There are a lot of selfish, greedy, and bad people in the world, and if you’re lucky, you encounter a few good ones on your journey.
When I was a junior in college, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad for a semester in Beijing, China. And while it was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life, parts of it were also very challenging.
I remember stumbling off the bus on campus, after the ride home from the airport, a few thousand miles from the familiar Loyola Campus in Chicago. The air in Beijing was harsh–dry and cold. While it was actually 7 or 8 pm local time, my body and mind still thought it was 6 in the morning and I had not been to bed.
There I was, jet-lagged, exhausted, and freezing in the lobby of what would be my dorm for the semester. I had 2 heavy suitcases and there was no elevator. I wasn’t sure how I would be able to drag myself up the 3 flights, let alone all my luggage. That is when I first met Francisco.
I would learn later that Francisco was a jesuit from Portugal who had been in China for some time, studying the language, and helping at The Beijing Center (TBC) for Chinese studies. At that moment, all I knew was that he was a nice guy who helped me carry my suitcases to my room.
After a good night’s rest, Francisco gave us a tour of the campus and surrounding area. He guided us around, illustrating his vast knowledge of the culture and the language, answering any questions us new students had. I thought, maybe I will be OK living here for 4 months.
The real challenge came after about a month of being in Beijing. We were to travel to the Yunnan province in southern China for 2 weeks during the Chinese new year break. 6 different stays in rural villages. While I had made friends, the thought of being seperated from Dave, then boyfriend/current good friend who had travled with me that semester, terrified me. But we were forced to do just that when we arrived in our first village. We were all seperated into our various groups and told to meet back at another location in an hour.
I was assigned to a family with one other female friend, and we followed them through the unpaved road to their home, and I was Daveless. I wouldn’t call what we experienced in our first meal at our host-family’s house a language barrier, but more like a language wall. Our Mandarin skills were probably at like, 5 year old level, but that got us nowhere. The language our family spoke was their own dialect. We literally could not communicate besides through smiles and hand gestures.
We ate so many things that we were unsure of exactly what they were. We politely swallowed the grain alcohol they offered us, and tried desperately to communicate that we needed to be back at the basketball court, wherever that was, by 3:00. Eventually we made it there, and we found the rest of our group seated on rocks, listening to our guide. Dave and his group were nowhere to be found. Where was he? Was he OK? At that moment, the exhaustion, fear, newness, frustration, and apprehension overwhelmed me, and I just started crying like a child.
The next thing I knew, a comforting arm was around me. It was Francisco. “Everything is going to be OK. It’s OK to cry,” he said. In that moment, if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what I would have done. I got myself together, Dave showed up late. I lived.
For the rest of the time spent abroad, Francisco was a calming presence. Even as the tiny plane we were on jolted around over the unstable mountain air, Francisco saw the panic in my face. “Megan, look at the flight attendants. You see they are perfectly calm. There is nothing to be afraid of.” He said. I unclenched my intenstines and panicked again when the plane appeared to be headed straight towards a mountain.
Me: OH MY GOD, WHY ARE WE DESCENDING?
“Megan, we are landing!” Dave said, his tone 3/4 comforting, 1/4, chill out.
I have no contact information for Francisco, and I am unsure where he is in the world today. Wherever he is, I know he is touching people’s lives. He is one of the people in this world who I can honestly say is a good one.
Francisco, if you ever read this, thank you.