Luis and Dr. Burley visiting a surface mine in Michigan 2007. Image courtesy Jon Bryan Burley.
It feels like yesterday that I entered the landscape architecture (LA) program at the University of Algarve in Faro, Portugal. But it was not! Since then, nine years have passed. These are nine years that I will remember forever, not only because they marked one of the most important phases of my life, but also because those were the years when I met several “brothers in arms” (i.e. landscape architects who became part of my family), became a landscape architect, and started my Ph.D program.
The Ph.D program has helped me to understand that not everything is what it seems, that hierarchy is still important in some academies, and that one should follow his beliefs (no matter how ambitions they are), paying attention to those that encourage us and not to the ones that try to bring us down). The chance to work towards a Ph.D, studying at the University of Algarve (UAlg), at Michigan State University (MSU) and at the University of Toronto (UofT) was a great opportunity. By the way, I would like to thank those who motivated and still continue to motivate me to pursue my academic studies, especially my Ph.D. Coordinators: Professor Thomas Panagopoulos at UAlg, and Professor Jon Burley, at MSU, and also Professor Charles Waldheim, Dean at the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at Uof T.
University of Algarve versus Michigan State University
The LA programs at the University of Algarve and at Michigan State University are remarkable, both in scale and culture. Doing this comparison is at the same time pleasant and challenging. Pleasant, because both are, at the moment, my “homes.” UAlg was always my home, the place where I achieved the largest part of my education and where I expect to work in the future, as a professor. MSU, although I was there for a short period, made me really feel at home because of the way people received me, and their willingness to help. I felt like a true Spartan! The challenging part of this task is connected with the fact that, even though the LA programs of those universities are different, they are both very good, and oriented to the same objective: to form professionals better prepared to create a positive change.
In fact, if one takes a deeper look at both degree programs, one will find that there are significant differences between these programs. However I will only list two that I consider really important. The MSU LA program was the first landscape architecture degree created in the United States (1898). It is a program with a long history and educational background. The LA program at UAlg is quite recent; it was created in 1998, exactly 100 years after the creation of the MSU program. The second difference regards faculty composition. At MSU, the LA faculty is composed of full time professors, whereas at UAlg more than half of the LA faculty is composed of professors who are also practitioners, dividing their working hours between the University and the public or private companies for which they work. This makes a huge difference. At MSU the learning process is more supported; the professors are always there for you, ready to help you any time you need them. At UAlg, the LA program is more “self-oriented.” Even if the professors want to help, they are not always there! Although this is not a pleasant characteristic for students, it also has some benefits: you start to learn earlier how the real world functions.
Despite those differences, as the Dean of the University of Algarve, Professor Doutor João Guerreiro used to say “the universities have always been research and knowledge dissemination centers.” In this regard, the LA programs at the two Universities disseminate the same idea. The idea is that as landscape architects we should promote the creation of landscapes that ensure sustainable development, while protecting the environment, preserving natural and cultural assets, and improving people’s quality of life.
A great cultural and learning experience!
Since 2003, when students from different countries started to develop international exchange programs in the UAlg LA program, I thought that studying abroad would be a great experience. The opportunity to learn something different, or rather, something that might be the same but presented in a completely different way, is a life time opportunity. The chance to experience new things and see new scientific horizons is amazing; it is something I really recommend. You grow not only as a researcher but also as a person.
|Alhambra Generalife, Spain. Students gather from three different universities (University of Algarve, Portugal; Louisiana State University, U.S.A.; and Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil) at the start of Luis’s travels. Image courtesy Luis Loures.
Despite what one might think, I did not come here to add “international studies” to my personal resume, I came because I knew this would be a great experience, an experience that cannot be learned in books, something that you have to feel in order to describe. I won’t tell you that it was easy, because it wasn’t. It is a long process which starts with financial considerations: trying to answer the question: Is the money I have enough to support my expenses? (It was not, but once I really believed that this would be a great experience, I decided to sell my car in order to pay for part of the expenses). Then, you arrive in a foreign country, and you start to experience what I call “cultural adaptation,” which is the phase when everything is new, and when (if you are a sensitive person), you will miss your family, your friends, your life! After these less pleasant stages you start to get used to your new reality and to face things in a more positive manner. In fact, this is what it is all about. We all need to believe that everything always has a positive side, because if we face things using a positive attitude, “the glass is not half empty, it is half full.”
If I had the opportunity, I would do it all again, because this has been a wonderful experience. Learning, researching, and lecturing are really pleasant things to do! Maybe I just feel this way, because as Confucius, the Chinese philosopher from the VII century b.c. said, “those who work in what they love, pass their entire life without working”.
Greetings from Portugal,
Luis Loures is a landscape architecture professor at the University in Alentejo in Portugal. He is finishing his PhD from University of Algarve, Faro Portugal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.