The Kindness of Strangers

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Today is the UK’s One Day Without Us, a day in celebration of migrants in the UK.

Virtually everyone who’s been a migrant has found themselves reliant on the kindness of strangers at one point or another. Today, I invite people to share their stories of the kindness of strangers, as an inspiration to extend the same kindness to others in future.

Migration happens in radically different circumstances, and in some sense we are all migrants. Migration happens within countries as well as between them, and even within countries it can be hard. And, then, some UK emigrants think of themselves as ‘ex-patriots’, but they’re still migrants!

Conditions range from arriving in a new city to a flat and car that your company has arranged for you, with fridge pre-stocked; to arriving with nothing but your right to asylum; to arriving without even that, and finding ways to make a life anyway between the cracks of a hostile system. My migration experiences have been at the privileged end of the scale. But even then I’ve often found myself reliant on others.

  • Me and my ex are on a boat from Stockholm to Helsinki, the last leg of moving to Finland for me to be an exchange student. I meet a guy who’s just returning home after hitch-hiking round eastern Europe with nothing but a sleeping bag, a toilet roll, and a thick Dostoyevsky novel. He has evidently learned the art of kindness on this trip! Discovering we don’t know where we’re going to live, he invites us to stay at his for our first week. Moreover, as soon as we arrive, he gives us the keys and then says, actually, I’m going up north to stay with my parents for a bit — and just leaves his flat to us.
  • Among the same cohort of exchange students are an impecunious Dutchman, who will scrape by in expensive Helsinki; and a Bulgarian who is relying on a small Erasmus grant that hasn’t yet come through, who has no idea how he’s going to put bread on the table. Although they’ve only just met, the impecunious Dutchman lends (gives?) his even more impecunious friend money until he’s on his feet. I ask myself, ‘would I have done that?’
  • I can’t even remember quite how this transpired, but while in Helsinki I wind up meeting an American PhD student who’s supposed to be in the UK but somehow never is. It comes up that he’s out of cash; we put him up and lend him a few hundred Euros. I ask myself, ‘would I have done that, if it hadn’t been for the impecunious Dutchman?’

Just a few stories of many, and hopefully an encouragement to others to share theirs or their friends’ 🙂 And if you don’t have a story like this of your own yet, you have lots of opportunities ahead of you to make them!


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2 Responses to The Kindness of Strangers

  1. Cathy says:

    My husband Mark got a 4-month research fellowship at a university in Stockholm. It was almost impossible to find accommodation for such a short period before he arrived- every possible lead turned out to be an attempt to con him into paying a deposit from abroad for a non-existent flat. So when he got there his new colleagues put him up in their homes for a week and drove him round the city until they found him somewhere. Another colleague lent us her flat for a week while I visited.
    A lovely guy there threw a party and invited us and 20-30 other friends. On realising we didn’t speak Swedish the ENTIRE PARTY switched to speaking English for the whole evening.
    Later that year we moved from the UK to Chicago. There were several incidents of strangers stopping on snowy roads to offer us lifts – once really saving our necks after we’d misjudged how far you can walk in an Illinois winter. And when we had a baby miles from family and friends three lots of people, one whom we’d met once, one complete stranger, made and delivered dinner to our home to make those first few weeks a little easier.
    I am truly grateful to all these kind people- what they did made a huge difference to me.

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