Win Your First Semester of Architecture School – Interview with First Year Architecture Student Serena Rakha | SAS Podcast 21

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Going into your first semester of architecture school?

Today I interview Serena Rakha from Lebanon, a student who has recently finished her first semester of architecture school.

On episode 21 of the Successful Archi Student’s Podcast, Serena shares her experiences of what to expect in your first semester of architecture school and what equipment and skills you need to do well.

Serena also shares the names of architecture books she’s found helpful along her journey and has some tips for students struggling to stay motivated.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us Serena.


Get my new ebook! “How to Ace Any Project in Architecture School”


I hope you enjoy the show! Feel free to discuss anything in the comments below. I try to respond to every comment 🙂

Hey! My name’s Kyle.

From a sample of 25,000 students that applied to enter architecture school:
15.30% of them were accepted.
8.50% of them made it through to the second half of their education.
2.04% of them were awarded a degree in Architecture (post-graduate)
0.78% of them ended up working a job in architecture.

Successful Archi Student is a platform for architecture students to learn off one another to become the LESS THAN 1% of students who end up being successful in the profession.

On the podcast, you’ll hear from practicing architects, other successful students and myself, Kyle, a third year architecture student from South Australia.

Doing so, you’ll learn the tips and tricks to excel past the rest of your cohort and build the skills needed to take your work to another level.

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Episode 21 Transcript. Win Your First Semester of Architecture School - Interview with First Year Architecture Student Serena Rhaka.

Kyle 0:00
This is the successful students podcast episode 21.

Kyle 0:45
Welcome to Episode 21 of the Successful Archi Student’s podcast guys. Today I’ve got a special episode for you. I interview Serena, who is a first year architecture student from Lebanon. What’s most important about this, though, is that she’s really sharing some ideas from her first semester. And I really dig deep into what are some of the things that she struggled with and some of the things that she really enjoyed from first semester, and also talk about some of the things that she’s looking forward to in the future and all this kind of stuff, all these helpful tips and stuff for any high school students are looking to get into architecture or any architecture students in general, who are looking for some tips or some advice moving forward and that architecture so I’m really really, really excited to share this with you. And this is about a 30 minute interview. So if you don’t have time to watch it now please do come back and watch it because it’s going to be so valuable to you and you’re really going to enjoy the the interview saying that as well. If you guys want to be in an interview, I’m always happy to bring people onto the show other students if you’re a high school student all the way through to a practicing architect. I’d love to have you on the show. And I’m really looking forward to hearing from you so without further ado, I’m really excited to bring on Serena to the show. So let’s get straight into this. Hey, what’s up Aki students well Come to end of the show or the successful students podcast. Today I’m here with a very special guest. Serena, what’s up, Serena?

Serena 2:07
Hello, I’m good. How are you?

Serena 2:10
Awesome. I’m really good. Thank you. I’m absolutely loving life right now. Go back to uni next week. I’m so excited. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s a real pleasure to have you on the show, though. Serena, I really do appreciate you. It’s my pleasure. It’s my pleasure. So I really wanted to get to know a bit more about you and your story. Because in the emails you were sending me, you were saying you’re still fairly new to architecture. You’re going into your second semester coming up, I believe. Could you tell me a bit more about what got you into architecture and why you decided to be an architect.

Serena 2:48
Actually, I thought about architecture when I was like 15 it just love the idea of creating something like designing and Especially that I wanted to like, throw my mark. You don’t want to I mean, that’s how I first started thinking about like, I want to get into architecture. And then it just stuck with me the idea just stuck with me. And I didn’t love anything else as much as I did for architecture. So I guess this is how I started.

Serena 3:22
That’s awesome. I think I was kind of in the same boat. I was 15 years old. And my brother mentioned that. He’s like, Oh, you make a good architect. I had no idea about it. No, no idea of what an architect did and I kind of just stuck with it because of that one sentence that he said to me one day. I yeah, I really enjoyed it. So I’m glad he did say that.

Serena 3:45
More when you search about it, and yeah, you look amazing word like the big architect. It just inspires you.

Serena 3:52
It does. It really does. up so how are you finding it so far? Is it kind of what you expected?

Serena 3:59
Yes. pressure because I didn’t do my research. But it’s it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

Serena 4:06
Oh, yeah. And going back because you’re in your second semester, going back, let’s say you’re starting your first semester again. Is there anything that you wish you would have known or wish you had done before starting that semester?

