Alumni spotlight: Leonardo Zea Reyes

Leonardo Zea Reyes graduated from the Urban Management and Development Master programme in 2017, after studying the Urban Environment, Sustainability & Climate Change specialisation track. Back to Mexico after his year in the Netherlands, Leonardo started teaching at University of Guadalajara and he became the director of Cónclave - Centre of Urban Climate Change (CCCU) - a consulting and research company branch that aims to create a bridge between the educational, private-business and government sectors and generate knowledge around the issue of climate change.

What was your study experience like?

In a nutshell: the best! It was an amazing time. My batch (UMD 13) was an awesome one. Even today, I still look back at that time at IHS and I remember how great it was, how much I enjoyed my friends, Fridays at school playing foosball at the unusual “library-bar”, the weekend parties, the enriching hard work of the UMD and the whole environment of IHS. It was a very productive year for me, personally. Sometimes I feel nostalgic and wish I could travel back in time to live the same experience again.

How was life after graduation? What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome?

I must say although I was very happy and confident about a new future, I faced diverse challenges when I came back to Mexico - that now I have happily overcome. The first one was to settle down again with a decent job. I had been constantly moving in and out of Mexico due to both studies and jobs abroad in Dublin and Nairobi before the master in the Netherlands, so when I came back, I thought I would easily get a job and it turned out to be quite the contrary. I realized from my personal experience that the more prepared you are in terms of education in Mexico, the more difficult it is to find the job you want. The explanation for this can be that some companies may not be ready, nor capable to pay the salary of a postgraduate. Another challenge I had right away on my return, was that I was so used to the lifestyle, to my friends from the master and the things we used to do together, that it was difficult to move back and accommodate myself again to the status and rhythm I had before. I guess it is a matter of staying patient and knocking on different doors. Eventually, you will get where you want. The thing is that maybe you didn’t know that you wanted that.

What is your current occupation? Why did you choose to do this job?

I am the coordinator of environmental impact assessment studies within a private sector company called Cónclave Constructora. I also opened up a new branch in this same company called Centro de Cambio Climático Urbano (Centre of Urban Climate Change) which is dedicated to generating new knowledge about climate change management and governance in the city of Guadalajara. We are currently working with the municipal government of Zapopan, part of the Guadalajara Metropolitan Area, on a rain and flooding risk and vulnerability assessment of in the municipality.

Also, as I just said, sometimes you didn’t know that you wanted or you would like something until you go through it. This is exactly what happened to me more than one year ago when I became a professor (surprisingly) at my alma mater, the University of Guadalajara. I never thought I would like it, but now I’m very passionate about it. I teach at the undergraduate level in both degrees of Urbanism and Environment and Architecture, and occasionally in special courses of the Master of Urbanism and Territory. Since August this year, I was elected president of the Academy of Environment of the Centre of Art, Architecture and Design of the same university. My experience as an academic has been in many ways a very fruitful one.

Did your studies help with finding your current occupation and if yes, how?

Yes, absolutely, it took quite some time but in the end, things sorted out well. Without the master degree, I wouldn’t be able to become a professor at the university, including everything it implies: preparing and holding a class, design evaluations and learning unit programmes, etc. Having knowledge on how to structure a research is a great advantage.

What do you see yourself doing in the next few years?

Well, I want to do my PhD so I am working on that.

What would you advise the current master students and aspiring ones?

It's not my case, but I would tell current students to focus on the master, finish their thesis and obtain the diploma in due time. Do not forget, this is the main reason to undertake the programme, so one must be goal-oriented, in other words.

To aspiring students, I would recommend being open-minded to totally different ways of thinking and doing and different habits, especially since they will live in a very multi-cultural and diverse country like the Netherlands. I would definitely suggest getting out of their comfort zone before starting the master, whatever this means to each person: living with new people (not with parents), mingle with people of different backgrounds, cook for your own, I don’t know, doing something they were not used to, because this is what you will have to do during your stay in Rotterdam. Living abroad, far from your family and friends can be challenging. So probably if you don’t like it or are unwilling to do so, you will find it very difficult to manoeuvre the whole year. Once this is overcome, it starts to feel comforting.

Another thing is to start searching for where you’re going to live, your home. There is an apparent housing deficit in Rotterdam and this was quite a challenge for me, it took me at least 2 months to find a place: several weeks before I arrived and around 3-4 weeks once in Rotterdam, so I had to live in King Kong hostel for a while. Having a permanent place is a first need.

Although all this may sound quite demanding, I highly recommend going through this master study experience to grow personally, academically and professionally.

Find out more about Leonardo's experience in the Netherlands in the video below.

Life after IHS

Leonardo Reyes