When she was 17, Alejandra Gutierrez Luna travelled half the world from South America to Africa to live. There, at a university in Zambia, she started studying medicine. However, five years into her studies, the girl decided to pursue her real passion and moved to Lithuania, to study… architecture. “Architecture offered more than just art studies – it is everything I always wanted to study and do for a living”, says Alejandra, a sophomore student of architecture at Kaunas University of Technology (KTU).
Alejandra says that it took her half a year to find the best option for architecture studies – for her, the key aspects were the time frame and hands-on experience.
“As soon as I saw that KTU has an integrated degree – five years for both bachelor’s and master’s – I thought it was perfect for me. Plus, I wanted to be in a place where I could be exposed to the field right away, where I could master the newest technology. KTU offered it all,” says Gutierrez Luna.
Although very different, architecture and medicine are similarly demanding fields – one needs to learn and improve throughout their career. However, Alejandra does not mind hard work – she is happy to pursue her life-long passion.
“I have always been in love with arts, fascinated in studying the history of the cities. I appreciate researching the spaces and seeing beyond their physical structure. And, of course, I want to be useful for society, serve my social purpose in life,” says KTU MSc Architecture student.
Born and raised in Nicaragua, Alejandra lived there until 15. After two years spent in Panama, she moved to live with her father’s side of the family in Zambia, in Central Africa. According to her, living in Zambia is very different from here. There are no large cities, no cold temperatures – at most, it can get 3 to 4 degrees. Also, people in Lithuania are more reserved, and shyer, In Zambia, they are more relaxed.
“Life is calmer there; its pace is slower. At some point, it becomes rather frustrating – they also don’t work fast,” says a future architect with a smile on her face.
When she decided to give up medicine for pursuing arts, Gutierrez Luna had to do a lot of research. She loves math and logical calculations, and enjoys expressing herself by drawing – architecture encompasses all these aspects and more. Although studying architecture for Alejandra means working 24/7, she has never regretted her choice.
“Having a lot of work is not a disadvantage – I like it. In such a way, I feel that I am being productive, and exposed to the field. Seeing my classmates who are also very dedicated, motivates me, and the teachers provide a lot of help,” says a KTU student from Nicaragua.
Gutierrez Luna came to Kaunas at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, in October 2020. At the time, all the teaching was online, there were many restrictions to her social life – it took three months for the girl to actually visit the city centre.
“My saviour was the KTU Ambassador, a student from my country, who also was studying the same subject. I was contacted by him right away after coming to Kaunas – he started teaching me how everything works. I am very grateful to the university for telling him: look, there is this girl from your country, check on her,” remembers Alejandra.
The medical-turned-architecture student says that the shift from manual practice to digital was challenging at first. Then, when she got used to it – the studies were moved from online to face to face and she had to adapt again! However, Alejandra feels this study mode is a much better option.
Having a lot of work is not a disadvantage – I like it. In such a way, I feel that I am being productive, and exposed to the field.
“I like it more because I feel I’m doing something, not just pressing a button, clicking on the screen. I can go to the library, to the faculty, and use the computer or a laptop in the faculty or in the library. Also, finally, I could meet my classmates. In architecture, you need to meet people, you need to interact,” says a KTU student from Nicaragua.
Having a lot of friends who are studying the same subject back home, Alejandra is convinced that studies at KTU are much more advanced. If in her home country people learn mainly from books and are designing models manually, in KTU they use technologies.
“We use many different programmes and design everything digitally. It’s a great advantage not only because you can do the work faster but also because 3D digital modelling allows you to see the space. For me, it’s important to be exposed to these technologies while I am still studying – in the end, we will be all working with them,” says the future architect.
As Alejandra is studying together with local students, she has many Lithuanian friends. According to her, Lithuanians are shy but helpful and trustworthy. Once you know them, Lithuanians are very cheerful and friendly.
“It takes time for them to open up and let you in. However, once they do – you’re family. It’s such a drastic change! I have an excellent friend in my course – at the beginning, she barely spoke to me, and now she is hugging, chatting and bringing me to her home town to meet her parents,” says a KTU student of architecture.
According to her, when it comes to culture and traditions – Lithuanians and Nicaraguans are very similar. Our cultures are centred on communicating with family, and friends, celebrating Christmas and other holidays.
“Even formalities in both countries are similar – trying to follow the rules and be respectful. The only difference is in the people’s temper – we are very outspoken, quite noisy people, and you are much more reserved. However, this makes a perfect balance – somebody who is shy needs someone who can bring them out,” smiles Alejandra.
Although she loves the Lithuanian kitchen (and adores cepelinai!), the food here is very different from that at home.
“We have a lot of corn and fish, and we eat a lot of roots. Next to carrots and potatoes, we also eat cassavas – they take a lot of boiling to become soft and they are much more fibrous. However, fruit in Lithuania tastes much better than in Africa – where all the fruit is rather sour, and here I can get the tastes I am used to” says Alejandra.
Having left two homes behind, Alejandra misses them both. In Nicaragua, the girl was living 20 minutes from the beach; here she needs to travel quite a bit to get to it. In Zambia, natural wildlife was very close by – fishing in a river and going to see wild animals was very easy.
However, in Kaunas Alejandra has something that was not available at home – freedom.
“In my country, a woman cannot go out alone after five – it’s not safe. If you go out, it has to be with a group of other women or a male companion. In Africa, if you are a foreigner, it means you are always in the spotlight – they will always notice you, and they will know everything about you. Besides, being a woman in Africa is overall dangerous: I have had experience in the medical field and had seen so many girls who were hurt just because they went out alone,” says Gutierrez Luna.
She admits that although spending 100 per cent of her time with her family was very enjoyable, she appreciates the possibility to walk wherever she chooses at any time while living in Kaunas.
“I love being not dependent on anybody, being free, feeling at peace – I can go out knowing that nothing will happen. I have been going on walks, meeting people on my way and being afraid, based on my past experiences. However, they were always nice – they smile and say “hi”, and go away. I have never met a man in Lithuania who was disrespectful toward me. I like that a lot,” says Alejandra.
Today, Gutierrez Luna is a KTU Ambassador herself – advising those, who are looking into studying at KTU.
“For me, KTU is 10 out of 10, it’s a definite YES! The university has given me no reason to say I don’t like it. When I compare studying at KTU with other universities (I have heard about this from my friends back home, from Erasmus students coming from Poland, Italy, and other countries), I can definitely say – if you want to be in the field, to do the real thing, you need to come here,” says Alejandra.
According to her, all her friends who graduated from architecture at KTU – got jobs soon after graduation – in Nicaragua, Finland, and Lithuania: “When my friend showed his university portfolio, he got a job right away: they said that it’s so advanced!”
Alejandra is very happy that KTU is very affordable, all the facilities are very comfortable and close by. However, the essential advantage of KTU is its study quality and dynamic teaching methods – the lectures are interactive, there are site trips allowing the students to be exposed to the field organised and the teachers are very helpful. As Alejandra is studying together with locals, she has already learned some Lithuanian – the young architect feels that knowing the language would be helpful if she decided to stay here for work.
“Later on, I would like to pursue a PhD, but before that, I feel that I need some job experience. I can see that there are many opportunities here in Lithuania; there are many active firms, and there is a lot of work in the cultural heritage field, in the restoration part – that would be very interesting for me. However, I need to practice Lithuanian more,” says Alejandra Gutierrez Luna, KTU architecture student from Nicaragua.
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