Diveristy in Friendship
by Antone R.E. Pierucci
“When I decide I want to do something,” begins Alberto Castillo, “I go straight for it.” That’s why, in 2019, after losing his job, the 30-year-old member of San Diego No. 35 took a leap of faith. He agreed to a position as an English teacher in Shenyang—a city of 23 million in northeast China—where he’d never been and didn’t speak a lick of the language. What for others might seem like an impulsive jump into the unknown was for Castillo another chance to embrace life’s great adventure. We caught up with him in China to talk about the big move and drawing strength from his lodge brothers a world away.
California Freemason: What’s the biggest surprise about living in China?
Alberto Castillo: Learning that I like teaching. Before I started this job, I didn’t have much connection with kids, even though I’m a Shriner. I’d never felt the kind of unconditional love I have for my students. I’ve already signed on for a second year.
CFM: Were you apprehensive about moving?
AC: I had a lot of emotions. I was trying to figure out what my calling is. Like, where do I fit in as a human being on this earth? So I thought, the same as with Masonry, I’d knock at the door and see what happens. But it was hard. I asked for advice from some lodge brothers, and they were like, The only thing stopping you is yourself!
CFM: You’ve also been blogging and recording a podcast about your experiences abroad.
AC: The blog and podcast are about trying to get people to explore, love each other, and push themselves. For me, coming from a tough background, having a single parent and having to run away, I’ve always been about pushing myself to be better. That’s my entire goal: to change people’s mentality and do new things.
CFM: You mentioned a difficult childhood. Do you think that’s why you’re such a spiritual seeker now?
AC: It definitely shaped me. When I was young, my dad went to prison, and in 2002, when I was 13, my mom and I left him. We ran away on Christmas and got on a Greyhound to San Diego. It sucked. I wasn’t able to go out, hang out with friends. I was always worrying about my home life. So now I try to make a difference—to help people out.
CFM: You’re a long way from your lodge now. Are you able to stay in touch?
AC: I am. Of course, there’s a big time difference. But I’m in contact two or three times a month. If anything, with the pandemic and going virtual, it’s worked a little bit in my favor. It’s not the circumstances any of us want to be in, but at least we’re able to stay connected.
CFM: Is there any message you’d like to send to your fellow members back home?
AC: As I continue my travels, I realize that we light seekers are needed now more than ever. It has been ingrained in our philosophy that we are supposed to make good men better. So it is up to us to shine our lights bright wherever there’s darkness, to offer hope where it seems lost, and to bring relief to our worthy fellow beings. My challenge to you brothers is to show and demonstrate compassion, empathy, and love to your fellow human beings.