I have just completed the first two semesters of my Master’s degree in International Economics. Even though my graduation is not until summer 2024, since I still have a year ahead of me, I thought of this time as a good moment to sit back and reflect on the learnings.
Overall, I am quite happy with where I am at. I have a conducive learning environment with approachable professors and a collaborative cohort of 24 international students, Geneva offers plenty of fun activities especially in the summer (swimming in the rivers and lake, picnic by the lake, hiking…).
As for academics, the first year of the Master’s has been pretty much what I expected it to be: An intensive training in the fundamentals of economics. With two courses each on Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Econometrics, we have now “earned” the badge of calling ourselves economists, using the tools and lenses that the discipline employs.
Earlier this academic year I already wrote a post about Life in Geneva and my Study Life here. I still stand by most of what I wrote back then. Yet in the last few months, I realized a few more points that I thought worth sharing.
The Importance of Teamwork
Let me say upfront that I could not have made it through this first year without my wonderful classmates. Their intelligence, diligence and strength is what I am beyond grateful for. I was able to learn a lot through and with them as we grappled together through difficult problems.
The course design is very conducive for collaboration and teamwork. Why? Because a big chunk of the grade (often 50%, sometimes less) is made out of “problemsets”, which are group assignments with a 2-week deadline. Some courses even based the entire grade on group assignments. For example I took a course on “Impact Evaluation”, for which both the midterm and the final exam were about coding in R in groups of three.
Within groups, you meet and discuss your answers. But even when you get stuck, you can always go to other groups and compare answers. It would be very common to discuss across groups what the right approach for a problem was. And the class atmosphere allowed for this very well: I felt that at each point, I could approach another classmate and ask them and they’d do their best to help.
Maintaining Work-Life Balance as a Student
Being a student is a wonderful privilege that I cherish deeply, especially after having worked for two years. One of the drawbacks however, is that you are never quite “done”. There is always more to learn, an assignment is never quite perfect yet, and have you seen the reading list?! But stressing so much about each exam, each assignment cannot be sustainable in the long run.
This is why I think maintaining a healthy routine and balance between work (studies) and fun is so important. For each person, “fun” means different things. But for me, it’s seeing friends, going outdoors, getting a change of scenery… Although with increasing age, I have also noticed how I value “me time” more, and instead of feeling FOMO, I am comfortable just being alone on a weekend night with self-made dinner and a movie.
Health is Wealth
At multiple times this academic year, I was “forced” to realize how important health and wellbeing is. I fell sick 3-4 times during the semesters and the patterns seemed to be quite similar. Every time after an intense, stressful period like midterm exams or after I came back from a week of traveling, I would fall sick.
My initial reaction is always frustration (”Why does it happen now, that exams are over and I can finally go out and do fun things?”), until I realize that it is precisely because I was trying to “compensate” the intense working life with an equally intense social life. For example, after our midterm exams were over, I traveled to St. Gallen to attend a 3-day conference, after which I traveled back home to Germany to visit parents and participate in my high school’s reunion meeting, only to come back and organize a student concert with over 100 people. In hindsight, it is no wonder my body pulled the brakes.
Instead, I have tried to nurture a more well being-oriented mindset. Listening more closely to what my body needs and not trying to rebel against it. This may be commonsense, but it has taken me the entire year and many frustrating periods of illness to start getting the message.
I often realize what is really important when I think about the things that I actually remember from an experience. From my first year, this includes:
- Organizing two concerts: Christmas and Summer concert with over 100 students
- Hiking Mountains like Rochers de Naye, Le Reculet, Le Saleve
- Picnics and Drinks with the Econ Cohort each time we finish exams
- Going to a fantastic conference (the St. Gallen Symposium) as one of the winners of an essay competition
They say that the first year in IHEID’s Master of Economics programme is the hardest part, and that it gets better from now on. They say this because the first year is taken up mostly by the core courses, while the second year will be more specialized and free, as students can choose their specializations and interests accordingly. The fourth semester will be dedicated wholly towards the Master’s thesis.
For me, I made the decision to pursue an exchange semester abroad, and I got lucky to obtain a place as an exchange student at Yale University in the U.S. I will spend my third semester there, taking courses and starting to work on my Master’s thesis, before coming back in January 2024 to Geneva and to start writing and working on the thesis.
I am excited for what lies ahead and at the same time sad to leave my life in Geneva behind, at least for now.