Serena 4:23
Yeah, like I wish I did. Some Like, I wish I had known about AutoCAD and 3d Max and all these, like before, starting I wish I could like learn them before architecture, because I know there’s not much time. So that’s the only reason that’s the only thing like I wish I would have done for architecture.

Serena 4:47
I think that’s super important as well. A lot of high school students always asked me that question. I said, if you could go back, what would you want or what would you wish you had known? And I always say having those skills just in SketchUp or Revit or Anything, having those skills beforehand?

Serena 5:03
The drawing skills? I wish I had developed it more before architecture, although not much. I don’t know if I can say that, but it’s not that much important. Like to be like, like, super artistic.

Serena 5:16
Yeah, I think. Yeah, that’s a bit of a misconception because a lot of students they’re saying like, they, they think they need to be really good at art or hand drawing. And so they’ll spend all this time on that. And that’s kind of driving away from the fact that you just got to go to architecture school and you learn all of it along the way.

Serena 5:34
Yeah, it’s true. My doctor said, like, the doctor said to us, when we got into architecture, you were like, Don’t think of yourself as like, like actual artist like you do not need to be like artists and your drawings, like because it’s not that important. And I was shocked at first but then like, after we get into architecture, you understand that

Serena 5:59
Yeah. Yeah, that that would be a bit of a shock because I remember going in my first semester, and you think everything has to be perfect, you have to be really good at hand drawing and all this stuff and then it just kind of blows over you that you just got to do quick sketches and all this stuff. So as you look back over your first semester, um, what do you think was the most challenging thing? What What did you struggle with the most or what what did you find the most difficult during that first semester?

Serena 6:29
Well, definitely, like design studio was like, super challenging, because it was extremely new. Like, I’ve never seen something like that and I’ve never like you never like really understand the process of it until you work on it, you know, I mean, and I wish like, and like, design studio doc is like don’t give you 100% like they give you 1% and you have to search for the next Tonight. So those design studio was definitely challenging. But it’s fun and it’s worth it after you finished your project.

Serena 7:14
What you said about that though? How it Yeah, they give you an edge, probably the 1% and then you’re on your own for the other 99. But what are some of the things that you do? I guess because it’s so important to learn by yourself and keep on practicing outside of university. What are some of the things that you do in your own free time to do that?

Serena 7:33
Well, actually, I watch a lot of YouTube videos especially like on your own. I’ve like spend Sunday night like literally watching all of your videos, and I actually really love them.

Serena 7:46
Thank you so much.

Serena 7:48
Watch like a lot of videos on how to do sections, elevations, like these things like you need to like learn on your own. Like your professors do not give you 100% what they what you need to like get from them, like you need to do your own research. And that’s what I don’t like on my free time only on other side like outside of university, like, I have to know. Like everything. Yes Sorry for accomplish my project. So I don’t go rich for the things I need to know. It also like have an architect friend. So I definitely asked her a lot. That’s,

Serena 8:27
that’s a really good resource to have.

Serena 8:29
And reading books also about architecture.

Serena 8:31
Yeah. What are some of the favorite books?

Serena 8:34
forms bass and organ? Yeah, yeah, it’s definitely a good one.

Serena 8:41
That Francis DK Ching that wrote that book.

Serena 8:46
actually do not remember.

Serena 8:47

Serena 8:49
In the name

Serena 8:51
of after look that one up and put it on the screen afterwards because that is a great book.

Serena 9:00
So, the most, like, most important book, I think, like for architecture students,

Serena 9:09
and actually while we’re on that topic, but it’s some of the other YouTube channels you watch, because that would be really helpful for some architecture students as well.

Serena 9:18
Look it up actually, like, the thing is I don’t I don’t really remember the names of like, the channels I watch.

Kyle 9:25

Serena 9:26
I’m, like, I just choose a topic and like, click on whatever video.

Serena 9:33
Yeah. And that’s the way to go. If you’ve got a question, just write it into YouTube or Google and then like, yeah, it’s like having a mentor right next to you. Yeah, so while you look it up. Some of the ones I watch is, let’s show it better. I don’t know if you’ve seen them on YouTube or Instagram or anything like that. Can’t remember the name of the guy that runs that page, but he’s really good and he puts out a lot of great content. I’ve been does the architecture student blog. He’s got a YouTube channel now as well. His name is Josh that runs that page. And he’s got an Instagram page and all that as well. So there’s a couple ones to check it out if people are listening to this.

Serena 10:17
This guy that I watched almost all these videos called, man, Austria.

