By Alexandra Paucescu
‘Take your dreams seriously‘… ‘Make yourself proud’… ‘Choose happy’… these are just a few of the words that I usually see on her social media, sharing optimism on a daily basis.
‘Everyone has a story to tell’… indeed, let’s discover hers!
Olga Tapiola or ‘Madame EU’ as she is called in Bangkok, where she is currently living with her husband and stepson, is a complex and inspiring woman. She is originally from Ukraine but married a Finnish career diplomat who now represents the European Union in Thailand. Turning into a ‘trailing spouse’ did not come easy. She could grasp the substance and representational parts as she initially studied international relations and political economy and worked as a policy expert for a number of years.
Her greatest passion of all is psychology, which she studied later on in life and practiced. ‘I am particularly fond of group psychology, especially my favourite method called psychodrama. It has a beautiful dynamics; I am fascinated about the way groups interact and work. I am curious about people and love to discover their stories. In Thailand, I had the chance to conduct groups for parents of children with developmental and behavioural special needs, as a volunteer for a local NGO. It gave me so much joy.’
‘The world is dark enough, there are so many challenges, it is only up to us to find the light in ourselves and others’ she says, and then I remember another one of her beautiful Instagram quotes ‘The secret to life is knowing how to make the bad times good and the good times unforgettable’.
But life is not always as perfect as on Instagram … she sometimes misses the greenery and the four seasons in Europe, she misses her extended family and people she called friends for many years and are now living thousands of miles away. She is no stranger to human pain and challenges through her therapy work.
She tells me: ‘home is where I am now, in this moment, with my closest family. In order to succeed, a diplomatic couple needs to build a strong partnership between the spouses, with support going both ways. The second important thing is to have something which brings you joy, something that lights you up, while your diplomatic partner is going to the office. There is so much beauty in this world, so many fascinating people who are waiting to be discovered. One just needs good company and a supportive shoulder.’
She also runs a support group for ambassadors’ spouses in Bangkok. Although it was not intended as a therapy group, it offers safe space to the spouses to share their news and talk about challenges without being judged. It serves as a platform to discuss ideas and simply get support from likeminded friends. She says: ‘Being a diplomatic, and in particular an ambassador’s spouse, is a great privilege and at the same time a big responsibility. More can be done to help spouses both enjoy their lives and be able to support their diplomatic partners’. Her latest discussion paper, still unpublished, looks at the potential and challenges of ambassadors’ spouses in the 21st century.
While being an ambassador’s spouse often takes a large part of her time, COVID-19 lockdown allowed her to rediscover another old and forgotten passion: painting.
‘Trust the magic of new beginnings’…
‘I have taken painting classes for three years, back in Ukraine and had exhibited my work before, both in Kyiv and in Brussels. But during the lockdown, I was lucky to reconnect with my inner artist. I found a new routine which was very fulfilling’.
Her paintings are beautiful, full of colour and inspire the same optimism that she transmits through her words.
‘Things That Bring You Joy – is the title of my space where I exhibited two subsequent collections of paintings in Bangkok. When asked to name this space, I remembered my father’s favourite phrase – “Whatever you do, always do things that bring you joy”. Indeed, I saw that many times in life: when you do what you like, and, if your heart is fulfilled, everything else follows. Being able to do so is a privilege that I really appreciate.’
‘The process of painting, colours, time spent in my studio – bring me infinite joy right now. I like to escape my diplomatic bubble and express myself in a different way. My art is about happiness – happiness of small things, joy of small steps – that can help us overcome all the difficulties. I listen to my heart and paint out what’s in it right now. Nature, feelings, moments, I get inspiration from everywhere.’
Because of her, psychology and art met. Her wisdom and professional experience merged with her artistic inspiration and create beauty every day.
‘Never give up on your dreams’ she says. ‘Let joy be your heart’s name’
Main picture Photography by Natalia Garbu.
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.