Kristin Verita Katzer
Kristin Verita Katzer radiates joy wherever she goes. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in her orbit, be prepared for a wild ride!
Kristin is honestly one of my favourite humans. Her ‘why not?’ attitude to life is so awe inspiring and I always wish I could be a little bit more Kristin.
So how was I lucky enough to come into her orbit? It was all down to neon pink Hunter wellies. Kristin and I were at Lovebox festival in Victoria Park in London in June 2012. We spotted each other both wearing the same Hunter wellies and in the usual drunken way at festivals, a friendship started.
Kristin is so cool, way cooler than me! We may have been wearing the same festival footwear, but she had blond and green hair and the most fabulous tattoos, my favourite being an orchid on her shoulder. I was, and still am, truly fascinated by her lifestyle. She is a creative, the polar opposite to my staid lawyer style, and she has this easy ability to make friends of all types wherever she goes, a skill I am very envious of.
Kristin is Austrian and speaks fluent German and English. When we met, she was living in London studying for her MA in Graphic Design at the London College of Communication which is part of University of the Arts, London. She’d been in London 4 years by that point.
We met up at several festivals in London and Kristin even travelled to London from Austria to attend my wedding in September 2016.
Spending time with Kristin means that anything can happen. You know that it’s not going to be a boring run of the mill kind of night, it is going to be epic and that anticipation is better than waiting for Christmas as a kid.
After Kristin finished her studies she moved to Hong Kong, Berlin and is now living and working in Sydney. Recently, Kristin spent the weekend, by herself, on a small boat in a town just outside Sydney. When I asked her “why?” she answered, “because I can”. That answer floored and amazed me. It’s been a long time since I have done something just because I could. Being a mum and a wife, I always have to check that it’s ok, that everyone is taken care of.
Kristin lives her life with abandon, with joy and with adventure and experience at its core. She doesn’t give two hoots about material things, the things that tie you down like mortgages. She is a free spirit. Now, Kristin is only 31 and therefore 9 years younger than me, and there may well come a point when she falls in love and decides to settle down and live a slower pace of life like me! But if that happens, she will no doubt bring the same spirit of adventure to that chapter of her life.
So, with that introduction, I wanted to share with you all the various adventures that Kristin has had living in different parts of the world. Travelling, of course, is one thing, and she has travelled all over, but living and working, or studying, in a country that is not your own is entirely different. I interviewed Kristin to find out where her love of travelling came from and how she ended up living in such diverse countries.
What was your first experience of travel?
I had an amazing childhood living in the countryside in Austria with my parents and brother. We had amazing summer and winter holidays to places like Greece, Ibiza and the Maldives. But my first taste of independent travel came when I was 12. My parents sent me on a language holiday to Cornwall, England for two weeks so that I could improve my English. I would have school in the morning and then I was able to explore in the afternoon. We stayed in a local college in separate dorm rooms for the boys and girls. At first, I was really homesick, but I quickly settled in and then loved it. That first trip was such a success that I did two more when I was 13 to Malta and when I was 14 to London. I have a lasting memory of looking out onto the rooftops of London as a 14-year-old and being wowed by the sight!
What made you decide to leave Austria to make a home in another country?
When I finished school in Austria at age 18, I decided that I wanted to study graphic design. However, this industry is very competitive in Austria and I needed to do something to stand out. A family friend was studying in England and, after visiting an open day in London, I knew that this was the best option for me. At the time my plan was to come back to live in Austria, get a job and settle down like everyone else but I felt that by returning with a degree obtained in a UK university rather than an Austrian university, I would have the edge on my peers. Little did I know that this decision would have a profound impact on me and change the course of my life.
I applied to UAL to do my BA in Graphic and Media Design. I was accepted and was due to start in September 2008.I was so excited to get started on this new adventure. But then I met a boyfriend in the summer before I was due to go to London. We had so much fun together that summer and part of me was questioning whether I wanted to leave. But, ultimately, I knew I had to go. I knew that studying in London was what would catapult my career and even though it was painful for my relationship at the time, I knew I had to do it so that I would not regret it later on.
That’s some great insight for an 18-year-old. Are you happy with your decision to leave Austria and study in London?
