From a volunteer to a Master's student. From a pageant contestant to podcast host. Katie Noyed is many things, but her desire to connect with others and give back to the community shines through every one of them.
Photographer: Terumi Mascarenhas
Text: Michaela Medvedova
"Sorry, my mom is here!" she says with an apologetic smile as a woman with matching blonde hair walks by. Sitting cross-legged at the dining room table, Katie Noyed truly looks content. No wonder. This summer, the US native who now resides in Denmark with her husband visited her family in the States after a year-and-a-half-long separation.
"With technology, you can keep in touch in other ways. But it's tough. You're getting older - your family is getting older. You're missing life's moments." A trade-off every traveller and explorer understands well.
After all, travelling seems to be in Katie's blood. Her dad lived in Japan for three years - and would sometimes even speak Japanese to her as a baby. Her mom spent time in Africa, and her grandma? A huge traveller, too. "I had that kind of influence - you should go out and explore, you should see the world. So from all angles, people were saying: go," remembers Katie.
And so, instead of going off to study journalism, she ended up picking potential countries for a gap year with Rotary International. "We had a big country fair with people representing the countries. I was a teenage girl, and the Danish guy was really cute," laughs Katie about her reasoning to choose Denmark as one of her spots.
As fate would have it, that's where she ended up. Strangely, she did not experience cultural shock. Coming from Minnesota with the largest population of Norwegian Americans, Danish country and people looked similar. The only difference? Language, of course. "I thought I could either make friends or learn Danish. For whatever reason, I couldn't do both in my head." As always, she chose the connections and made life-long friends. "I loved Denmark so much. But my student visa was only for a year. The plan was always to go back to the U.S." So she returned to the US and started studying Social Science. But Denmark wasn't done with her.
A Danish love
Once, in a Chicago bar, a group of guys approached her and asked her a strange question - hey, have you ever met a Dane? Needless to say, she was excited to reconnect with her host country. "I really hit it off with Simon, my now-husband. We spent the whole night sharing stories. The next day, we went on an all-day date. It was just so bizarre: I was in Chicago only for a weekend, and he was travelling in the US for a couple of weeks," Katie smiles as she looks back.
As chance as the meeting was, their paths still crossed, and the rest was history. Even when Simon moved to Dubai for work, Katie went to visit him, fell in love with the city - and suddenly, the plan was to move there after graduation. "It was a strange experience; we had never even lived in the same city, only vacationed together. But I moved there after my undergrad, and it worked out." There was still a contingency plan, though. "I still had a return ticket, in case it wouldn't," she laughs.
Settling into Denmark - Part 2
Luckily, there was no need for it, and after an exciting stay in Dubai where Katie worked as an English teacher, the couple moved to Denmark. But while for her husband, it was a smooth return to his family, friends, and job, for Katie, it felt like a crash landing.
After living in diverse Dubai, she struggled to find an international community in Roskilde. "I just wasn't able to tap into it despite going to quite a few meetings," shrugs Katie.
Without studies, connections, and out of luck while searching for a job, Katie felt without purpose. So to help her settle in Denmark, they applied for family reunification. "Essentially, this puts your life on hold. It could be up to 10 months of waiting time when you're not allowed to work, you're not allowed to volunteer, the only thing you can do is take Danish classes."
Katie found herself in a strange, liminal state where she was neither here nor there. "For the first time, I really felt unwanted in society. I felt like my identity was taken away."
Katie, the volunteer
During her undergraduate studies, she volunteered all the time. The closest to her heart was her work with the National Eating Disorder Association, advocating about an issue that not many people know about - or don't want to know about. She also volunteered in a homeless shelter and worked on education projects for children with her Rotary Club.
For Katie, volunteering has always been one of the best things to get her out of her own head and put things into perspective. "It puts you in your place a little bit. Helps you understand there's more to life - but also that you're not at a higher level because you are the one helping."
Mounting the Christiania bike
Nothing lasts forever, though, and Katie's unwanted inactivity came to an end. Her way of moving forward? Enrolling into a Master's programme in Global Refugee Studies. Going to school, learning, and meeting internationals helped her gain her footing in Denmark.
However, her own immigration experience - in fact, all of her traveller XP points - came in handy as it fueled her interest in migration and mobility studies. "In Dubai, where your passport sort of dictates the type of job you will hold, I got to work with students from all over the world. To hear the migration stories of their families was fascinating to me. I'm interested in learning why states are preventing individuals from moving freely. Why are there expats, immigrants, and refugees, each with a different connotation?"
This fall, she will do it in a genuinely hands-on - not to mention Danish way. Interning for Kompasset five days a week, an organisation that helps homeless migrants will place her on the streets of Copenhagen, atop a Christiania bike for 3 of those days, with soup and hot beverages. She will support the outreach team at the centre in the remaining 2 days, offering legal services or advice.
"Interning for Kompasset five days a week, an organisation that helps homeless migrants will place her on the streets of Copenhagen, atop a Christiania bike for 3 of those days, with soup and hot beverages. She will support the outreach team at the centre in the remaining 2 days, offering legal services or advice."
