By Alexandra Paucescu
Life often makes surprising twists, takes you to places you never expected and puts you in certain situations that will force you to go far beyond your limits and your comfort zone.
Diplomatic life is certainly one that fits this definition. What do you do, how do you cope with all the challenges and pressure? How do you find inner resources to redefine yourself over and over again? To many, this is a tedious matter… to her it came naturally, as a chain of situations and opportunities, which highlighted her multiple facets.
Slovakian born Monika Kapralikova is a woman with a hundred different faces and talents, which she naturally and modestly displays. One can only be amazed talking to her… and I certainly was. For the whole time of our discussion, I kept wondering myself: ‘Where does she get all the energy from? How does she do all that?’
The intellectual woman who studied history and cultural studies at Comenius University in Bratislava, got her PhD and had a brilliant academic career, was swept away by her Spanish husband and, as she confesses herself, ‘in love, you often act, not think’… so she joined his nomadic diplomatic life and started her own lifetime adventure: Vienna, Madrid, Prague…
‘The first few years I fully immersed myself into motherhood, so I slowed down the pace and enjoyed family life’ she says. But, as often happens with highly accomplished and active women, she soon realized she needed more, something to define herself outside being a partner and a mother, something to give her pleasure and satisfaction. And that is in fact what triggered her many talents being revealed.
She worked for different cultural projects (International Festival Divadelná Nitra in Karlovy Vary), volunteered for causes she held dear and started writing.
Her academic background seemed to help and in 2017 she published her first book, ‘Beyond the province borders’, a cultural history of the period between the two World Wars in former Czechoslovakia and the life of the poet and editor Jan Smrek. The book was highly appreciated and won the prestigious ‘Egon Erwin Kisch Prize’ in 2018.
Being present as a speaker (2018) and then as an organizer at TEDx conferences in Bratislava came as a natural result of the attention the book received and as a recognition of her good work and talent, both as a writer, speaker and organizer.
Did she stop there? Of course not! In 2019, another book followed. This time it was ‘Water drops on the rock’, a collection of 50 stories about women from different fields and backgrounds, who lived in former Czechoslovakia, from 19th century till today.
‘I co-authored this book, together with eight other writers and I am especially proud of it, as it is a family book with multiple moral aspects. It also teaches us that not only high achievers are worth mentioning!’
Indeed, that is something which especially children nowadays should learn and understand, easing the pressure of an often too demanding society!
She now works on two more books and also discovered her other artistic talent: she became part of a Spanish theatre group in Vienna, called ‘Soles del Sur’ (Southern Sun).
‘We usually have two productions per year, but because of the pandemic, we were forced to limit our performances. But I enjoy it immensely, it gives me so much pleasure and it is yet another way to express my artistic nature’.
Life is now full for Monika. She has ambitious projects, a nice family, two lovely young children who speak five languages already (‘a linguistic laboratory’ as she jokes about the situation) but who feel the pressure of this life as Third Culture Kids and react in their own ways to this reality, which will surely shape and influence their adult life.
‘You can never be too prepared for moving, at least at the emotional level. It is always a struggle, a road to constant reinvention. I had, at the beginning, my own prejudices about the diplomatic life and the role of spouses, and it was a long process of acceptance, I didn’t want to be one of ‘those women’. But in time, I found my way, my role, I discovered also the benefits of diplomatic life, I’ve met wonderful and compassionate women and learned to face the reality: that everything in life is temporary and all problems will eventually be solved.’
Of course, being a foreign born diplomatic spouse could only add up to the difficulty of adjustment. As she is now preparing to move ‘home’ to Madrid, she tells me ‘I feel like I never really go home. I am always a foreigner. Even when we move to Spain, to me it is like another foreign posting. It is like I live Homer’s mythical story of Ulysses, always on the way home to his beloved Ithaca, but never reaching it’.
I listen to her words and I can’t hide my amazement at this woman’s many facets. She tells me she also used to sing jazz in her younger years and, as if it wasn’t enough: she takes swims in the Danube, even now, at 0 degrees Celsius in winter time, along with a few other equally brave women. It is an exercise that proves strong will and determination, for sure, but she says: ‘I live by the golden rule ‘Better be tired to death of doing things, than dying with regrets you’ve never done it at all!’
It certainly seems that she has done a lot so far… and she still has a whole life of adventure in front of her… so world, be prepared… Monika is coming!
Main picture Monika Kapralikova with her husband at OECD charity ball.
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.