The experience of a spanish architect in USA (feature)

“If I have learnt something about my experience in the United States is that nothing is as easy as they try to sell you”, said Esther Menduiña, a 29 years old Architect, who travelled to America with an Argo Global grant, which gives the opportunity to do internship in international companies, for nine months, that then would extend to two years.

Everything, from finding the architecture studio to finding a house, was difficult, but she remembers especially the visa process as hell. “I divide the time there into three periods and all due to the visas: as a tourist, then the F1 (student visa), the J1 (practice visa). And for all the administration process I had to go back to Spain to solve the changes. Which means it was a waste of time and great expense”, she admitted.

When she first arrived she counted with ESTA, which is an authorization that 37 countries, including Spain, can benefit from, and allows the tourists to remain in USA for no more than 90 days. “During those three months I had the most complicated tasks, to find a house in San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the USA. After that, I sent my CV to the whole 360 architecture firms. At the same time I was looking for a studio and a complementary job, to live for, which weren’t easy duties either”, she adds.

Although she found quickly an architecture studio to do the internship in, in Mark Horton ones, the Argo Global grant didn’t start to work properly when she contacted them. “This grant used to find a company and match it with a student, but in my case I decided to give them everything done and I look for the studio”, Esther explained.

“When I had the studio I got in touch with the Argo administration team to tell them that I already had an agreement. I made it easier for them, saving time, but despite that they couldn’t ensure me the grant. I was finishing almost the 90 days of the visit permission and I didn’t know if I could extend my stay. So I had to come back to Spain and apply for the F1, which is the student visa that allows you to remain 5 years in the country.

“Before was easy to get the student visa for the Europeans. But nowadays, due to the crisis, is difficult for us, especially for the Spanish ones, because they know the situation of our country and they don’t believe that we go just to study. Anyway three years ago was strict as well. I was attending to English classes and I couldn’t miss any of them because in that case they could throw me out of the country. And my intention was to stretch on my stay to see if I finally would get the grant to work in the architecture studio”, she said.

During the next 9 months she was working as a waitress in a fast food restaurant, as a babysitter, studying English and doing unpaid internship in Frank Bergamaschi Architects studio, where she could become familiar with the standard American units and the vocabulary. “In all that time I didn’t have any days off. All my free time I was totally dedicated to the grant and the visas process”, she continued.

Finally she could do the internship, with the J1 (practice visa) at the studio and prolong it even 9 months more. After that she found a fabulous studio in Silicon Valley, Bellomo Architects that paid her 50.000 dollars a year, plus benefits and diets. However she didn’t have the Hb1, the work visa. “There are 65.000 visas for USA. The last two years the quota wasn’t completed, but this year 150.000 people was applying to get it. So I didn’t get into the raffle, even if I had got a good job, it wasn’t enough.

“After all I fought, I confirm that everything was a big lottery, it doesn’t depend on your effort. My conclusion after leaving the country is that the immigration law in USA is very strict but it served to make me strong. And above all, I learnt that the American dream, that they try to sell us, it is a big lie and even if you fight for it all is about luck”, she concluded.

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