Clash with a content culture
Working with people from around the world again - and in a country that is not her own - will bring Katie new chances for self-development through learning about new cultures.
But if there is a clash between her and her husband's culture, it's usually caused by Katie's need to always self-improve. "In the US, we are insatiable. We want the next thing - the next degree, the next best car. In Denmark, I really respect the way people can stop and enjoy what they have and be in the moment."
Along with her drive for self-improvement, independence has always been a big part of Katie's character: from a leadership role as a charity walk founder and coordinator with the National Eating Disorder Association to choosing to go against the grain and take a gap year.
"Actually, by being in Denmark, I became a little more dependent on my husband. It's his country. He's fluent in the language. When we were in Dubai, we had a more level playing field. It was new to both of us. If we come to the US in the future, I will be the one in charge. With relationships, it's give and take."
A country kind of life
Roskilde, for the time being, is her home. What some would consider a city in the Danish countryside, Katie, coming from the sprawling United States, sees Roskilde more as a suburb of Copenhagen. "I guess this is such a tiny country that Roskilde is a city by itself," laughs Katie.
Be as it may, especially during corona times, Roskilde was a fine choice for the amount of nature it has to offer. "I went on a lot of runs and walks, and I got to know the area really well. But at the same time, I love being in Copenhagen - there's a lot of excitement, opportunities and internationals. In larger cities, you can just connect with people of all backgrounds," Katie thinks.
Even though she also discovered a small community in Roskilde, Katie met international friends through her studies in Copenhagen. But there are expats in Denmark who did not relocate to a major city. "You have to keep moving forward. I had a pity party as well. That doesn't help. It's only hurting yourself. But when you do find that sense of community, that's what makes a difference."
But while trying to find it, Katie did not want to lose herself. She is on a mission to absorb the best parts and filter out those that don't suit her, never losing sight of where she's going or where she came from.
For this, she took a friend's advice. "The bravest thing you can do in this country is to be yourself. And that's true."
A colourful podcast
With the podcast she founded in July last year, that is precisely what she is doing.
Life with Color covers the intersection between eating disorders and different societies because treatment in the United States will differ from treatment in the Middle East or Denmark. Along with professionals who speak about nutrition, body image, or the brain chemistry behind eating disorders, she invites people who have struggled with an eating disorder. "They can share their recovery stories, what their treatment experience was like, and the pressures they felt within their society," explains Katie.
The decision to start the podcast was deeply personal. An eating disorder is something Katie struggled with for years herself. As a competitive dancer and a huge perfectionist, she ticked off every single box. "It is a very complicated illness. If you just think about the number of times you eat per day. All of those are stressful times. When you're sick, it's as if this dull fog takes over. As if there is no colour in life."
Even though eating disorders are a lifelong journey, her podcast is named after life in recovery - about the return of colour into her life.
She sought out treatment during her freshman year of college. She calls it the best decision she has ever made. She also calls herself lucky. "Not everyone is believed when they say they have an eating disorder." That is what makes her advocacy work all the more critical.
"Even though eating disorders are a lifelong journey, her podcast is named after life in recovery - about the return of colour into her life."
While growing up, Katie resembled Sandra Bullock's character in Miss Congeniality - a big pageant sceptic - more than a beauty queen. But going to college in the States is expensive, and the Miss America Organisation is one of the largest scholarship providers for women.
Even though they are often dismissed, all pageants should not be painted with a broad stroke. "The calibre of women who compete in this programme is quite high," says Katie. The organisation already cut out swimsuits and evening gowns. Instead, an extensive interview process and public speaking culminate with a TED talk about the contestants' community service project.
When starting, Katie immediately knew what she wanted her focus to be. "With my eating disorder experience, I knew I could help people. I knew how to use my story to connect with others and make the topic less stigmatised."
But her struggle with the illness was a significant consideration before entering the competition. Would it be triggering? Quite the contrary. "It was really healing because I got to speak out. I got to talk to the other girls if they were doing unhealthy things."
Coming full circle
Katie has always found herself at the centre of a community. That's why the lonely beginning in Denmark hit her so hard. Until she started picking up The International and joined the team as a Social Media Ambassador. "I saw stories of people like us. They were overcoming challenges, moving forward even if facing adversity. I felt really connected to the paper. It's fun to be part of this international team and come full circle - being on the cover is just really crazy." Crazy or not, Katie still hopes her story can help other people too. And if her track record of doing just that has anything to say about it, it is a safe bet.
* Katie's photoshoot was shot on location at RAGNAROCKS iconic golden building. The museum is located in Roskilde's 'Rock City' - the Musicon district, just a stone's throw from the famous Roskilde Festival. Star architects from Dutch MVRDV and Danish COBE are the creative minds behind this building. So see, hear and feel your way through the history of rhythmic music from 1950s rock'n'roll to 1980s pop culture and today's wild rhythms - and get an idea of tomorrow's music scene.