Serena 10:26
Yeah, I’ve seen a few of his videos. I’d love to get him on the podcast, actually. One day, I think I think Oh, yeah. So yeah, if he’s watching this, he should definitely send me an email. Go. So I’ll go into next question. When I was going into my first year, I remember one of the biggest fears I had was not knowing what equipment I needed, or kind of what kind of architecture like Pencils of rollers are all this kind of stuff. Do you mind letting us know why Kind of what the items you bought were and what you think is necessary and what you think are some of the things that you haven’t used and that an architecture student doesn’t find essential. What

Serena 11:15
will our professors like? suggested we get the technical pens, for sure. And the T, lunar escape compass, because we’re still like, we’re still not allowed to use our computers. Also like, Yeah, I know that’s a big struggle. Well, these are the essential ones.

Kyle 11:45
Yeah, I agree completely. Do you think it’s quite common that most architecture, universities because I didn’t, I think in my first year, we were allowed to use computer and computer aided design However, they were more driving us towards hand And these kind of skills that don’t require a computer or a laptop. So saying that do you reckon it’s like if you could do you reckon you could do say like a sketch app design and still get marked well for it, or would they just say no, it’s only hand drawing?

Serena 12:17
Well, we do get a lot of readers. Yeah. I think it’s a good thing that we first like own like do not use computers at first because I kind of think it’s essential like to know how to work with your own hands. And then later all like during second you are allowed to use computers. Oh, but yeah, I do think it’s essential at first to like, not use computer and like, just do it by yourself. And you’re disappointed at first

Kyle 12:53
and say no, did you have any, I guess art background or hand drawing skills before studying architecture or did you pick them up along the way?

Serena 13:03
Well, my dad used to draw. Okay, so I got this habit from him. And I did not develop it. And to one year before applying to architecture, I like started No, like I because I thought, well, it’s so important to have like a drawing skills. So like, I tried to practice more and more, and it’s gotten a lot better than like the first time I do of course. So, yeah, I did. I’m still trying to work on it. Even though like it’s not like the first thing like the first skill you need to have as an architecture student. But yeah, I still like practice on it. And no, I did not did like right now. Like it’s something that I’ve been working on like from two years ago. Yeah.

Kyle 13:58
So yeah. That’s, that’s kind of makes me think as well, because I remember when I was going through architecture, you know, when I was 15, I want to be an architect. And I thought it was just all hand drawing and you have to be really good at art and all this kind of stuff. But yeah, I think it really is you just pick it up along the way. And

Serena 14:19
you have to learn by your own.

Kyle 14:21
Exactly. So, yeah, you decided our architecture when you were 15. like myself, however, I guess cuz you’ve stuck it out that long. What was that four years ago? So are you 19 years old?

Serena 14:38
Almost. Like. Tomorrow I’ll be 20.

Kyle 14:41
Oh! happy birthday for tomorrow. That’s awesome. So I think you’re exactly one month. Your birthdays exactly one month. What is it after me? So let’s go Is You obviously stayed motivated to you stuck on studying architecture for the past five years then. And so a lot of students, I guess, struggle with losing motivation, or they’ll think that they’re not going to make it. They’re not. They don’t have the confidence in themselves that they’re going to be able to keep going. But obviously, if you’ve stuck it out for five years, then anyone else can do that as well. So I guess what kind of advice would you have for someone who’s saying to themselves, that they’re not that good enough architecture, it’s something that they’re not going to be able to pursue? Like,

Serena 15:42
honestly, after thinking about architecture, I had this image of myself like, after 10 years of what I want to be, and that really helped me really motivated me like I have this certain image of myself that I want to be like 10 years and that’s like the biggest motivation of it for me was Literally, like, just like you picturing yourself in the future, how you want to be what you want to be what you want to do what you want to give to others, like, from this job, it just really helps you like, it really motivates you.

Kyle 16:16
I completely agree with that, because I’ve been trying to talk about a lot as well, because yeah, just like I’m gonna actually quickly ask, do you write down your goals and like, do you kind of do any visual?

Serena 16:31
Yes. Yeah.

Kyle 16:35

Serena 16:36
like it helps, really does help. Yeah, like the simplest thing to do. Like, I just like write down what I want to do. I’m like, just be enjoying I jackleg. This gives me a really good feeling.

