Latino Students Prefer Spain: "In Barcelona I Feel Like Home"
Liza Hernández was born in Houston, TX, but shortly before finishing school her parents decided to return to their native Honduras. "I still have friends and family in the United States, I visit them a couple of times a year," explains this Honduran girl with laughing eyes and makeup eyebrows.
Although the U.S. is still the usual destination for young Latin Americans who want to study abroad, there is an increasing number of them that choose to study a postgraduate course in Spain attracted by the advantage of the language and the prestige of some business schools.
This is the case of Lisa Hernández, who after starting the Graphic Design career at Unitec, one of the best universities in Tegucigalpa, she decided to continue her studies in Barcelona.
"I visited the city this summer, on vacation, and fell in love. So when I returned to Tegucigalpa, I went to Google to find the best fashion and design school in Barcelona, " says Liza, sitting in one of the modern armchairs that decorate the entrance of LCI Barcelona.
According to figures from the Spanish Ministry of Education, more than 11,300 students from Latin America came to Spain to pursue Specialization studies in 2015, twice as much as in the 2008-2009 academic year, when only 5,711 young people crossed the Atlantic after finishing university. Latin American students are also the main group of foreigners in Spanish institutions, followed by Europeans (4,503).
LCI Barcelona, better known as the School of Design Felicidad Duce, is an example of how academic institutions in Spain have taken advantage of the boom of foreign students. The school was founded in 1928 by a pioneer dressmaker in Spain (Felicidad Duce) and since 2013 belongs to LCI Education, an international network of design and fashion schools, founded in Canada.
"I did not go to study in the U.S because I go there twice a year, I wanted to try somewhere new," says Liza, clinging to her sophisticated brand bag, along with the rest of her outfit.
"In addition, I was looking for a place where I could feel like at home, not so far from my culture. I know that in Barcelona there are fewer Hondurans than in Texas, but here I feel more comfortable, "she adds.
For the moment, Liza lives with a host Honduran family, but she plans to find and apartment soon. She wants stay in Barcelona for another four years, until she graduates. Then she would like a job in Spain. "In Honduras it's terribly hot, I do not want to go back," she jokes.Outside, the temperature is 69 ºF, quite mild for this time of the year.
In the cafeteria of LCI Barcelona, the mix of Spanish accents floats in the air. The school has around a thousand students, 60% foreigners, mainly from European countries, although in the last two years they number of students from Asia and Latin America boosted.
"They come mainly to study Masters and postgraduate programs, attracted by the fame of Barcelona as the capital of creativity and design, its high educational offer and cheaper prices than in the United States," explains María Portero, responsible for Communication at LCI Barcelona .
LCI postgraduate courses are in English, with an annual enrollment fee of around 7,000 euros ($ 7,450 a year), a much lower figure than the more than $ 35,000 a year it costs to study at Drexel University, one of the best Design schools in Philadelphia, for example.
They come mainly to study Masters and postgraduate programs, attracted by the fame of Barcelona as the capital of creativity and design, its high educational offer and cheaper prices than in the United States.
The majority of Latin American students at LCI Barcelona come from Colombia and Mexico - where the LCI network has two campuses - but there has been a rise in the number of Venezuelan students, who have fled from the complicated political situation in their country. "Many of these Latino students know us through education fairs in Panama and Bogota," explains Maria Portero.
"My mother lives in Miami and insisted that I go to there, but in the U.S. I am not allowed to study and work, so I could not afford it," said David Moreno, a Colombian student at LCI Barcelona, 26. David left his native Santander to study Advertising in Bogotá, "but I wanted to spend some time studying abroad," he explains, while having lunch with his friends in the university canteen.
In Barcelona, David has no legal issues to study and work at the same time, something to which he is already used to (In Bogotá he used to work in a call center).
Our generation begins to look more to Europe than to the U.S.
However, the increase in scholarships and loans has also been a key factor for more and more Latin Americans seeking a postgraduate abroad. Countries like Mexico or Colombia are no longer considered developing nations, but emerging economies. Spain has ceased to give systematic scholarship to Latino students, yet now it is the universities or governments of these countries that provide the scholarships, according to Inma Fortanet, a member of the Conference of Rectors of Spanish Universities (CRUE ), quoted in El País.
