“Mi casa es tu casa”

September 16 / 186

Hao and Sam visiting Teotihuacan
Hao and Sam visiting Teotihuacan

“Want to go to Mexico?”

It wasn’t a question science student Hao Le was expecting to hear from the Hackathon Innovation coordinator when he stepped in for a chat. Yet the opportunity to be one of only two Australian representatives at the Association of Pacific Rim Universities (APRU) Undergraduate Leaders Program was something Hao couldn’t turn down.

Hao Le (Bachelor of Science) and Samuel Barnden (Bachelor of Commerce) were selected by their faculties to participate in the two-week long program that included 60 students from across the region.

Founded in California in 1997, APRU brings together an alliance of research universities with a focus on the global challenges affecting the region.

The Undergraduate Leaders Program was hosted by Tec de Monterrey, in Mexico. Students and the local community were brought together to develop practical ways to address problems within the community of Cholula, Puebla. 

For Hao, this involved developing innovative solutions to the community’s waste management and recycling problems. Samuel and his team worked on ways to improve the lives of the city’s impoverished cart sellers, while adhering to the “magic city” tourism goals.

During the trip the two students became close with their Mexican “big brothers,” students from Tec de Monterrey who looked after and worked with the participants throughout their stay.

“It was a short, but concentrated period of time. I think I spent more time with the people I met than with friends at a home,” says Hao.

It was this close-knit and welcoming environment that allowed for the flourishing of friendships and a subsequent visit to the USA with other students for Hao and Sam. 

The experience had a profound effect on both students. Hao was particularly struck by the generosity of the Mexican people. 

“On the first day we met a fruit seller, who was so poor and would commute 45 minutes each day into town to sell her produce, and as she was going to leave she offered all of it to us. She’s got nothing but she is willing to give it all.” 

Samuel was really inspired by the Mexican student culture. Despite external perceptions that they are less fortunate “the students weren’t letting that hold them back and were involved and keen to learn,” he said.

The trip broke down many of the preconceptions the pair held before travelling. They admitted that their one regret was not staying on longer in the country. Cultural lessons, including theatrical reenactments, helped teach them about pre-Columbian Mexico and the effects of Spanish colonisation. 

The pair’s advice to fellow students is to be active and involved in university life and to make the most of all opportunities that come their way. 

Hao and Sam would like to acknowledge the support of the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor International for making this opportunity possible.

Story by Claudia Hooper

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