Interviewer Ana Alibegova
Photos: Kate Morton’s private archive
Katarzyna Morton, or simply Kate, is a person who has travelled a lot, never being afraid of other cultures. A native Polish, living in Belgium, travelling all around Europe and now making an internship in Iran. Not your typical blondie, who might not be the best one in the kitchen, but among the bravest ones living her life to the fullest, with eyes wide open.
I will never forget the day I met Kate Morton for the first time. It was on a training course in Prague, in the heart of Europe. While doing some warm-up exercises at the seminar, a good-looking blondie approached me and started asking me questions about the things I like, things I dislike, and so on and so forth. It became obvious that I had a lot of things in common with this Polish girl, who seemed to be very talkative. Our first “serious” talk was about clothes and make-up. Three years have gone by and I am still in contact with the talkative lady, but now our conversations are much deeper and even our English is much better than that time in Prague, when we did most of the communication with our eyes, rather than words.
Kate is a real “child of the world”. Born and raised in Poland, she experiences multiculturalism from an early age. Her grandmother married a Chinese immigrant, who stuck in Poland for good, disregarding his initial intention of making his way to “the brighter world” in Western Germany. “In my home you can find some Chinese dictionaries, forgotten letters from China, little evidence of an Asian life. Multiculturalism, awareness for the other parts of the world, and a sense of freedom were always encouraged”, Kate says.
Due to a string of life events and family issues, Kate has changed three primary schools and two high schools, befriending people in each and every school she attended that have remained her life-long friends. This is perhaps why it was not difficult for her to decide and apply for an Erasmus in Belgium. The wish to further her education was not the sole reason to leave Poland. An “interesting” guy was partially responsible for influencing the decision.
“At the end of my Master studies, in the 5th year, I felt that I was missing something in my life, although I couldn’t define what it was. I felt that life was too slow and the area I lived in seemed really narrow to me, influencing my decision to live abroad. The decision was made after I met an interesting person from Belgium. Well, to be honest, it was a man! 😉 A windsurfer, whose short description of life attracted me and whose very ‘open’ and ‘honest’ way of being simple just impressed me.”
A new life in Leuven, Belgium
Kate went to Leuven to enhance her knowledge about politics and social science, but also to start another life living abroad. At the beginning, she was sharing an apartment with her Polish friend and a Croatian guy. She says that they used to fight quite often, but that she did not see this as a huge problem – because sometimes multiculturalism includes different attitudes, opinions and small fights. She talks about her first contact with the Dutch culture:
“The first day, my friend Ania and I went jogging. We were trying to find a fitness club in Leuven, where I can start working (as a fitness instructor and a dancer). I remember we couldn’t find the street, and some guy (passed right by us accidentally) took us home, found the street on the Internet and printed out the map for us. I remember that we couldn’t believe that he just took us home from the street like that, two strangers. And I remember he had cats. Two of them. You know… In Belgium most people have cats at home :).”
According to the stereotypes, Western people are usually more work-oriented, more reserved and not so communicative. People from Eastern Europe are just the opposite. Maybe this is why Kate says she found life in Belgium quite slow, to put it in her own words, too calm at the beginning. In Kate’s opinion, people there avoid energetic people, but they show no anger towards them. Still, one should always adjust and be open to the new culture:
“You might not like it, but if you do not, just leave, and let it be. Life is like that, and there is not much you can do about it, there are a lot of things you could learn from other cultures too. I would recommend everybody focus on that part.”
“People are the most important thing”
The life in Belgium was of great importance to Kate, especially because during that period a lot of work and travel opportunities opened up to her. International projects, media workshops, public relations, people from all over the world. Macedonia, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Italy, Germany, England, Portugal, France, Holland, Egypt were on Kate’s list. She feels richer now, after visiting and experiencing all these places.
“Each time I was somewhere, I had the feeling that I added a new room to my big abstract intercontinental villa. I felt warm on the Portuguese beach with the windsurfers, at the Macedonian elections, in the general election office of one Albanian political party. All the time and in each place I could sit down and smile, and rest, as you rest in your own chair in your own home.”