Serena 16:48
Yeah. I completely agree with that. I think that’s so important as well, because as an architecture student, it’s, you’re so creative, and you’re so mad that you’ve got a great imagination of this stuff. And so It’s really kind of goes hand in hand in hand in the fact that you can kind of conjure up this idea of the future and then you can envision yourself doing that. And it really does drive you forward to achieving it. Yeah, and do you? Do you ever? Like, once you’ve had a go, I guess, do you ever refer back to it? Is it kind of like a daily thing that you go over it? Or do you just kind of think about it? Whenever you’re feeling de motivated or unmotivated? Whatever that word is? Or is there a way you go about

Serena 17:37
it? remind myself like, this idea? Like constantly, like especially like doing like the end of the project? I’m just extremely tired, like just want to rest like I don’t know what to finish. So I just like take like 10 minutes break, sit with myself, like remind myself like, why am I doing this? Why do I want to accomplish Just like you need this, just to remind yourself why you’re doing what why you’re doing what you’re doing. And that just like really hope to.

Kyle 18:11
I love that. No, I really do, because that’s something I do myself. And whenever I feel like, I’m not, I’m not motivated to finish my project or I just don’t want to get out of bed or something like this, I’ll just start I’ll grab a piece of paper and a pen and notice start writing kind of what I see myself doing in the future. And I think it’s also really important to reverse engineer goes into like a practical plan as well. Do you do any, like daily planning or scheduling I guess, or not? Does it have to be daily, but I guess, in the sense that you reverse engineer your goals of being an architect into kind of a routine of some sort. That makes sense.

Unknown Speaker 18:57
Well, I actually don’t have a routine Like, I think like I’m straight. I’m still trying to figure everything out. Like because the first one was it was really hectic was really crazy. Something’s extremely new. So that’s why like, I go on other architecture students like, what’s your routine? Like? What’s your plan? Like? How do you do this? Like, how do you? How do you like? Just have everything on time? You know? Yeah. Sounds like trying to figure everything out.

Kyle 19:30
Yeah. Yeah, that’s what the first year is all about, in my opinion, anyway, I think it’s just great just to throw yourself in there and then talk to other students and make friends and just get comfortable in architecture. I think that’s what it’s all about.

Serena 19:46
Yes, definitely. I’m still like, trying to like be friends with you, but like, there is never a university like I think they’re just out there in the world.

Kyle 20:03
so in your first year, can you tell me what were some of the subjects you did? And for someone who’s in high school looking to study architecture, what would they expect to study in their first semester?

Serena 20:14
Well, we have history law. Design Studio for sure. Math. Series. Art. What else? descriptive.

Kyle 20:31
Could you explain what descriptive is?

Serena 20:33
Descriptive? Well, it’s geometry. Like turning 3d objects into to the object. In an object, how do you show it in front of paper?

Kyle 20:56
That’s cool. It’s not hard?

Serena 21:03
It sounds hard.

Kyle 21:05
yeah, I think a lot of things in first year when I, first I just scared the crap out of a, just all these kind of technical terms and all this, like, 3d perspective drawing and stuff, but you pick it up along the way. It’s not that hard in the end.

Serena 21:22
No, it’s not that hard. Because it’s new at first. So like, you have to accept the idea that, like, this is it like, as it’s something completely new, that you’ve never seen? But but but it’s really interesting and fun, actually. So

Kyle 21:45
that’s what it’s all about. Um, so I want to go back on to the topic of books because I love reading. Do you have any other books other than it doesn’t have to be architectural later, but As a, at this age, I’ve only probably read a handful of books not that many. So I don’t know, I don’t have a massive library of books. But what do you have you got any books that you want to read or that you have read that you think would be helpful for other students?

Serena 22:16
Um, actually, I have not. I haven’t read them much the books, but I did see a book that really like, got my attention the other day I was at the library. And I saw the name of the book probably was architecture in the United States. I just love the light of architecture there. So it really got my attention. I just suggest, probably, I guess, the we we see like other architects work that will really inspire us. It definitely did inspire me.

Kyle 22:58
I think that is important. So Just to go out and see the architecture because so many people will struggle to come up with a concept or an idea for their own projects, but you can get so many ideas from just looking at other people’s work and all this kind of stuff.

Serena 23:13

Kyle 23:15
100% So, I’m going to go into a bit of a fire round here and just ask you a couple of short questions. So who’s your favorite architect? Yet, what’s your favorite building? Would it be one of hers?

