Learning Model.

“It allowed me to have the same, or at least, a very similar opportunity of studying and having my classes and everything as the rest of the students that were on campus,” she said.

“I could still do and have access to pretty much everything. I could have my normal classes – it was just a good adaptation of the normal and traditional model of learning and teaching.”

Only a month later, María José was able to travel to Spain to continue with her studies on-campus.

Having already been at IE University for two years, the case for hybrid learning for Arabella was “definitely a strange adjustment at first.” Although she still prefers to attend class in person – and is very grateful to be able to do so – it didn’t take long for Arabella to get used to studying both online and on-campus.

Seeing friends and socialising is a little different

Arabella lives on her own but says that her social life hasn’t changed that much compared to what it was like before the pandemic.

“I was really excited to see my friends that I hadn't seen since February 2020. Although many of them were not back straight away, I was so glad to reunite with the ones that were,” she said.

But there have been times when a few of Arabella’s friends have had to self-isolate.

“During the first semester there were definitely moments of loneliness and fear when many of my friends were testing positive and had to quarantine,” she said.

Arabella was quick to tell us that, despite this, her international study experience has still been a positive one.

“I just feel so fortunate that I’m here in Madrid enjoying my life and going out to eat and just enjoying all the privileges of regular life.”

For María José, living in a student residence has meant she’s shared a common room space with other students and together they’ll sometimes watch films or go for walks in the local gardens.

Becoming familiar with new regulations and restrictions

With comprehensive campus-wide safety protocols in place including reduced class sizes, heightened cleaning checks, mandatory mask-wearing and its very own COVID testing center, IE University continues to prioritise the health of its students and staff whilst striving to ensure students get a full international study experience.

“I think IE has made it really comfortable for us,” said María José.

“Everything is very clear, so everyone knows what to do and how to do it. Even though we have the measures and restrictions, we have still been able to carry out our daily activities, just in an adapted way. I don’t feel like it has been a hindrance to our work, studies or ability to go to class,” she added.

Knowing where to reach out to for support and advise 

Whether you’re a first-year student or a returning student, your worries, concerns and questions are all valid and it’s important that you know where to go should you need to speak to someone.

For example, the IEU Counselling Center at IE University offers professional counselling, mentoring and other informal guidance counselling. Arabella is also part of the IEU Peer Support group which offers weekly drop-in sessions to help students who need support with their mental health.

María José, who is also an IE Foundation Fellow, says the foundation is like its very own community.

“I know the people who are also part of the foundation will always help me with anything that I need and will always support me and be there for me.

“I find it really nice because it’s like a community and it’s an extra support I have here, because I’m far from my family, and far from my home and so I find that very valuable,” she said.

This article was originally published in April 2021 . It was last updated in May 2021

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Written by

As the Head of Sponsored Content for TopUniversities.com and TopMBA.com (until September 2021), Stephanie created and published a wide range of articles for universities and business schools across the world. She attended the University of Portsmouth where she earned a BA in English Language and an MA in Communication and Applied Linguistics.

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