Posted on May 25, 2009 by Tia Lalani

Student Daniel Francois Hugo was one of the students participating in the Puebla-Alberta Community Service Exchange this past year.

By Nhial Tiitmamer
For some students, learning experience can be gained only through attending lectures, labs and doing assignments, but for Daniel Francois Hugo, those were not enough.

“Your learning experience starts only when you get involved. You learn when you start interacting with people. You learn from situations of conflict – cultural conflict, personality conflict, group conflict, & decision-making conflict,” he said.

Popularly known by his middle name, Francois is one of the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus students who spent three months doing community study projects in rural Mexico in the fall of 2008 through the Puebla-Alberta Community Service Exchange (PACSE).The exchange lasted for five months, two of which were spent in rural Alberta to finish the final leg of their study projects.

When I sat down with him for an interview, he spoke of his learning experience on the program with a great passion and a great sense of humor, including one of the biggest culture shocks for him – the endless explosions of fireworks.

Fireworks exploded at 1 a.m., 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. and he began to worry about what was happening.

“I jumped every time I heard firework. It was almost like anxiety for me,” he said. “Everybody looked at me and would ask, ‘why are you jumping?’ Everyone was like: you have to stop doing that."

“You know, it was annoying. First all, you don’t understand what the fireworks were about and so it was just like annoying. You wake up like a Vietnam vet just out of post war hearing these explosions going on.”

It took almost a week before he could understand that the fireworks were part of the Mexican everyday life. They are used to celebrate everything from birth to death.

It did not take long time before things started to look normal. His Spanish improved quickly. He started to interact a lot with his host family as well as community members. His host dad was one of the interesting persons he had ever lived with. He is a guitar player, a singer and a local politician, who loves his family and everyone around him.

“Family is always very important to the Mexican culture,” he said. “In rural Mexico, what keeps people together, what keep communities together is important to everyone more than to one individual. They do that in such a strong way.”

However, he said here in Canada, “it is independent individual life, focusing on time, getting things done, to be professional, to be highly qualified. When you want to go to the bar with your friend, you pick up the phone and say hey, you want to go to the bar but in rural Mexico, you do not have to call somebody, you just go over.”

Francois finishes his tale by saying that the PACSE program has taught him that “everything is a learning opportunity if you get involved.”


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