Absolutely. But, whilst I knew that this decision was the right one, I did struggle in that first year. I missed home, my friends, my boyfriend and the music scene. I went home during every holiday to see everyone and our relationship survived the long distance in that first year.
My second year, however, was different. I enjoyed the whole experience much more and I really felt that I had arrived in London mentally, rather than having one foot back in Austria. It was then that I realised that my plan to go back to Austria had changed. I loved London and could really see myself living there. The experience changed me and opened up my way of seeing the world and I couldn’t see myself living in Austria again. I asked my boyfriend if this was something he could see himself doing with me. Unfortunately, my relationship didn’t survive.
Tell me more about your life as a foreign student in London.
In my first year I lived in Halls of Residence, as most students do. And whilst it was expensive, it meant I wasn’t on my own. It felt very much like the language holidays that I took as a child. I wasn’t scared about being in London on my own, I was excited.
The only thing I was concerned about, was my level of English. We were taught it from a young age in Austria, and of course I had the extra language holidays, but even at age 18 I felt I could do better. And whilst I had learned the theory, as an adult I had not had much of an opportunity to put it into practice. So, it was hard at first being around so many English speakers, but I saw it as a fantastic opportunity to improve.
I remember meeting a Spanish girl in one of the ‘get to know you’ parties at the start of the year and she was completely fluent in English. I was in awe of her skill and so envious. When I spoke English, I was still thinking in German and then translating it to English. I knew that I wanted to get to that level of fluency where I no longer thought in German.
Now that I was living in London, I loved the fact that I had time to explore the city. I made sure that I visited the big sights, but I didn’t have to do it in a rushed way like the tourists as I was a Londoner now. There’s something very special about exploring a city slowly and getting to know it like a local.
I have always been into music and experiencing the specific music scene in London really helped me to get to know the city. Drum and bass and dubstep were new to me and they were massive in London at the time. I came from a hard techno background and that wasn’t really played in London, so I had to be open to the new sounds. And it was through my love of music that I found my friends, my ‘tribe’.
My favourite thing about London has to be the how international it is. Coming from Austria I grew up in a small bubble. London opened my eyes to so many new cultures and I found it fascinating. I actually got into a bit of trouble when I wasn’t able to tell the difference between someone from China and someone from Korea and I was told how offensive that was. That has always stayed with me and I learned quickly that you should be open to other cultures and respect them. Travelling definitely takes you out of your own comfort zone and widens your horizons.
My best friend Evie is from Hong Kong and she taught me that she is not Chinese, but Hong Kong Chinese. There is a very big difference. Getting to know her taught me that people my age from different countries were having completely different experiences of life to me. When I asked Evie if she missed her friends at home, as I was missing mine in that first year, she said no. In Hong Kong it was the norm for young people to study abroad and therefore none of her friends were at home. For me, it was very unusual for young people to study abroad and I thought that I was doing something special, so it was eye opening for me to learn that it is the norm in other cultures.
My experience at that time had been of people my age either learning a craft or studying in Austria. People my age were also investing in things like property or cars and moving in together and settling down. I always felt that investing in my education was money better spent. I found that I had more in common with someone from Hong Kong than someone from my home country and I was amazed at the new life I was leading by taking that step to move out of my comfort zone and move to London.
You graduated in 2011. Where did you go next and why?
During the Easter holidays in my third year I travelled to Hong Kong to visit Evie for a 10-day holiday. Whilst there I thought it might be interesting to try and get a job or an internship as I knew that I would have some time between finishing my BA and starting my MA. I didn’t want to go back to Austria, so I thought why not?
I went to 3 or 4 companies for interviews and I was lucky enough to get an internship with one of them that was even paid. Having obtained the job, it was then relatively easy to get a working visa as the company helped me obtain it.
I worked for a company called C7 Design Studio Hong Kong which was run by a German man who was married to a Hong Kong Chinese woman. I became good friends with his wife. It was a great company to work for and they gave me varied experience and also allowed me to enjoy the city. In fact, I met a guy while out there and during my time off I flew to Beijing for four days and visited the Great Wall of China for the first time with him. That was a mad experience since I didn’t know him very well at the time but we’re still in touch and I’m so glad that I got to have that experience.
