The spring semester of my sophomore year I was blessed enough to study abroad in The Netherlands. I was in a rather small town full of liveliness and well, very much dutch. An amazing place in which students from many parts of the world come and dive into a hub that I can only describe as very student-friendly. That town was Maastricht, a beautiful town that became my second home.
It has been almost a year since I came back to the U.S.A. from that unforgettable semester. Not all was incredible, I definitely had my fair share of not so pleasurable experiences. But more on that later, because the main topic of this post is the start of a series named- you guessed it- the kindness of a stranger.
I was fortunate enough to be able to travel quite a bit during my time in Maastricht, going to a different city or country whenever possible. In one of these occasions, is when I met a very kindhearted individual with whom I still communicate here and there through email. I guess I can say he has become a sort of email pen pal- haha… yes, I am actually chuckling. Anyhow, I still think about his actions from time to time and reflecting on it, I wanted to share the kindness I received that day and how it still affects me to this day.
How we meet
I was traveling from Maastricht to Charleroi, Belgium because my flight was from the Charleroi Airport. I believe I was going to be traveling to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit someone I had met in Dublin, Ireland. So, the closest airport with the cheapest flights where from Charleroi. However, it was quite the travel itinerary since, there was no direct way of getting from Maastricht to the airport. I had to take a Flix bus that left me in front of the train/bus station in Charleroi. From there I had to take a bus that took people to the airport and then get off and walk a short distance to the terminal that I needed to be at.
Mind you, this was the first time going to that airport but also taking a trip within Europe by myself. Even though I was anxious and excited and a bit all over the place, I managed to get to the bus stop where the Flix bus would arrive in Maastricht to take me to Charleroi. However, trying to figure out the next step was another thing on its own. There didn’t seem to be a sign or something to point to where I should buy a ticket for the bus. So, I looked around the train station, trying to figure out what others where doing but to no avail. I decided I needed to ask someone for help so I went to the little ticket building next to the tracks hoping for an answer. I got in line and waited to be called.
Although I am not fluent in french, I can understand and speak a certain amount of it but in this instance I was very much struggling to do either. I was already panicked that I would not figure it out, afraid to get lost or stranded or that some other terrible scenario my mind was creating would come true. So, when I was trying to communicate with an employee at the booth, it was becoming frustrating and difficult.
Fortunately, here’s when an older gentleman approached the window I was at and proceeded to help me out. I remember standing in front of him on the queue. It seemed he was also confused and trying to figure out where to obtain a ticket. As it seems to be the case when there’s a long line, only two booths were open. As he saw my struggle to be understood, he stepped in and asked what we both were wondering. How to get a ticket to get to the airport.
After he finished the conversation with the employee, he told me to follow him to the machine right outside. That is where we would be getting our tickets. As much as he knew french, it seemed I knew how to use technology. So, I helped him with purchasing his ticket. It seemed we would be waiting in the same area and we were going to the same place, so we started chatting. This gentleman’s name: Louis.
Act of Kindness
It was not only about how he had helped me out at the booth but it is also about the gestures that continued afterwards. See, the more we chatted, the more we learned about each other, as it normally goes. But even when we got on to the bus, our conversation continued equally engaging and all the way to the airport. I had learn about his french roots and how he ended up living in the UK. Likewise, he learned about where I was from and where I was going.
We could have said goodbye as soon as we got to the airport and gone our separate ways but that is not how fate would have it. I was not being naive, I was aware of any potential dangers as a short and not very imposing individual. But to better understand I can only describe him as a grandfather. Kind, caring, and sincere.
Before he went through security, since his flight was departing long before mine, he did two things: he gave me his food and his email address. Why is this important? Because I was going to stay the whole night in the lobby until my very early flight the next morning and I had not packed food. Equally so, because in the short time we had talked it felt as if we had already known each other before that day. If you had seen us talking, you wouldn’t have thought that we had just met hours earlier.
If I must add, it was respectful that he did not ask for my information but rather gave me the option of reaching out. I highlight this because as a young woman that was traveling alone, I know the many dangers that unfortunately surround me and many other women.
So… now what?
Well, as I had mentioned, we still keep in touch. He sends me recipes, lovely pictures of nature when he goes on walks with his wife as well as advise and encouragement. I do hope that some day I’ll be able to see him again.
Not every encounter needs to be an everlasting friendship or a happy ending but every encounter should be made with kindness. As old as time, whenever you can, lend a helping hand because you never know who is at the receiving end and how that might change their live or yours.
Just remember: In a world in which you can be anything, be kind.