Meet the Student: Norway Meets Mexico


Isabelle Konghaug og Anne Haws, Meet the Student.

«Meet the student» is a column written by Isabelle Kongshaug and Anne Marie Haws. The columnist meets students from different countries who live in Rogaland, and talks about their home country and their lives in Norway.

I met with Gilberto Cervantes on a cool crisp day in March at the Student House on campus. Gilberto is an outgoing, ambitious and involved individual. He moved to Norway to pursue a Master’s Degree in Offshore Technology in autumn 2014. Read more to learn about Mexico, his role as the International Student Union President, and his thoughts on life in Stavanger.

Where are you from?

– I am from Puebla, with a population of about 2.3 million people it is the fourth largest City in Mexico. While it is located east of Mexico City, it doesn’t have nearly as many problems with air quality as Mexico City, because of the high altitude. The climate of Puebla is unique because of its location on a plateau 2,200 meters above sea level. The climate is moderated by the high altitude, and we enjoy more mild weather than surrounding regions. Winter is actually my favorite season, with average temperatures around 10-12 degrees C. I grew up in the middle of the City. From a young age I became accustomed to the buzz of traffic and fast paced feeling in the City.

What is your favorite type of Mexican food?
– I don’t have a favorite, but I really enjoy chile en nogada. Also, I couldn’t imagine life without lime. I always say that there are two flavors that define most Mexican food, corn and lime. Most Mexican dishes consist of some type of spicy sauce or salsa, and this is usually made fresh in Mexico. Salsa can be red or green, and against popular belief by foreigners the tomatoes in green salsa are a different species, not unripe. Another common misconception is the definition of a taco. Outside of Mexico, the taco is very specific. But in Mexico it can be many things (like a sandwich in Norway), it is just a tortilla with any type of filling and a spicy sauce.

Tell me about traditional Mexican music.
– Mariachi music is the most well known traditional Mexican music. It is appropriate to listen to if you are drunk, dancing or heartbroken because most Mariachi music has emotional lyrics. In Mexico it is customary to hire live Mariachi bands to sing at weddings, graduation and Birthday parties. They usually show up to the venue near the end of the party, as late as 2 am, and stay from 30 minutes to one hour.

What type of education did you get growing up?
– I attended private schools growing up. I was really lucky to have the privilege to attend a private school, and I felt that I got a top-notch education there. The school I attended was much more liberal and alternative than elsewhere in the City. Unlike most schools in Mexico, we did not have to wear a uniform and the education was very focused on languages. We learned both English and Spanish. The curriculum was challenging and prepared me well for the University. After my primary education in Puebla, I moved to Monterrey to get my bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering.

How many languages do you speak?
I have proficiency in six languages. I speak three languages fluently including English, Portuguese, and Spanish. I also speak German, Norwegian and French at a conversational level.

Wow! Do you have any tips for language learners?
– I have three main tips that helped me learn these languages. 1. If you know you are moving somewhere, learn the basics beforehand. This is what I did before moving to Brazil, Germany and Norway. 2. Be stubborn, and push yourself to practice. Get outside of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to speak to people. When native speakers realize that you’re serious about trying, they will appreciate it and help you. 3. Lastly, study on your own every day. In the beginning stages of learning Norwegian, I practiced the basics like grammar and vocabulary for about 2-4 hours a day.

Why did you move to Brazil and Germany?
– I moved to Germany for a year as part of a study abroad experience during college. After completing my bachelor’s degree I moved to Brazil for three years for an offshore engineering job. I have a desire to experience new things in the world and to put myself in challenging situations. My job in Brazil was challenging with straining working conditions, but it was a truly fantastic experience where I really grew as a person.

Why did you move to Norway and do you like it here?
– I moved to Norway to obtain a Master`s degree in Offshore Technology. After three years in Brazil, I was ready for a change. I knew I wanted to further my education with a Master`s Degree and considered going to Norway, UAE, Malaysia or the Netherlands. In the end, I chose Norway because I liked the program and felt it offered a unique cultural experience. My family and friends had heard many good things about Norway. But I tried not to have predetermined opinions about it. Luckily they were right! Stavanger is a very small town relative to my home town in Mexico. Probably the most surprising thing about Norway is that the people break all the stereotypes. I am really disappointed about how locals get a bad rep for being unfriendly. While people in Mexico are much more outgoing, I think people put more into their friendships here. They love hugging and are so personable once you break the ice.

What made you want to become the ISU student president?
– From my many diverse experiences living abroad, I`ve developed the belief that international students need a change of mindset. I don’t think there is enough drive to integrate into the culture of a new place in the international community. That thought inspired me to become the ISU student president and has been one of my main missions while taking on the role. The Fadderuke and Orientation week this year were the most important events for achieving this goal. We are proud to haved signed up 240 international students on Norwegians teams during the Fadderuke. Getting exposure into Norwegian culture in the first week after arrival really helps integration. It makes me happy when I see that people who met during Fadderuke are still hanging out today. Overall, it has been a great experience, and I have learned a lot. I am looking forward to meeting new members of the ISU board after the 2016 elections.

What do you miss the most about home?
– Other than my family and friends, what I miss the most is the energy that comes with living in a big city. I miss the social aspects of the city lifestyle like going to happy hour with friends, and dining out on weeknights.


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