When I first arrived in Hong Kong I stayed in a hostel and then found a serviced apartment. It was tiny. I opened the blinds on the window one day and came face to face with a fat guy eating his dinner and watching TV in the flat opposite. We were so close I could have jumped into his flat. I never opened the blinds again!
One of the great things about Hong Kong is that within a 20 minute ferry ride you can be out of the city and on an island were there aren’t any cars. Hong Kong itself is very crowded but I love being around a lot of people so that never bothered me. I loved the nightlife, especially Lan Kwai Fong (although you do really have to be drunk to survive that district!).
Hong Kong, like London, is also very international and English is widely spoken. The food is incredible, I’d never seen such a variety of sushi in my life.
I did have some nightmares in Hong Kong though. I was bitten by a cockroach which then got infected and I had to go to hospital. The cleaner of my apartment, I believe, stole some American dollars that I had in a drawer. I had to go to the police, but nothing was done about it. I locked everything away after that. But in the grand scheme of things these were quite small dramas and I didn’t let these things ruin my experience or allow me to lose sight of my greater goal, which was to experience this new culture.
Whilst living there I also converted my religion from Evangelical to Buddhism. It was a religion that spoke more to me and my new way of living my life than the religion of my home country.
Hong Kong sounds like a fantastic experience, but you didn’t have the same easy experience of getting a working visa for Australia, did you? Tell me more.
My family had friends in Australia, so it was always on my mind to go to Australia at some point. I went to visit the friends of my family straight after finishing my MA in the summer of 2013. It was really hard for me to leave London as I absolutely loved living there, so I needed something really big to convince me to leave, and I thought Australia would be it.
I assumed that I would be able to get an internship and then get my visa, just like I did in Hong Kong, but it did not work out that way. I had not done my research. I was shocked to find out that it was simply not possible to get a working holiday visa for Australia because I was from Austria. I was told that Austria, Spain and Switzerland do not have any agreements with Australia because we in Austria have strict immigration laws for non-EU citizens and, because of that, Australia takes the same stance by not allowing Austrians to work in Australia.
But, in April 2018 I found out that Australia had changed their law. From February 2018 it is possible each year for 200 people, aged 30 or under, with a university degree to apply for a working holiday visa. At the time I was 30 and therefore I knew that this was my last and only chance to get to Australia.
I said to myself that I would apply, knowing that there were only 200 spaces and therefore the chances of me getting accepted were slim. But by trying I would have given it a go and therefore would have no regrets. I had nothing to lose. I had to send 3 different letters and various bank statements proving that I had €3,000 in my bank account as part of the application process.
I found out that I had been granted the visa when I saw the money had left my bank account. I was ecstatic! But then I thought, what do I do now? I had been so focused on getting the visa I had not even thought beyond that. I thought about it for a month and then I booked my flight. I had to see where this path would take me.
But wait, what happened after your first unsuccessful attempt to live in Australia and before you moved there recently? We’ve skipped a few steps! Take me back.
After I left Australia in 2013, having been unable to get a job due to the visa issues, and after doing some travelling, I ended up back in Austria. I worked for my friend’s company, but I was not satisfied. I was therefore looking into what other city I could move to and many of my English friends suggested Berlin. I found that there were a lot of graphic design jobs online and I decided to apply for a few. I then got an interview over Skype and got the job!
The job started immediately, and they asked if I could move there in two weeks. I said yes! I was 24 when I moved to Berlin. This was the turning point for me and my career.
I worked for a massive company with international clients, but I was so unhappy. I was taken advantage of and harassed in this company. The hours were long, sometimes I had to work through the night. But what I struggled with the most was the fact that the work was computer based. This was not what I was used to and not how I had been trained. I am a creative person and as a graphic design student I was free to create and work with my hands. But in the working environment I found that the work was mostly virtual, and all computer based with a heavy reliance on photoshop and I hated it. There was no time to be creative and I felt stifled.
The turning point came when I finally admitted to myself that this was not what I wanted to do. I was 25 and I realised that if I wanted something to change then I had to decide to change something now rather than later. I asked myself what did I really want to do? My passion was always for fashion design. I had only chosen graphic design at the outset because of my father’s influence as he considered it was the safer option. And whilst I loved studying it, as soon as I got to the working side of things, I realised it was not for me.
