Talk About

In Conversation with Katharina Looi Kiesel

Venandah Madanhi (VM) sat down to talk to Katharina Looie-Kiesel (KLK) about community, education and problem solving.

Nada’s question for Katharina: What have you learnt during lockdown that you don’t think you would have learned if COVID-19 didn’t happen?

I learned how to balance time more. I have always been someone who is relaxed about time and although I didn’t miss a deadline, I didn’t make the most of the time before the deadline. I think the pandemic has helped me to make the most of my time in that my priorities are no longer just built upon my academic deadlines but also on myself and shaping myself as an individual. I have been able to work on transferable skills that sometimes you can’t learn while running from lecture, to class to extra curricular activities that still tie in around your education. I have also just realised how long adult life is going to be. Our university time was previously painted as the best years of our lives but I have spent most of these supposedly “best years of my life” in lockdown. So I might as well make sure that I do what I love to do. Someone once said “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” and I feel like I’m starting to understand that more. We have a lot of time after university to worry about finding a house in the countryside but that also means I can explore other interests and make the most of my time. 

VM: What does community mean to you? 

yellow fireworks illustration

KLK: Community means a place that you find comfort in, feel safe and can really be yourself unapologetically. A community is a place where you don’t live  in fear or walk on eggshells among the people around you. I think an element of community is that you also support each other. We have a collective responsibility to each other… kind of like the book ‘An Inspector Calls.” For example, on my road, we have a lot of university houses and also some families who have migrated here from India. When it was Diwali time they had fireworks out and many people came out to celebrate among our neighbours and it felt nice to come together and celebrate with them. In that moment the street was bonding and we weren’t just random nosy neighbours but a community coming together to celebrate light. The idea of unity is also intrinsically linked to community. I feel like the pandemic has also bought out the best in humanity and our local communities. For example, we have neighbours supporting their shielding neighbours and helping to buy groceries. Overall, community is where we feel safe, supported, comfortable and accepted.

VM: When young people and experienced people come together to solve a problem, they are able to come up with some great solutions. Why is that? 

KLK: If we’re talking about young and inexperienced people then I would say that young people can be idealistic. They can sometimes be wearing rose tinted glasses and be so eager to do it all. Meanwhile, experienced people can be more realistic just because they have sometimes been through a lot more. So when they come together, they are able to balance each other out and solve the problem in a logical and hopeful way. I think young people will have the advantage of being more current and topical with changing trends and ways of doing things. On the other hand, those who are experienced may be set in their ways because their ways tend to always yield the results that they like.

VM: So much has happened so far in 2021 but what has shocked you the most? 

KLK: It’s shocking how much hatred people can have in terms of xenophobia and racism. It’s shocking how people do not learn or want to be kinder to their own communities and those who don’t look like them. Last year we had the ‘be kind’ campaign after the loss of Caroline Flack, but not many people are being kinder to each other, those of different races and those who genuinely need kindness. We seem so stuck in the same system where it seems like there is a lot of pent up frustration towards the fact that people want change or that people want to fight white supremacy. For example, after the murder of Sarah Everard, the hashtag #NotAllMen became a thing, similar to how #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsainHate led to the hashtag #AllLivesMatter and #StopWhiteHate. It’s as though we’re in a season where we can’t agree to fight a problem without the desire to want to stop the issue seeming like an attack on another group. I guess the most shocking thing about this is that I’m not as surprised that this is still an issue. At the end of the day, do we think our leaders can actually change things? No. Do we think that world leaders can come up with solutions beyond campaigns? No. However, I do hope that one day, our leaders can lead in a way that results in the above answers being a ‘yes’. 

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