"I still remember the butterflies arriving at the airport"
Meet Kat and Andy. We sat down with them at a cafe in West London before lockdown.
They were long time friends. Having met 10 years ago, both of them stayed in touch from a distance.
Then they fell in love. After flying over from Europe to Africa, they could no longer be apart.
Here's their story:
Friendship to Love
Hearing about their first meeting felt like the classic set up from a movie plot.
In 2020, Kat and Andy both decided to try out working at CampAmerica, a boys scout camp in the United States. Kat was part of the kitchen staff, and Andy was an aquatics instructor.
Andy remembers first meeting Kat when he approached the table of kitchen staff to say thank you after lunch. He recalled it being a nerve-wracking moment to walk over to a full table of Polish women, but was relieved by Kat's friendliness and the fact she spoke good English to communicate with him.
But Kat remembers a different moment.
She first saw Andy while with a friend having a 'cheeky cigarette' outside one day, where they saw a group of aquatics instructors cleaning the boats - all shirtless. Her friend drew her attention to one of the guys who kept looking over.
K: "So I turned around and see this guy - and back then he had long ginger curly hair, with a cheeky smile.
So my first impression was young happy surfer vibe. Cue beach patrol music!"
From there, they decided to keep in touch after the Camp ended. 2 years later, they started seeing each other casually in London for a few months. But the timing in their lives made it difficult.
K: "We were both studying, and it wasn't the most romance inspiring environment.. we were both busy and so it was difficult"
They decided to just be friends. Andy tried to convince Kat to go for a holiday to South Africa to explore his beautiful country. But again, the timing never seemed to work. They were still both studying, and it wasn't cheap.
But they grew the friendship. Being there for each other as they pursued their individual passions: Andy started his own business, Kat became serious in her passion for dancing, and they both eventually entered relationships with other people.
But those relationships didn't end up lasting. What did last however, was the friendship they had both built over time.
Finally in 2019 Kat decided it was the right time to trust her heart and travel to South Africa to see Andy.
Adventures in Africa
Kat still remembers the butterflies she felt arriving into the airport in South Africa. They hadn't seen each other in person for 6 years by that point.
K: "I forgot how tall he was!"
She also admits to bearing some stereotypes about South Africa that she didn't even realise she had before visiting.
K: "I thought it was a third world country still. But when I was there I was amazed at how advanced they were in agricultural technologies…
Every single plastic packaging in shops are recyclable... they are so green and they have the BEST supermarkets!”
Both of them smiled and nodded knowingly as they agreed that the time in South Africa formed some of the best memories in their relationship so far.
From hiking up the steep Table Mountain in the middle of a storm, to casual mornings sipping coffee together while Kat would be reading a book and Andy was working.
It was 2 weeks of reconnecting that left Kat and Andy unable to deny that they had something worth not letting go of again.
Mixing Holiday Traditions
Since we sat down to chat close to Christmas time, we got a peek into their upcoming plans and how they are accommodating their cultural traditions.
K: "In Poland there are specific dishes that you always have to have on the table.
This is our first Christmas together... I really care about it a lot! I'll cook some items from my culture, and some from his. So we'll have Christmas dinner Polish style and South African style."
And what is Polish style and South African style? Andy shares that the typical dishes he would see back home during Christmas would be prawn cocktail, gammon ham, roast potatoes, and pecan nut pie. But for the Polish, there's a lot more to factor in.
K: Traditionally Xmas Eve dinner you should have 12 different dishes, no meat, you just eat fish.
However, we will compromise - he's going have gammon, I will have fish. He will have roasted potatoes, I will have mashed. So I think all together we'll end up having 12 anyway!
The holidays are often big moments where intercultural couples can either clash or combine their cultural traditions. And often the clash depends on whether there is a strong expectation for the other person to take part in the tradition. For example in South Africa, Andy notes you'd have pickled fish on Easter - which may not appeal to everyone.
K: "Don't need to partake in it, but respect it... He doesn't have to eat fish for Christmas but I'd like to at least have it on the table."
A: "As long as we both make time just to be there for the other person on those special days, that should be enough."
Holidays are also a big occasion to join the families. Unfortunately last year, COVID didn't allow that to happen. Their parents are well aware about each other having observed their frequent Skype dates. While they anticipate there will be some language barriers to deal with (Kat's family mainly speak Polish), they are optimistic about the parents getting along.
K: "My dad really wants to go on holiday to South Africa!"
Still battling stereotypes
While they may avoid some of the struggles of interracial couples, being from two different parts of the world brings its own set of challenges and battles with stereotypes.
With regards to Andy and his South African background, he receives his fair share of stereotypes as well.
A common reaction he gets is the classic surprised look "when people see that I'm white from South Africa". Other comments he would get from time to time would also include questions like "Do you ride an elephant to school? Do you have lions walking around?".
A: “There are still some places where they are surprised we speak English.
You get underestimated.. for example, we have quite good education system and Universities”
Fortunately, these comments don't bother him. But his background sometimes result in awkward moments for Kat, like when she shared the news about Andy to her grandmother:
K: "The first thing she said was 'is he white, or black?'.
This is so frustrating because you don't know how to answer that, and what should it matter?"
Given the distance between their two countries, Andy shares that in his side of the world there are some stereotypes of Eastern European women being exoticised and sexualised. Not to mention the common narrative about women moving abroad to escape the Eastern European life.
Kat listens intently to all of this with intrigue and curiosity. Luckily in London, this isn't really a stereotype that she comes across often - which could be linked to the much higher population of Polish immigrants in the UK for starters, and the country's relative proximity to Poland. Instead, we draw parallels with how other ethnicities like Latinos and Asians get fetishised as well.
These two lovebirds currently live together in London, finally closing the distance between them for all those years. The next adventure for them is now to set up their life here, and build on the love they can now finally have in one place.
📺 Currently watching: Ratched
✈️ Next travel plan: Romania, and then a big trip around Asia
🍦 Favourite ice cream flavour: Kat's is cookies and cream, Andy's is mint choc chip.