I therefore decided to leave my job and I got a job with a fashion design PR agency in Berlin. It was intense and very badly paid (I only earned €400 a month for a full 40 hour week which only covered my rent), but I was finally working in the industry I wanted to be in and therefore I decided to go for it. I just knew it would pay off in the long run and I was right. The best thing about this job was getting all the contacts for the fashion industry. During my time there I learned how to work with clients and stylists, organise fashion events and I was even a part of the Berlin Fashion Week. Whilst working for the agency I worked on the front desk doing the guestlist for the PR agency. Then, the following year, after I left the company, I was called back to work on Berlin fashion week for the second time, but this time backstage helping the models prepare for the runway. Even though it was great being part of the organisation side of things, I realised that I wanted to be the ‘maker’. I wanted to create again.
So, what happened next?
After deciding to change my career to fashion design I went back to school in Vienna, Austria. I attended Michelbeuern Fashion School in the 9th District which is an prestigious fashion school with an excellent fashion making program. They teach you to design your own collection in just 2-3 years and I definitely felt that I would gain invaluable experience by attending this program, and I did. The course was perfect for me as I needed to get some training into the basics and I needed time to build my portfolio in fashion design, like I had done when studying graphic design in London, before looking for work in my new chosen field. However, going back to school with much younger people, people who had never really left Austria was very challenging. It was a weird dynamic as whilst I was Austrian, I had lots more life experience, not just because of my age, but because I had seen more of the world and rather than be inspired or motivated by that, I encountered a lot of jealousy and bitterness which was quite disappointing.
And it wasn’t just returning to study which was hard, it was also hard for me to move back to Austria. I was finally happy in Berlin and I had already made that decision that I didn’t want to live in Austria again and so it felt a little like I was going backwards. But, looking back it was a blessing. My dad was sick and shortly after I returned to Austria in 2014, he died from cancer. It was a horrible time, but I was grateful that I was home and not travelling somewhere, unable to get to him.
Studying again and living back in Austria meant that I was able to be close to home and to support my mum and brother. Even though I lived in Vienna, 2 hours from my mum, I was able to come home at the weekends and then focus on my studies during the week.
I was 26 when I lost my dad. It made me realise that so many of life’s problems were not problems at all when faced with such a life changing bereavement. Also, during this time I came to realise that, even though I did not want to be back in Austria and I did not want to be a student again, it was important for me to take those few steps backwards in order to gather the tools that I would need later on, so that I could then pursue my passion and live the life that I really wanted.
Despite living in Vienna coming at the right time, it never held a place in my heart. I knew that I did not want to live there full time. I think every city has a feeling and I never ‘got’ the feeling of Vienna. I had been there 3 long years for my diploma, and it was necessary, but I felt trapped.
So where did you go next?
Sydney! When I visited Australia in 2013, I spent three days in Sydney, and I fell deeply in love. The harbour and the opera house are magnificent. I loved the fact that Sydney had the city centre with the usual sky scrapers but it also had the beach. The tropical element combined with the big city life is perfect for me. I told myself all those years ago that if I ever had the chance to get a working visa that I would move to Sydney. And in 2018 I got my wish!
I booked my flights in August 2018 with the plan to arrive in Sydney in November 2018, via a few weeks travelling around Thailand. At this stage, I had no job, no accommodation and no clue! At the time I was a freelance designer for Red Bull in Austria working my own hours, so every spare moment I had, for the next 3 months, was spent putting a plan together for my move to Australia.
I decided to concentrate on getting my accommodation sorted first. My aim was to find something which was affordable but also liveable. I scoured Air BnB for something suitable but everything in my price range had shocking reviews. In the end I booked a month’s stay in Highfield Hotel in Kings Cross which is a hostel. It wasn’t great but it could have been a lot worse. However, I did get food poisoning from eating bad pancakes at a beach restaurant and was sick for 3 days. Not good when you’re sharing a bathroom!
Once I was in Sydney and had sorted my first month’s accommodation, that enabled me to find something better and to actually view it before committing. I now live in a lovely flat in Coogee Bay Road, one of the beach districts in Sydney. It had always been my plan to work in the city but live near the beach and that is where I focused my search.