Having met people from different countries and with different cultural backgrounds, Kate says that people are the most important thing, regardless of where they come from or where they live.
“Indeed, I started to define people as my home, much more than particular places. It didn’t matter anymore where I was living, what I was doing, I met great people and culture means nothing when it comes to human greatness…you know, this is something that doesn’t have a ground in your nation, if you can laugh and be creative and be free, you can feel it, if you have a soul to feel it, and it doesn’t matter how you express it at the end of the day. I felt I missed a lot in my life, because I didn’t start travelling earlier in my life.”
Iran: a charming country with energetic people
Still, the biggest challenge was about to come. Iran. Tehran. Far away from the typical European culture and the European dream, coming face to face with something completely different. Or maybe not?
“Iran. Well, it is amazing, I can say this now. Writing this interview from Tehran, I have only one reflection. It is unbelievable how stupid we are about other cultures and how we shape stereotypes on our own. What I was thinking about Iran 5 years ago was like saying that the sun is a yellow point in the sky. That was my knowledge about this part of world back then, and it still is the level of knowledge of many (too many people) in the world”, Kate explains.
The name of the person, who kind of “is to blame” for Kate being in Iran now, is Jafar. The two of them had some great times together in England, eating Kebab and talking about Islam and life in Iran. She continued to make friends with Iranian people in Belgium and as each day passed by she discovered thousands of new things about the life there. The desire to go to Tehran was too great for her to be afraid of taking the risk and Kate started looking for a way to get there. Strong-willed and never giving up. She called the attaché of the Polish Embassy in Iran and asked if she could make an internship there. They agreed. Then she bought the plane ticket and came to her “promised land”.
Kate underlines that the life in Tehran is much different than the way it is presented in the media. She finds the country charming and the Iranian people energetic.
“Strong, big, full of space and beautiful with some magic charm and undefined nobility. That is Iran to me. Concerning the Iranian people, I find them very warm. They do posses very strong energy, lots of empathy, they do feel people. Maybe I would say even that they use their energy to communicate, instead of using words.”
When I asked her how Iranian people accepted the “charming blond lady from the West”, Kate argues that no generalization should be made and that we should not function on a level of “cultures”, but on a level of “persons”.
“When you do not function on a level of a culture, but on a level of a person, you make others comfortable to do the same, and then culture is forgotten. When you are scared and you stay in your secure cultural patterns, you force people to do the same, you have no chance of developing closer relations. You say “We Polish people…” and you will hear “and we Iranians…”, you say ”Me – Kate” and you will hear “Me – Ahmad”. That’s the way it goes.”
Travelling – much more than just taking photos
Although Kate has travelled a lot, and experienced multiculturalism many times, she admits that she too has some prejudices. Kate says that it is good to overcome prejudices in personal relations, but one should be aware of the fact that, on a more general level, we are all part of some society. However, she manages to avoid the clichés and makes a lot of international friends. When I asked her where she finds the beauty of having friends all over the world, she started elaborating:
“My God, everywhere! Not to mention practical stuff like having a shelter in almost every place on the Earth I go to, or all the positive sides of networking, or getting a hand when I need it… I feel motivated, rich, curious, inspired, and I see things from a wider perspective, I just simply feel happier. I find that the world is nice to me. I do not see strangers as something potentially dangerous. I do not fear the world, as everything that is surprising to me, behaving differently than me, makes me smile, not feel insecure.”
A person with a passion for life. A researcher, an artist, a dancer, a philosopher and a person with an open mind. Not being afraid of risks, Kate learned that travelling is much more than sightseeing, being a tourist and taking photos. The girl with the most powerful positive and inspiring energy thinks that travelling is much more about experiencing things. She shares her life philosophy with a message to all Mladiinfo readers:
“If you see a river, take not only a photo of it, swim in it, or at least touch the water to know if it is cold or warm. And do the same with people. Take not only photos of them, touch, taste, only then can you really say who you are and what you like and what life means to you.”