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Validating Architecture Degrees from Latin America in Spain: Three Challenges (3/3)

Advert for the airline Avianca published in issue 21 of Colombian architecture journal Proa, Bogotá, March 1949.

This is the third and final offering in a series of articles looking at the challenges faced by Latin American architects when validating their qualifications in Spain. The first challenge is that of planning the validation and deciding when to start the process, taking into account the objectives being pursued. The second is to understand the validation process and to know what university qualifications are required and how to obtain them. The third is to prepare for the scenario in which all of the above takes place.


Challenge number three: overcoming cultural and academic differences with the Spanish university system.

A professional looking to move to another country and willing to keep studying in order to keep working is very rarely a mediocre professional. Most of the Latin American architects who decide to settle in Spain can look back on happy student days, honours degrees and other positive experiences which led them take this next step in their careers. It is not unusual to hear them talking about their architecture faculty as if it were a family. But they also coincide that the atmosphere in Spanish schools of architecture is very unlike that in Latin American schools.

The process of adaptation is hard. Everything—evaluation criteria, contact with faculty members, daily interaction, customs, etiquette—is different. Moreover, applicants for validation have to overcome an undeniable gap separating them from their younger classmates in terms of professional and life experience. The ensuing culture shock and academic disconcertion often lead to all kinds of conflicts, many of which are routine but some of which are more serious. This return to life as a student must also be reconciled with the person’s status as an immigrant, separation from loved ones and other circumstances associated with living abroad, all of which will sooner or later take their toll.

A smooth transition would be marvellous, but the odds are that problems will arise at some stage. The intelligent thing to do, therefore, is to work on risk prevention and cultivate an awareness of possible difficulties, in order to be able to address them as efficiently as possible. One key move at the beginning is to seek support groups and make an effort to break into local academic and professional networks.  It should be remembered that although there is no shortage of professors or administrators with international, and more specifically Iberoamerican, connections, there also still exist those who remain reluctant to accept new talent from the southern hemisphere. That happens just as much in schools of architecture as it does in the rest of Spanish society. A good strategy is to identify the more sympathetic circles, those willing to act as mentors, and cultivate close ties with them.

In short, the three challenges for validation addressed in this series refer to strategic planning, knowledge of the academic/administrative process, and arrival in a university environment full of ups and downs. Immigrant architects attempting to obtain Spanish qualifications usually come from equally complex backgrounds. Most of them already have the tools they need to come through with flying colours. The important thing is to know the scenario you are walking into and prepare for all the possible things that may, and most probably will, happen.


If you have read this far, you are probably planning to face up to these challenges, you will already have overcome them, or you will know someone who has done so. The end of the series, then, is for you to write. What was your experience? And what, for you, would be the fourth challenge that needs to be overome?

This article is based on interviews with different architects. These include: Rafael de Lacour, subdirector of the Granada University School of Architecture (ETSA  – UGR) and coordinator of that school’s enabling Master’s Degree in Architecture; Raquel Martínez, coordinator of the undergraduate degree in the Basics of Architecture at the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos; Johanna Díaz, a Colombian architect with a degree in Architecture from the Universidad Nacional de Colombia validated in Spain, and currently a student on the ETSA-UGR enabling master’s degree course; Olga Sánchez, a Venezuelan architect who graduated from the Universidad de Los Andes in Mérida, and whose degree in Architecture was validated by the UGR; Paz Molinari, an Argentinian architect who graduated from the Universidad de Buenos Aires and whose qualifications were validated at the Madrid Polytechnic School of Architecture (ETSA  – UPM); María Antonieta Loaiza, a Venezuelan architect who graduated from the Universidad Central de Venezuela and whose qualifications were validated at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia School of Architecture (ETSA  – UPC); and Alejandro Henríquez, a Colombian architect who graduated from the Universidad de Los Andes and has now been working professionally in Barcelona for 15 years.

Manuel Saga:  A decalogue for emigrating architects. Blog de Fundación Arquia (March 2015)
Manuel Saga:Validating architecture degrees from Latin America in Spain: three challenges (1/3).Blog Fundación Arquia (Juny 2020)
Manuel  Saga: Validating architecture degrees from Latin America in Spain: three challenges (2/3). Finding out how to validate the degreeBlog Fundación Arquia (August 2020)
Manuel  Saga:Validating architecture degrees from Latin America in Spain: three challenges (3/3). Superar el choque cultural y académico con la universidad españolaBlog Fundación Arquia (November 2020)

Text translated by Andrew V.Taylor
(Granada, 1986). Arquitecto (ETSAG) y Magíster en Arquitectura (Universidad de los Andes, Colombia). Candidato a Doctor del Politécnico de Turín y la Universidad de Granada. Socio fundador de Amate+Saga, oficina de arquitectura y diseño estratégico. Asistente editorial del Journal académico Architectural Histories, perteneciente a la European Architectural History Network. Colaborador de la revista Historia National Geographic . Fundador de blogURBS y URBS Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales . Antiguo corresponsal de La Ciudad Viva .

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