Finding accommodation in the area you want for an affordable price is really difficult in Sydney. It is expensive and there are often tens of people turning up to house viewings and often there would be no less than 5 people sharing a flat and ideally, I wanted to live with fewer people than that. As a way of reducing rental costs I found that often people would share rooms within shared houses and, whilst I could have saved rent this way, I decided that I had to have my own room. That was a red line for me. I needed my own walls. I’m often on the phone to friends and family either early morning or late at night because of the time difference and I didn’t want to be that annoying roommate.
In the end, I was so lucky to find a flat with only one other girl. Her name is Mary and she is half South African half Australian. We get on really well and it’s a lovely home. My only issue when I viewed was that it was completely unfurnished. There wasn’t a stick of furniture and I had nothing. However, rather than give up this flat with one other person for the hope of finding something else that was furnished, I said yes on the basis that I would figure it out.
And, with a bit of planning, I did! I was able to source a bed and some furniture using Facebook Marketplace. I hired a driver to meet me at the address to collect the items and deliver them to the flat. I took an Uber to Ikea to buy some decorative items and the previous driver even helped me change the light fittings! Really, it was barely any drama and I’m so glad I decided to take the room and then figure out the details later.
However, when I signed the lease I still wasn’t working. I’d been in Sydney for a month living in the hostel and I had applied for jobs and was concentrating on my flat search, but I was also at the beach a lot. It was so tempting to just fall into the beach lifestyle. However, I had serious words with myself. I knew that I had not yet earned the right to relax on the beach. I had to work for it, and I had to find a job and a home. It was difficult though. I was in a shitty hostel with crazy backpackers wanting to go drinking every night and it would have been so easy to fall into that way of life. But I was determined.
I went to many interviews but it was taking a while to hear from them. As the interviews thinned out I started to panic. I was really hoping for the job with Prada but when I didn’t hear anything I just assumed it was a no and therefore I kept looking. One day I walked into Topshop with my CV and they immediately called me for an interview. I got the job and immediately signed the contract. My thoughts were just ‘Fuck it, it may not be Prada but it’s in the fashion industry and I’ll be able to pay my rent’. But, before I had my first day I got the call from Prada offering me the job. However, before that call I’d actually gone back into Prada to hand deliver a hand written thank you card, thanking them for the opportunity to interview for them. I believe it’s important to thank people for their time and perhaps this small act helped me get the position?
It reminded me that when you move to a new city, you don’t know anyone, and no one knows you. You have to work for what you want. You have to knock on everyone’s door. Remind them you are there. Be friendly and polite but be determined. You can’t plan everything. You have to step into the unknown and take risks. It’s not easy but it’s worth it.
I was extremely happy and felt honoured to get the job with Prada and to join such a fantastic company and family. Every single one of the team members is highly professional and beautiful individuals at heart. My position is as a personal shopper and stylist and it’s such an interesting and fun position. Working for Prada, an international and luxury product-based company with design at its heart, is such a good place for me to start in the fashion industry, but of course my aim is to one day be the designer. I am confident that this will happen one day and i’m grateful for all of the opportunities that come my way on my journey to where I want to be. Designs which i’ve already produced can be found here
What I am not enjoying about Australia, however, is the music scene. There isn’t much going on. The government really tries to keep it down. Once a month there will be something good. But it’s difficult to get decent headliners here because we’re so far away and it’s just so much more expensive.
Would you ever go back to live in Austria?
No. I’ve seen too much of the world to go back to living in that bubble. Don’t get me wrong, Austria is an amazing, safe country with many benefits. It has great food, a wonderful standard of living, a first class medical system and a flourishing economy. But i’ve seen too much of the world now and want to keep exploring what the world has to offer me. I may move back when I’m older and I enjoy going back for holidays to see my family, but I know that I won’t be living there again for the foreseeable.
What advice would you give to someone considering moving abroad?
As I said, I spent 3 months researching and planning my move to Sydney. But I do the same for shorter trips. I wanted to do something epic for my 30th birthday and decided that I wanted to travel around Japan for a month. I didn’t immediately plan to go on my own, but who gets a month off in November? So instead of waiting to see if anyone could come with me, I just booked it and went on my own.
