Today, on International Migrants Day, I wanted to share a story of one of the many migrants who has had a pleasant experience of migration and integration into British culture. Here is Toufik’s story:
My name is Toufik – I am from Syria; I initially came to the UK some 20 odd years ago to do a Master's Degree in English Literature. As a young student back then, I had always dreamt of continuing my studies in England. I had never been abroad before and I was excited at the prospect, yet I did anticipate some ups and downs in my new adventure. I had hopes that I could continue my studies and would have a better prospect when I go back to Syria; but I also predicted the disappointments I would have if I’d find it hard to settle in my new temporary home, miss my home country or simply couldn’t find a job.
I was the youngest of three sisters and one brother; all married and settled with kids and jobs. My parents were elderly enough that they didn’t oppose my travel abroad; after all why should they?! They always believed in encouragement and being assiduous. Bidding my family farewell back then keeps ringing in my ears to this day, “don’t you worry – I will be back next year.”
But fate took a different course. Life was so different in the UK. When I arrived in London back in the nineties, I had little money on me – fortunately my scholarship was sorted, including my accommodation. However, a part time job was required to keep me going. One day, as I was having my morning walk in Greenwich Park, I got to chat briefly to a friendly woman walking her dog about what I did and where I came from. She advised that they were always look for temps in day centres and hostels for homeless men and women.
The same day after I finished my lecture, I popped in to the day centre the woman had mentioned. I walked through the door into a hallway filled with people – some looked very sad while others seemed cheerful. I got seen to by the manager called Tom, and he offered me a temporary job in the adjacent hostel. He was very pleasant and I am grateful for he has helped me tremendously throughout that period and for many years.
I started working as a cleaner, which I didn’t mind. Then I started helping in the kitchen, washing up and peeling vegetables. It was heart-breaking to see some members of the hostel ruining their lives by drinking themselves to death. I befriended most of them, especially the hostile ones. I tried to listen attentively to their struggles and stories of addictions; some were trying their best to form a better life, yet reversion was inevitable. I found a glint in their eyes; a catalyst to help others and those in need. It gave me some kind of reward and satisfaction, which reminded me how much goodness is missing in human lives.
My degree studies soon ended and I was proud to achieve a first class, as was my family. My visa was also about to run out, but my emotional attachment to this place was so great that I actually didn’t want to leave. Tom, the Day Centre Manager where I worked, was also sad to see me leaving, especially after having had forged a great rapport with his clients and staff. “I must think of a way to make you stay here,” he commented.
A month before I was due to leave for Syria, he called me into his office and offered me a work permit for five years. I was over the moon. During that period, I continued studying towards a degree in psychology and social work, which I thought was very much needed for that type of work. I had never pursued a career in English teaching as intended when I first came to the UK – instead, I remained in the social sector – helping others to form their lives and personalities. I became fully integrated in British society and I felt proud of being part of my new home.