On the other hand, there is the cultural factor: the emerging attraction towards Europe. More than half of Liza's friends have gone to study in Europe:
"To Germany, France, Italy ... we are a generation that begins to look more to Europe than the United States, even if we do not know the language of the country we are going to go to," says Liza. Her older sister, however, is studying Event Management in Providence, Rhode Island. "Their studies are much more expensive," says Liza.
Despite the reputation of private centers such as LCI and several Spanish business schools (ESADE, IESE or Instituto de Empresa), where classes are taught in English, the most popular universities in Spain are still public universities: of the 11,301 Latin American universities that arrived in Spain to study a postgraduate course last year, 7,070 went to public institutions and 4,231 to private, according to official data.
Among public universities, Medicine has been a great demand for Latin American students. By 2015 there were about 1,500 medical students from Latin America and the Caribbean in Spain, including Undergraduate and Graduate students.
Among them is Maria Claudia Saldaña, a 33-year-old pediatrician, originally from Bucarambanga, in the Colombian region of Santander. After studying for one year at the Faculty of Medicine in Bogotá, Maria Claudia decided that she wanted to go to study in Spain, a more affordable option - and easier, given the proximity of the language - than the United States. "I applied for Barceona, Valencia and Madrid, I did not care where," recalls Maria Claudia, almost ten years later.
According to the young Colombian pediatrician, "when you study medicine in South America, the learning curve is faster, you have direct contact with the patient much earlier, it is more practical. My classmates in Bogotá had already attended numerous baby deliveries when I was still lost in books in Barcelona, "explains Maria Claudia, who currently has a temporary pediatric doctor position at a primary care center in Barcelona. "In Spain the studies have a more academic approach, as it should be. That's why in Bogota, people who have no money go to university hospitals, are cheaper, because doctors are actually students, "she explains.
Low wages and precarious working conditions is what awaits the Latin American doctor who decides to stay in Spain to work. The wages of Spanish doctors are at the tail of Europe. And while the Spanish doctors go to work to the United Kingdom or to Sweden, the Latinos who chose to come to specialize in Spain face the precarious working conditions offered by the Spanish Public Health system.
In almost every public health center in Spain, you are offered temporary job contracts, week-to-week, even day-to-day contracts...
Maria Claudia Saldaña earns around 2,300 euros per month (about $ 2,600) for a temporary substitution jon in primary care center in Barcelona. She has never had a permanent contract. "In most public health centers in this country they make month to month contracts, week-to-week, or even day-to-day ..." she complains. At the moment, driven by family reasons, Saldaña is considering accepting a job offer in a hospital in Colombia. It would mean to work as a dermatologist pediatrician, and the salary conditions are better than in Barcelona.
"In Barcelona you have to do many overtime hours work as doctor on-call very often s to have a salary of more than 2000 dollars at the end of the month. Yet, when I was a resident doctor, it was even worst" explains Igor, a Peruvian doctor, employed at a primary care in the outskirts of Barcelona.
Unlike Maria Claudia, Igor did not study the full degree of Medicine in Spain, just the specialization (in Spain Medical students need to pass an exam called MIR to carry on their specialization and be able to practice in the rest of the European Union). Igor studied Medicine in Moscow, taking advantage of the academic collaboration agreements between Russia and Latin America, inherited from the Soviet era. But after eight years in Russia, he got sick of the cold and decided to come to Barcelona, where his brother lives.
It was 2010. The year that Igor passed the MIR exams and obtained a residency as "family doctor". In 2010, the quota for foreign students allowed to take the MIR exam was 10%.
Today, the quota of places for foreigners has been reduced to 4%, in order to reduce the "call effect" it produced. Spain has more than 40 Faculties of Medicine, which represents about 7,000 posts - per only 6,000 posts offered at the MIR. In total, in the year 2015, only 244 foreigners were granted a post to carry on their residency after the exam.