Love for football and thirst for knowledge brought Kat Borromeo, 30, to the land of football champions.
Aside from the scholarship she received from the University of Freiburg several years ago, she set her eyes on Germany because that time it was the venue of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Kat’s dream was actually to work in developing countries after finishing graduate studies. But she allowed fate to uproot her from home and returned to Germany for the guy she met when she was finishing her studies. The irony is she initially hated the country the first time she arrived.
“Coming back was really hard, but with persistence, hardwork and tears, I was able to unlock achievements such as mastering the complex German language and landing a job at the United Nations,” she says.
She’s happy for being the head of communications at ICLEI* since not only does the position match her expertise, but it also involves her in issues that she truly cares about: sustainable development, biodiversity, and climate change.
In this Q&A, she shares an embarrassing experience in Germany, living in Europe, and why her friends call her the “Purple Queen.”
Most of your stuff are purple. Why do you like purple so much?
You mean aside from the fact that it is a fantastic color? I’m not really sure. I’ve loved it ever since I can remember. Let’s see – about 80% of my clothes, shoes, bags and accessories, the walls of our house, the food in the pantry (mostly eggplants), my electronic devices, the background color of all my desktops, screensaver—they’re all purple.
And your new home in Cologne—how is it?
“Nicht schlecht!” (Direct English translation: Not bad) – the Germans’ favorite phrase to describe something that is actually very nice!
After about five years of living in Germany, how do you find its culture compared with home?
I think I am at this point where I consider both countries as my “home.”
I’ve learned to accept and appreciate what both countries can offer – be these positive or negative. This was very challenging at first. I still could not get the hang of why Germans would need to plan everything at least five weeks in advance and have insurances for basically everything. For someone who hates planning and loves spontaneity, it baffles me that I can’t just knock on the door of someone I know if I did not book an appointment at least weeks before. Or that they do everything by the rules. No exceptions. Rules are rules.
Compared with the Philippines…
In the Philippines, if I want a dog, I can just go get myself a dog. Here you need to undertake some 100 steps to get one and if I want to walk a dog from the dog shelter, I need to first take the 300-question exam and make sure I have an insurance to support that. Or if I want to go camping at the forest or fishing at the lake, I simply cannot do that without having a certificate for camping and fishing. The list is endless.
I really do miss the Philippines, my family and friends, the beaches. I miss the flexibility, spontaneity, warmth, that Philippines offer.
When I’m feeling homesick, I call my family and friends and start a countdown to my next visit in the Philippines (I make it a point to go home every year).
Can you tell me about a particularly difficult experience living abroad?
It happened some years ago when I was still struggling with my German language skills.
I wanted to change my health insurance due to some logistical reasons. So I went to my current health insurance provider and asked them very politely what the steps are for canceling my health insurance.
The lady looked at me and rudely grunted, “Was? (what?)”. So I repeated my request in crude German. And instead of helping me out or getting a colleague who can speak English, she screamed at me in front of all the people there “Kommen Sie zurück wenn Sie richtig Deutsch sprechen können! (Come back when you can speak German correctly).
My face was flaring red. I was angry, embarrassed, offended. Here I was with all my educational qualifications, and yet I felt like a three-year old who can’t even articulate what kind of bread she wants, much more do a mundane task such as canceling insurances. I became more dependent on my husband to do all the tasks for me but after a while I became even more driven to learn German immediately.
The pleasurable part of being in Europe?
Europe is a beautiful and exciting place to live in. There’s culture and music to appreciate for one; you can also move about freely and find different ways of life, languages, cuisines from border to border. There’s just too many things to learn and discover around here!
And you love your job. A development communicator’s task isn’t easy, but what do you find rewarding in it?
I love my job because it’s never boring – I get to travel internationally, I get to meet lots of passionate and smart people from everywhere, and I get to go home at the end of the day feeling like I’ve done something fulfilling today.
It’s rewarding knowing that my work is making a difference, however small, in the lives of the people who are considered less fortunate.
Whether it’s through empowering them by providing them with information or giving them a platform to voice out their opinion to more concrete actions such as helping them plant high yielding, disease-resistant bananas to teaching them how to ride bicycles, I find it extremely fulfilling that my small actions could bring hope and smile to some people.
ICLEI, the world’s leading association of cities and local governments, promotes local action for global sustainability and support cities to become resilient, resource-efficient, biodiverse, and low-carbon. The World Secretariat office is in Bonn, Germany and its Communications team is headed by Kat.
Q&A by Ai Macalintal. Ai couldn’t stay in one place for too long, so she’s always walking, traveling or changing address. She’s been an editor in Singapore and has written for Aussie magazines, but penning stories about the Philippines delights her most.