Serena 23:34
Well, there’s actually building that still like under construction here in my country. So haven’t been finished, but it’s really good. And it’s weird. It’s not something like the country is familiar with. Nobody ends up

Kyle 24:00
Yeah, was that one of Zaha Hadid’s works?

Serena 24:02

Kyle 24:04
And you doing the name of that building? Or? Actually, yeah, I’m terrible with names or buildings. So, next question. It was Do you have a favorite architecture related book or a book you want to read? But you’ve already answered that. So, if you could give one tip to someone starting or looking to start architecture, something that would change the way that they progress from high school students to transition from high school student to university students studying architecture, what kind of piece of advice would you give to them?

Serena 24:43
To really read about architecture first. To read a lot of books search about it. They’ll go and talk with architecture student or like architects have already graduated. They will like you will see like how it feels. I call it slyke because architectures like not easy, definitely need to learn about it. Just so you have like an idea. When you do start your first semester, you don’t like you need to explore that before you go into the first semester, because some people may drop out, like I have friends good. They actually think about dropping out.

Kyle 25:25
Yep, I have a lot of friends that haven’t made it to the first couple of years. And I’ve seen Well, I had a friendship group, probably, I think eight of us. And then just over time, just I think there’s probably two or three of us left. So I think that’s also important because I wrote it down somewhere the actual statistics, but I think it’s like 15% of students get accepted into university to study architecture, and then it’s set 7%

Serena 25:57
only get into architecture.

Kyle 26:00
Yeah, exactly. And it goes on and on. And yeah, I think it’s less than 1%. Yeah. And it’s scary when you think about it, but it just shows that

Serena 26:11
really telling, like, you have to really work for it.

Kyle 26:15
Definitely. And that’s the thing. It’s competitive.

Serena 26:19
Yeah, yeah, definitely.

Serena 26:22
But then saying that, I like to think that group work is also really essential. And having a team around you, you have people who can help you and you can help each other to succeed. I guess that’s why I’m doing this kind of page and all that kind of stuff. Because I think it’s so important just to help each other out. Yeah, I’m actually on that topic with group work. Did you have any group work in their first semester?

Serena 26:49
Yeah. Yes. And second project was actually could work.

Kyle 26:55
Could you tell me a bit about how that goes because a lot of students kind of don’t really like group work. But can we get a gist of what it’s like in first year group like?

Serena 27:10
It was like, well, the group work was actually like, we were for the group. And everyone, like each one of us had, like a specific idea. So, like, there had to be a lot of understanding. And I don’t know how to explain it. It was difficult at first, but then it got really easy. And, like, you just have to understand each other and like, see, we’re just going to, like, see this point of view. It’ll work out.

Kyle 27:52
That’s the way I remember first year is that should have a group of for one person wouldn’t show up today. classes, one person would be late 90% of the time. And then you’d have one other guy who just didn’t do any work. But yeah, I think group work is essential to being successful.

Serena 28:14
But it’s very difficult also, obviously,

Kyle 28:19
yeah, I know it’s good advice to first year students that to master the art of group work and teamwork, it’s going to be helpful. All right, um, I’m going to ask you one last question before we go because we’re almost hit the 30 minute mark. And it’s been an absolute pleasure to have you there’s been a lot of fun that the time flew like nothing because of how much fun I’m having right now. So if someone wants to connect with you, are you on Instagram or LinkedIn or anything like that?

Serena 28:51
Yes, I do have an Instagram.

Kyle 28:55
I’ll put the links in the description and all that stuff. So if someone wants to reach out to you, they can That. Cool? And finally, is there anything that you want to talk about or share with high school students who want to study architecture or someone in their first year of architecture that you want to let them know? Or is there anything that you feel like I’ve missed in this interview?

Serena 29:19
No, but I just want to say like, you have to really know if it’s your passion or not. Because otherwise, you don’t want to be wasting your years. You know? Because, like we’ve already said that it’s a very difficult major, it’s definitely requires a lot of work and a lot of time. So like you have, it shouldn’t be your passion of purely doing architecture.

Kyle 29:46
I completely agree. Serena, thank you so much for being on the show. You were the second architecture student to be on here. And it’s an absolute pleasure. It’s been a joy.

Serena 29:56
Thanks for having me.

Kyle 29:58
My pleasure. Absolutely. Take care and have a good night wherever you are.


If you have a project you want to delve in to and discuss, or you have some useful tips for other students you think would be helpful, please, send me an email to and get in touch about it!
Otherwise, direct message me on Instagram @successfularchistudent and I’ll be keen to set up a skype call.

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