My life in this country has, in great parts, been shaped by the people I met, the friendships I made and, at times, the lessons I learnt from when I was faced with the odd human dung beetle. Having arrived in England nearly two decades ago, just me, so very young and so, so naïve, I could not hide behind a pre-formed community, existing relationships or friendships. Being alone and new to everywhere I went, I had to immerse myself into life in a small town and rural area in the middle of the country. Looking back now I don’t know how I did it and I admire my bravery and guts to just carry on with my life in a place which was so strange to me, how I was never phased by the lack of familiarity around me, the many words I did not understand and the way of life that was so unlike from everything I was used to. What I do know is that I would certainly not have stuck around for so long, had it not been for the people that crossed my paths, some for only a few minutes, some for a few years and some for the majority of my time here.
The generosity and kindness of the British revealed itself on my very first day here: Shortly after boarding the plane I started speaking to a couple from London and by the time we set to land, they had offered me a lift from the airport to St Pancras. A few hours later, a total stranger not only helped me off the train with my painfully heavy luggage but also called me a lift from his mobile, in addition to giving me money for a cab, “just in case they don’t turn up”. Such acts of kindness by strangers have weaved their way through my story in this country. A woman, now one of my closest friends, gave me a place to live when I was homeless after a messy break-up. She barely knew me but because of her I got back on my feet and thrived. One of my closest friends is the result of temping somewhere for a mere two weeks, but she has stayed in my heart and life since. I call another woman my English sister. She has known me for many years and, despite some personal ups and downs, we have ended up closer than ever. Our kids are best friends and I can count on her any day or night. Those are just a few snapshots of many wonderful moments I experienced. Whether those friendships I encountered over the years have lasted or have come and gone, one thing applies to them all: The people I met and spent time with were, by and large, genuinely welcoming and friendly. Who I was, where I was from and what I did had no impact on how they included and embraced me. On the contrary: There has always been a curious interest as to which part of the world I was from, followed by an even more enthusiastic recollection of their own personal connection to my home country. The stereotype of a standoff-ish, cool and calm Brit has never shown itself to me; instead I have been able to see their warmth, kindness, brilliant humour and self-deprecation. There were lots of things that have kept me here for so long, and the people of Britain certainly played a big part of it. The event of Brexit made me question my fellow humans in this country, wondering, as I walked the streets after the referendum, who had voted to leave and who had chosen to stay. However, by recalling all the affection and love I’d experienced throughout the time here makes it easier to see past the recent political events and will, hopefully, mend the cracks that still show. With Valentine’s Day upon us soon, this is my declaration of love to the residents of Brexitland: I love you. Always have, always will. And thank you for loving me in return.