Days Well Spent

Gabriel Gonzalez Mandiola explains why he has chosen to be an ambassador for Edinburgh alumni living in his native Chile.

Gabriel Gonzalez Mandiola
Gabriel Gonzalez Mandiola. Photo: Macarena Larraín Bontá.

I like to think that not only did I choose Edinburgh, but also Edinburgh chose me. I was attracted to the institution because of its prestige. Its name conjures a sense of commitment to education; the ability to combine tradition with cutting-edge work. As an aspiring student in Chile, that inspired me – as did Scotland itself. Scotland is seen as a country with so much self-belief and conviction, something that is sadly lacking in the world today. It has a strong sense of duty towards sustainable and fair infrastructure and developments, two principles that are also my ideals. I was a young guy who wanted to change the world, so Edinburgh seemed like the best place to start.

My studies were financed through a scholarship provided by the Chilean government, which meant that after graduation I was committed to return to my country and use my education and new skills for its benefit. So I see my education as a kind of endowment for Chile and I’m motivated by the idea of doing something positive for my own community. On returning, I moved to the capital, Santiago, and set up my own independent architectural firm. My projects are based on the concept of merging architecture and nature, since I’ve had a great love of animals and the environment since my childhood when I took part in rodeos. So far I have taken industrial and residential projects, as well as collaborations on office and hotel buildings.

It was while setting up my business that I began to think about the University of Edinburgh and the impact it had on me. I became motivated by the idea of forming relationships with people who shared my experiences: that’s when I decided that I should volunteer for the University and set up the first Edinburgh alumni group in Chile.

I was a young guy who wanted to change the world, so Edinburgh seemed like the best place to start.

Gabriel Gonzalez Mandiola

Currently, we have 70 active members in the group, out of a total alumni cohort of 180, so that is very encouraging. The cornerstone of the group is friendship and sharing the warmth that we feel towards the University, and we hold several events throughout the year where we can get together to reminisce and make new connections. But I am convinced that we can use the group to benefit each one of us, not to mention the University and society in general. It’s a grand ethos but I believe we can become a respected voice for our professions and for Edinburgh. We are in a particularly strong position because of the sizeable number of Chilean students wishing to study at Edinburgh, and the fact that the University chose Santiago as the location of one of its four Global Offices.

What I love about our group is its diversity – it’s definitely one of its main strengths. We have members from various backgrounds, professions and generations. Our events and meetings facilitate a kind of fraternal bridge where these different groups can meet and celebrate their shared connection with the University and Scotland. It’s effectively a space for our very best memories.

And my personal memories of Edinburgh are so important to me. It’s a period of my life I will always treasure. After all, my daughter, Antonia, was born there. I also remember my desire to learn, pursuing my dreams, and asking myself every day ‘what do I want to learn today?’ The city itself is so vibrant and I loved cycling around a place that was so enchanting.

If I were to go back to Edinburgh for just one day, I would probably spend it on my feet, starting at my former study base in Minto House on Chambers Street before walking to George Square Gardens and exploring all those buildings and places I loved as a student. Then I’d head down to Princes Street to admire the castle again before gathering friends for the chance to watch the sun set from Arthur’s Seat. That would be a day well spent.