My advice is also not to listen to the naysayers. I love my mum to bits, but she is always telling me to take the safer road. But if I listened to that advice I would miss out on so much and I would regret not doing so many things. Don’t tell yourself that you’ll do something ‘one day’ because you won’t. Just do it now. Focus on it, plan it and do it!
And you really do have to do your research. It won’t take the fun out of simply arriving in a country and seeing where the mood takes you, it will save you time and ensure that you do everything you want to do, and you limit all those nasty surprises.
Before travelling to Japan (and Sydney) I spent a lot of time watching You Tube videos finding out what things I wanted to do, how I would get there, how much it would cost, the 10 cheapest places to eat, the 10 best places to go etc. It was particularly helpful to have watched You Tube videos on how to navigate the public transport system. It was invaluable knowing exactly which button to press to get to the English screen from the Japanese! I even printed out the name and address of my hotel in Japanese so that I had it handy to show cab drivers. Doing my research meant that I knew exactly where the cab rank would be when I landed in Tokyo airport and I knew beforehand that I would need to rent a pocket WIFI at the airport.
I had no surprises in Japan and had an amazing experience, even travelling on my own with the language barrier. I knew what I wanted to do each day, with only slight changes, and I wasn’t just floating around with no plan wasting my valuable time.
In terms of practical advice, I’d also say:
1. Research the best SIM card and WIFI providers and ensure you have an open phone so that you have connectivity. Download all the apps that you might need for the local area. Get a portable battery pack as you never know when you might run out of phone battery.
2. Join Facebook groups related to the local area. This is a great source of information, especially about accommodation.
3. Research the banks and open a bank account – if you’re working, you’re going to need a local account to receive your salary.
4. Get insurance.
5. Register with medical services. You don’t want to be worrying about this when you’re sick.
6. Get in touch with your embassy in that country to let them know you’re arriving. And make sure your family or friends know where you are staying and when you’re moving on.
7. Get a Visa card. It’s accepted world wide and you can get cash out with your passport from any bank, even if it’s not your own bank.
7. Get more than one bank card to safeguard against theft. Keep them separately, just in case. Make sure you know who to call in case your bank cards or your phone gets stolen.
Where do you feel most at home?
In Austria it’s more my house that feels “home”, with my family, rather than the place itself. ‘Home’ for me is where I feel happy. It is within myself. If I can make sense of my environment, and make it comfortable, then I feel at home. Right now, I feel at home in Sydney as this is where I choose to make my home.
What’s the next big plan after Sydney?
My working visa expires in November 2019 and my plan is to stay here for the whole year. I’ll then leave the country and either travel around New Zealand or Bali and then go back to Australia on a pure tourist visa and do some travelling since I won’t then be working, and I’ll have the time to do that.
I’ll then go back to Austria to spend Christmas 2019 and New Year with my family. After that, things are open. I’m going to see if any opportunities arise in other cities with Prada.
London is always a possibility. I’d love to work in London rather than just study. However, it is expensive, and the weather isn’t consistently good. I’ve been a bit spoiled being here in Sydney!
Berlin is probably the most viable contender. My best friend from Austria wants to move there with me and it would be good to be with her again. We’ve even talked about getting a dog together! The music scene in Berlin is amazing. It is so international, and I can speak English as well as have my grounding in German.
We will see!
What a great interview! Kristin is an inspiration. What I’ve taken most from getting to know her story a little better is to always know what your passion is and do whatever it takes to follow your dreams, even if that means starting again and taking the time to do it. It is never too late.
Also, if you want to try something out of the ordinary, try it, what’s the worst that can happen? Get out of your comfort zone, it’s boring in there. The magic happens when you push yourself into the unknown and you discover that you can do anything you set your mind to. Also, don’t sweat the small stuff. Always think big picture and the smaller things will sort themselves out.
I’d love it if you’d check out Kristin’s website showing her design work which is at www.kristinkatzer.co.uk. Her work is outstanding (and her Halloween make up and costumes are incredible!). If you’d like to follow Kristin on social media you can find her personal account here www.instagram.com/pixxiepirateand her professional account here www.instagram.com/veritakatzer.
Kristin also has plans to write a book about her travels and I for one cannot wait to read that.
I’m looking forward to my next Wandering Woman interview, bringing you another inspirational story of women who follow their dreams.