21. Studying Abroad

So this one pertains more to students than registered architects, but studying abroad directly influences how an ‘almost architect’ will be come an ‘actual architect’.  After all, every architect was once an architecture student.  Each will admit that studying abroad shaped them into the designer – nay, the very person – that they are today.

Though every student who returns from studying abroad will boast of knowing everything there is to know about architecture and will gladly flaunt their photos for all to see, they really set out on the trip thinking it would be a sweet vacation with easy class credit.  See the world, sample some beer and wine, get class credit, and other fabulous combinations of somewhat worthwhile activities.  What’s not to like?

Let’s break it down a bit:

As a student in a foreign country, you’re exposed to all sorts of new experiences that force you to think outside the box and learn new things. For example, trying to figure out exactly what animal you’re eating for dinner tends to evolve into a great game of charades and tests your acting abilities. As it turns out, ‘bear’ and ‘pig’ can look a lot alike.  Wondering why people give you a funny look when you do the ‘pee dance’ and ask to be directed to the nearest “baño”, only to discover that in Spain they refer to the restroom as “lavabos y/o servicios” is a beautiful epiphany. They don’t call it ‘hands on learning’ without good reason!

Not only does one experience practical day to day language exchanges, but the architecture student is exposed to the wonders and beauty of foreign design.  The rest of the world (as in, not the US) has a deep appreciation for all things design and seems to have an endless money supply to contribute towards public art and architecture.  Museums are everywhere; street vendors peddle hand-made crafts that make your best models look like grade school show-and-tell projects; nude statues line the streets and plazas and not a single child giggles (unless you are counted among the children, in which case there is at least one giggle).  And the architecture itself?  The beauty!  The imagination!  The pure genius!

Perhaps the most defining moment in the architecture student’s travels is the day when they discover their building. Remember back to that one studio where a professor distinctly told you in no simple terms that your design would never be built?  Remember how they scolded you in front of your peers and all the other jury critics for ignoring the budget or went off on a philosophical rant about how steel just doesn’t belong in that part of the design?  The moment the architecture student rounds the corner and steps into the plaza where they look up and see the very building they had imagined in that studio, a wave of glee and revenge sweeps over them.  Despite the budget concerns and the inherent longing of steel to be erected on the opposite side of the building – there stands the design they had presented to that cranky old professor who said it couldn’t be done.

This is the single most important time for the traveling architecture student because it provides validation that their designs are worthwhile.  That somewhere, a budget does exist to construct their concepts and that someone does appreciate their ‘crazy’ design sense.  It is the ultimate confidence boost that can shape the way a student will eventually practice.  After all, bragging to your friends that you studied and lived in Italy or France for a year is awesome, but telling off your professors because “I totally saw my design over there” is the icing on the cake.

Don’t tell me what I can’t do! (for all you Losties out there)

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