In the Summer of 2004, I Learned to Never Lose Hope in Human Kindness

One person's generosity not only changed the course of my life, but also created a ripple effect on the lives of many others.

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Thanagon-Karaket/ EyeEm/ Getty Images
Thanagon-Karaket/ EyeEm/ Getty Images

It was July. The streets in Hanoi during the peak of summer were like a grill basket, the tree lines on their two sides BBQed on the roasting granite surface. With a hat, a mask, and a long sleeved shirt to protect herself from the burning sunlight, a 20-year-old girl was tirelessly riding her bike around the city, in search of a sponsor. The heat couldn’t mess with her, because she was on a mission. However, it had been a week without any good news, and she had started to lose hope. I won’t be able to attend the conference that would fuel my dream, but, well, a dream is just a dream anyway, she thought.

A few months earlier, following the advice from a friend who had participated in the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations (HPAIR) conference, the girl had applied. For a long time, she had wished she could become a diplomat or work in international affairs someday. So HPAIR sounded like a perfect opportunity for her to get the exposure and mingle with like-minded students around the world. And who would say no to Harvard?

When she received the admission email from the organizing team, she was so happy, her heart nearly jumped out of her chest. However, she then realized that participants had to cover their own travel and accommodation costs. Enclosed with the admission were the guidelines on obtaining sponsorship. She drafted letters and letters, and went around to find someone who would be kind enough to help her out. By the time she felt the world starting to close in on her, and when she truly felt the heat of the summer, that someone appeared.

She was asking the guard at the office of the biggest online newspaper in Vietnam at that time to allow her to meet with the editor-in-chief. “I’m seeking sponsorship so I could attend the Harvard Project for Asian and International Relations conference. And I believe the editor of this newspaper could help me. Can you please ask him if I can meet him?” she said, sweat rolling down her cheeks. Having finished the sentence, she couldn’t believe she had just said it. Who am I that I dare to speak to the editor of such a big newspaper? 

A few minutes later, the guard put down the phone. “You can go and meet him now,” he said. That sounded like music to her ears. She marched straight to his office. It turned out that the editor had just finished a program at Harvard, and that was why he was willing to see her. They spoke for about 15 minutes, and the deal was made. He would sponsor half of the cost with the condition that she would write a report to be published on their site, and she would work for the newspaper in the Foreign Affairs department as a paid intern. So the young girl got not only the sponsorship, but also a cool internship.

She still had some costs to manage, though. Once a door was opened, another followed, like the domino effect. She visited an airline’s office after that, and asked the manager if they could give her a reduced price. She was asked to get a reference letter from her school so she did just that by asking the dean of her university. Another deal was made. She would get 50 percent off the ticket price.

With that financial support, she headed to Shanghai for HPAIR. It was the first time in her life that she had travelled abroad. She met with many smart students, learning about a wide range of topics with global impact, and began to learn about other cultures. Her world suddenly transformed from a small town to an international arena, into which she was excited to sink into.

After a week, she flew back back to Hanoi with a report, as she had promised the editor. The English department head said she was really impressed with the detailed report, which exceeded her expectations. She also started to work directly with the head of the Foreign Affairs department shortly thereafter, and was mentored by the vice editor, to whom the editor had introduced her. Scanning through and translating international news and being coached by great media professionals for a year helped her get a part-time position, while still a student, as the assistant to the spokesman of the World Health Organization during the Bird Flu epidemic. The conference also helped her make a few good friends, one of whom gave her invaluable advice when she applied for a scholarship to do her Master’s degree in Public Policy in Singapore.

15 years on, the girl is now a married woman with a happy family. She is the founder of a career happiness coaching company in America, helping many mothers across continents to discover and utilize their unique talents, defy traditional career paths, and live their purpose each day. Without the editor’s act of kindness, that girl in the summer of 2004 could have never seen the world and dared to take all of the many other steps that helped make her who she is today.

That girl is me. Time has flown, but I will never forget the experience that not only changed the course of my life, but also created a ripple effect on the lives of many others.

Kindness is powerful.

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