Kate Seewald is my one of my closest friends from my exchange year in Germany. While I was halfway through the school year studying in Frankfurt in 2005-2006, Kate had just arrived from Australia. We studied at the same high school for a semester and had lots of adventures together in Frankfurt. Almost ten years later, I stay in touch with Kate and impressed with her important work with women around the world.
Kate is driven, globally aware, smart, dedicated to women-centered causes, and lots of fun.
As an exchange student, I lived with two host families in two different cities in the Frankfurt area - half of the year with each. Both were wonderful and everything I needed at the time. For the second half of my exchange year, I lived directly in the city and attended Heinrich von Gagern Gymnasium. Shortly after I arrived, Kate (also with Rotary International – my program) started at Gagern, too.
We were sort of two peas on a pod! Kate and Cat – both English speakers, both on exchange, both awkward and awesome ladies trying to speak German and make our way in Deutschland. We spent a great deal of time together exploring the Frankfurt area. We regularly attended the English movie theatre, sat in the sun on the banks of the Main River, visited each other at our host family’s houses, and discussed all of our linguistic and cultural differences. For instance, at the time, Kate legitimately thought that all US phone numbers included 555 – like in the movies! And, I had no idea about word differences like capsicums (peppers) and prawns (shrimp). (My world was altered when I realized that putting on a fake Australian accent and saying “Let’s put another shrimp on the barbie” was not at all accurate as Australians don’t even say “shrimp”!)
Kate was born in a small country town in Australia (hilariously called Wagga Wagga) and moved around a lot in remote New South Wales growing up as her dad was in the police force. When she was 17, she left home to live in Frankfurt as an exchange student – where our paths crossed. Kate says that this was probably the most pivotal, influential experience of her life. (For real! Like I mentioned in an earlier post, the beauty, challenge, and adventure of my exchange experience had a wildly positive impact of my life, as well.)
After earning a bachelor's degree in International Relations and Anthropology, Kate completed a Master's in Human Rights in the hopes of someday working on women's rights and global feminist issues. After two long years and five internships in four countries, including with the UN in Palestine and with Save the Children in Papua New Guinea, she finally landed a job with the INGO ActionAid International in London. She has worked with them on their Safe Cities for Women Campaign (which aims to eradicate sexual violence in city streets), within the organization’s International Secretariat for a couple of years, and now she’s working with ActionAid Cambodia for 2015 in order to support their national campaigning efforts.
While in Frankfurt, Kate and I became very close. I shared, what might have been, the best summer of my entire life with Kate. Summer 2006 was when Germany hosted the World Cup. Games were played all over the country – some in Frankfurt. We never went to the games at the stadium but took part in the large crowds and festivities in the city center and along the Main River. People from all over the world were visiting Frankfurt and Kate and I were happy to party with all of them! We were expert English speakers so had no trouble chatting with everyone and could always resort to secret talks in German in front of our new friends – if necessary.
That summer was everything. In addition to the fantastic World Cup festivities, the weather was finally getting warmer, it was my final months in Frankfurt – a city that, by then, I was able to easily navigate, (for better or worse, I had sort of entered the I.D.G.A.F. phase in terms of school and pleasing my host family), I had built strong ties with a few other exchange students and my amazing German girlfriends (miss you Caro, Laura, und Selma!) and I was just soaking it all in. Kate was at a different time in her exchange having come 6 months after me (as the school years are different in the southern hemisphere), but it was wonderful to be able to spend time with her toward the end of my year.
Even though we literally come from half a world away from each other, I have been able to see Kate twice since we studied together in 2006. In 2010 when I was studying again in Germany, Kate happened to be doing a Europe trip and she was able to visit me in Trier! And, last year, when Tony toured London and Paris, I was able to see Kate again as she was living in London at the time.
I greatly admire the work Kate is doing. Her feminist spirit is bold and is visible in her work with ActionAid (and, in her previous positions). She is also thoughtful and culturally aware so, therefore, is invested in working with women in various communities - not for them. Also, she’s probably the most globetrotting women in my circle! (See work and internship experiences above!) Kate is also just a really fun lady! When we catch up we share a perfect mix of laughs and deep conversations. I look forward to staying in touch with her forever and hope to see her face to face sooner rather than later!
Read about Kate’s inspirations and advice below. . .
What inspires you?
“My lady friends and colleagues inspire me! I am constantly amazed by the tenacity and courage of the women in my life, and the women that I've had the opportunity to meet through my work. From young women in the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, patrolling the streets with flashlights at night in groups to 'light up the dark' and look out for their fellow women who might be in trouble, to young lesbian women and garment workers in Cambodia who are shouting out against the many injustices they face on a daily basis, to activist women in Palestine organising themselves in peaceful protest against the unlawful occupation of their land by Israel. Women are incredible! The sudden mainstreaming of feminism, even (or especially!) across the Global South over the past couple of years has been incredible to watch and I can only hope it continues - of course we as women are all different and our cultural and political contexts unique - but we are all stronger in our cause when we are united. That's what is exciting me at the moment.”
Who are women in your life of throughout history that inspire you?
“It has to be Rachel Corrie. I'm getting goosebumps right now just thinking about her. She was 23 when she was killed by an Israeli soldier who crushed her with a bulldozer, as she stood unarmed in front of a Gazan home that was about to be illegally destroyed. There is now a Rachel Corrie street in Ramallah.”
“Other women I adore include Marie Colvin, an amazing journalist who proved to us that foreign correspondence isn't just a boy's game - she was tragically killed in Syria as she covered the conflict in 2012. And Sophie Scholl, a young activist who at 22 was killed by the Nazis for distributing anti-regime leaflets at her local university. A true campaigner.”
If you could give advice to your younger self, what would it be and why?
“You're okay! You're doing okay, and you'll be okay. None of it matters as much as you think it does right now. I had a really rough final year of school, (exactly 10 years ago now) and I thought that I would never leave those days behind me. Turns out, once you do leave a tiny country town in the middle of the Australian countryside, it's pretty easy to never go back! I wish I could tell myself that I was about to leave it all behind, and things were about to get a hell of a lot better :)”
This March, I am celebrating all the amazing women around me! Sharing women who have influenced me and make up my personal history. As the month goes on, you can see all my Inspiring Women posts here!