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Where are they now? - Issue 20

Where are they now? - Issue 20

A look into our past, present and future!


Katie writes to us from the Central Asian Republic of Kyrgyzstan. Since going on her exchange almost 18 years ago, her life has taken many interesting turns, with stints in Finland, Jordan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

Katie is pictured on her exchange in 2003 and in 2019.


Year of exchange: 2003/4


Group Leader: Meg Jackson (now Brodie)


School: Camberwell Girls Grammar School


Sponsor: Bosch


Town / city of exchange in Germany: Ilvesheim, a small town just outside the city of Mannheim, which my host family made me believe was a national cultural hotspot through all their musical activities and evenings spent at the city's theatres and music school.


Memories from your exchange:

- At an official meeting in the New Zealand Embassy, the Ambassador groaning audibly in embarrassment as our group of stipis recounted an evening's adventures in a beerhall in Munich.

- Regular opera visits with my musically-inclined host sister in Mannheim, and in particular watching ‚"The Magic Flute‚” from row 2 for less than 10 euros - the stage props included a life-size, inflated hot air balloon, and an enormous, entire willow tree preserved in wax.

- Enduring icy winds pamphletting for die Gruene with my determined host mother across the flat plains surrounding Ilvesheim.

- The extravagant Adventskalender that my host family made for one another each year. These 'gebastelte' masterpieces included an enormous carboard ‚"music‚” sheet with chocolates hidden in the body of the music notes, and a mini clothes line sporting an array of dangling delicacies.

- Listening fascinated and chilled to the stories of the last years of the second world war, and the immediate years following, as told very honestly by my host grandparents who had been teenagers at the time.

- Showers in Germany. (This country of innovation omitted to add clips for the showerhead to each and every shower across the nation?!)

- Free travel and standing at the top of the Zugspitze looking over into Austria.


Studies on return from exchange:

Bachelor of Biomedical Science at the University of Melbourne then Honours in Science (Public Health) at the University of Melbourne / Burnet Institute.


Career path since then:

After my first year of university, I took a year off and worked as an aupair in Berlin for one year (2006 ‚– that great year that Germany held the World Cup). At a language school near Potsdamer Platz I became very good friends with another aupair from Kyrgyzstan, Katja, and we're friends to this day. Returning to Australia, I finished Honours then worked with the Burnet Institute as a research assistant in public health. In 2011, having visited Katja in Kyrgyzstan several times, I founded a youth environmental NGO Move Green in the country's capital Bishkek. After two years managing the NGO, I handed over the reins to a series of exceptional local young women who continue the movement with passion and effect, and am proud to say that it is one of the most influential and active environmental groups in the country, and now has projects spanning the Central Asian region.

I returned to Australia, worked briefly with Australian Volunteers International, and then at the then newly established Climate Council. I left Sydney for the wonderful opportunity to study a Masters degree in Environmental Policy and Law in a small student city in eastern Finland from 2014-2016, and was privileged to work in my field throughout my studies, focusing on climate change adaptation and community resilience in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. At the end of 2016, my partner and I moved to Istanbul for his position as the correspondent of a French newspaper. Since then I have worked with various environmental and development NGOs, a Central Asian university, and spent 2018 in Afghanistan with Concern Worldwide and then the UN Environment Programme.


What are you doing now?

In December last year I moved back to Bishkek for a position as climate change policy adviser with UN Development Programme on a project preparing officials from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to attend the UNFCCC COP26 in Glasgow at the end of this year. What Bishkek lacks in international news headlines it makes up for in gorgeous hiking opportunities, and my partner is happy balancing walks in Kyrgyzstan with reporting in Turkey. I continue to support the NGO I founded, and also volunteer with an environmental organisation in Afghanistan.


How the SAGSE exchange experience influenced your life's journey:

Visiting Germany through the SAGSE exchange really opened a door in my life not only to Germany but to the wider world, culture, politics, and people. I was fascinated by the German culture and language, which in turn inspired exploring (if not less successfully) other languages (Russian, Kyrgyz, Turkish, Dari…) and cultures. Returning to Germany as an aupair, and through my friendship with Katja, I then came to Kyrgyzstan - an event, which, for better or worse, significantly influence the course of my life, professionally and personally. While there were some tough times (starting an NGO at 24 in a totally foreign, developing, post-Soviet country with only youthful naivety ‚– stupid or brave, you decide!), there were also great ones (working with inspiring young people, mass environmental actions, seeing young people talking directly to government on environmental policy). And Bishkek is also where I met a young French journalist in the garden of an old Russian house, who after only one month, followed me to Finland.