By Alexandra Paucescu.
I remember like it was yesterday…she introduced herself to me warmly, while both her position and experience were overwhelmingly greater than mine. She later confessed that she often finds that if others know who her spouse is, they assume she will be unapproachable and only interact with people of a certain social status.
‘I fully support my spouse’s work and am conscious of the benefits I enjoy as a result of it, but I do not define myself by it, nor do I use it as currency in my daily life. I live by The Golden Rule: treat others as you would have them treat you! Remember what it was like when you were a beginner and remain grounded.
I don’t openly announce my diplomatic affiliations. This allows me to gauge reliably how people react to me, as opposed to my role. As in other things in life, I feel that actions speak much louder than words and it is only in our deeds that we can adjust or change any misconceptions. Moving up the ranks, you should not confuse the attention that you receive due to your role with genuine interest in your person, as one does not necessarily follow the other.’
Indeed, Gladys Abankwa- Meier-Klodt is a woman that wins your admiration right away, no need for titles or special status. Her graceful attitude speaks by itself and recommends this captivating woman to the world. She has an Oscar-winning life story, the brilliant intelligence that not many have and the modesty that only great characters possess.
Raised in the USA, Canada and home country of Ghana by two career-diplomats, hers was a fairly gender-neutral home, where tasks were divided according to inclination or availability rather than by tradition.
She is thankful to her parents for offering the stability of a close nuclear family despite the changing homes, classmates and environment that living a nomadic diplomatic life meant.
‘It was drummed into me from a very early age that I was representing myself, my family and my country when I was in public, and so to make my life easier, my private and public personas quickly melted into one’.
After university and grad school in Canada (she started university just after turning 16!), she met her German husband – at a diplomatic reception, where else? – and has accompanied him for over 30 years on postings to Russia, the USA, UK, India and Romania, but she says she is still happiest at home. ‘Home is an amalgam of things, a place where my family or belongings are gathered; the effortlessness of communing with other third culture individuals who share much of my life experience and world view; the familiarity of a language, scents, celebrations, a routine.’
What does she appreciate most about this kind of life?…She confesses that she has been eager to explore and learn about the world for as long as she can remember and, as a member of the diplomatic community, she has gained the deeper insights into the culture of various countries that a high calibre of contact and interaction with the host nation offers.
‘Of course, if you travel to confirm your prejudices rather than to discover what lies beyond them, your experience will be different. I approach each posting with an open mind and a willingness to learn, especially languages. Language is an invaluable portal to cultural awareness. If you get to know people from your host country, you’ll quickly find that stereotypes paint only part of the picture and have limited usefulness once you get past culture shock. Outward displays of insensitivity to the feelings and culture of others should always be avoided, not only in diplomatic life!’
Her advice? ‘Choose your counselors wisely. Select people whom you have reason to respect, because the information you receive will tell you just as much about the person who is offering it, as anything else.’
Her struggles? ‘I have found it most challenging to maintain meaningful relationships with the people I have met over the years in different countries, but I put a great deal of effort into trying to do so.’
She studied microbiology and immunology, conducting research into the biological control of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes, but it wasn’t long before incompatibilities with a mobile family lifestyle led her to begin indulging her creativity and other interests.
‘I particularly relish the opportunity to reinvent myself that the 3-year rotation period has offered me: microbiologist, interior designer, speechwriter, journalist/author, English teacher, translator, project manager and intercultural trainer…who knows what my next incarnation will be…’
Her passion and talent for writing were obvious from an early age. Her articles have appeared in scientific journals, magazines and newspapers; she has also collaborated on and co-edited two cookbooks.
‘My first solo book was a family history, ‘Celebrating a Centenarian’, written to mark my grandmother’s 100th birthday. Gathering and analysing data are second nature to me and those skills also came in handy for ‘Delhi’s Diplomatic Domains – Residences and Chanceries of Chanakyapuri and Imperial New Delhi’. It chronicles the establishment of the Indian capital’s unique diplomatic enclave.
When I arrived in India, I was struck by the emblematic exclusivity of Delhi’s diplomatic quarter, and on discovering that there was no literature in the public domain that examined its development in a comprehensive manner, my mission was born! The stars aligned perfectly because I had not only the perspective of a member of the diplomatic community but also the unique access to information and the properties, as well as the research, writing and design experience required to bring it all together.
I was extremely fortunate to meet an Indian photographer who allowed me to direct his work and capture the stunning images presented and then, to attract the interest of no less than three publishers. In the end, a book emerged that was truly mine, from the words and image selection to the layout of every single page. I have personally presented copies of the book to a German President, a former German Chancellor and to the Custodian of the Romanian Crown.’ This was one of her proudest professional achievements.
Another was SMOOTH Moves, the workshops she initiated, conceived and implemented for the German Federal Foreign Office (2001-2012), to prepare Foreign Service families for expatriation and repatriation. ‘SMOOTH is an acronym for Self-confidence, Motivation, Organization, Orientation, Tolerance and (a personal definition of) Home, all of which were components of the program.’
Just by reading these lines about her fascinating life and achievements, anyone can realize the complexity and qualities of this interesting and graceful woman, who I am deeply grateful I had the opportunity to meet.
I remember she once told me that her husband often says: ‘Whenever we arrive at a new posting, at first, she is my wife, but when we leave I am her husband’. Beautiful words, spoken by a partner who knows for sure the value of the woman next to him and is proud of her!
About the author:
Alexandra Paucescu- Romanian, Management graduate with a Master in Business, studied Cultural Diplomacy and International Relations.
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian. Turned diplomatic spouse by the age of 30, she published a book about diplomatic life, writes articles and also gives lectures on intercultural communication.