A Difficult Transition
I remember how lonely and solitary my journey as an 18-year-old high school graduate from the relative safety and ‘smallness’ of Singapore to the vastness of British Columbia was. I can’t quite shake the dread of, as an international student, failing out of university, the exorbitant fees I had to put up with, and the unfamiliarity with all things Canadian that I had to surmount – it was a ‘freedom’ I had to wrap my mind around and hadn’t previously experienced as I was walled off by the protective embrace of my family. Moving to Victoria was, in and of itself, a challenge as there were few (if any) familiar faces that I encountered that could offer me a semblance of support as I struggled to ‘figure’ out what exactly I was good at.
Having picked political science as a major out of interest, my first days at UVic as an aspiring ‘polisci’ major were tough as, despite the many resources one can rely on as a student, there is no handholding by your instructors. It was thus comforting to, over the years, see the same familiar faces sitting at the very front row of poli 101 (and other classes) on a near daily basis. Whilst I sat a few rows back to give the impression that I wasn’t an eager beaver, Leo sat at the front row with a crew of friends that he surrounded himself with for his freshmen year at UVic. And whilst the course moved at an incredibly rapid pace in which we weaved in from political theory to history and philosophy, one constant throughout that rough transitionary phase of my life was Leo.
It was very hard not to feel that Leo exuded happiness and joy which were attributes I initially struggled with in an unfamiliar country that, as my first winter in Canada neared, felt like the tundra. Living off-campus made it hard for me to cultivate many relationships but Leo always seemed to approach me with a smile on his face and brought his curiosity to the table when we chatted. As a relatively quite individual, I was always curious as to why Leo sought to spark a conversation with someone he knew nothing about but will never cease to thank him for bringing me into his circle of friends when I desperately needed to feel like I truly belonged.
There are two particular instances that will forever remain ingrained in me. The first is of Leo encouraging me to stick with political science after having found out that I had somehow managed to fail my first International Relations test. I (irrationally) feared and panicked that my failure to pass would set off a domino effect whilst Leo patiently told me to persevere and see the class through. Heeding his advice, and ignoring my gut feeling, I kept going at it and progressively began doing so well that I received close to an A by the end of the class. A sense of resilience and the will to persevere were qualities that Leo seemed to possess and qualities that he seemed to see in me at a point in my life in which I was thinking of making a rash decision – dropping the course after failing my first test.
Another moment that I’ll not quite forget is when I returned early from the Christmas holidays. After close to a year, I had still made a handful of friends as my determination to pass turned me into a fairly distant person. Nevertheless, Leo constantly sought to spark conversations here and there, which turned a turbulent year into a bearable one. One such moment occurred when he found me walking around the polisci department on my own and sitting by myself in the common room. Leo always seemed to carry himself around UVic with a smile on his face and kindness in his heart and this was something that I could sense when we started talking about our summer holidays. He seemed to be particularly curious about my experience as a kid who moved from one country to another due to the nature of my father’s work and grilled me about my lived experiences not with ‘naïve’ malice but with genuine and innocent curiosity.
2nd Year and Post-Uvic Life
I attribute the gradual change that I went through at UVic from an aloof and scared kid to a confident one to Leo’s willingness to include me in his life. I went from a relatively unknown and aloof polisci major and gradually became more willing to speak out because of that experience with Leo.
In fact, as a graduate student at the University of Oxford, I sought to embody all of those qualities that he displayed when I was at UVic by ensuring that I sought out newcomers (new students) and made them feel like Oxford could be their home. Leo’s spirit will always live on and it is indeed found in those little acts of kindness that we might think are simply small acts of kindness but, to the person that receives it, it truly could change how they feel, perceive, and see the world. Whilst it mind sound cliché, one individual can through a simple act of kindness change the world and that is what Leo has done – he has passed on a spirit of kindness to a multitude of friends and family that will always live on and remain a part of every single person he’s touched.
I’ll never forget that kind soul that sat in the first row of poli 101 with jet-black, gelled back hair, and brought an eagerness to engage with the instructor to the table. It is my hope that’ll I’ll live through the rest of my life embodying what made Leo a man that everyone truly loved to be near.
– David Michel Fonseca