By Alexandra Paucescu
What do the USA, fashion, Puerto Rico and diplomacy have in common? The answer is simple: Jessica del Toro, blogger, fashionista, diplomatic spouse and an unstoppable Latina, making her mark one country at a time.
Originally born in Queens, New York, with Latin American origins, Jessica has a style which reflects her life – colorful, vibrant, and inspiring others daily with her “alegria de vivir.”
Growing up in New York City and being surrounded by so much diversity, both ethnic and socio- economic, prepared her for this lifestyle and offered her the ‘tools’ to define her path.
She tells me: ‘I find strength in focusing on all the great things life has to offer and that, no matter what challenges we come across, the positive always outweighs the negative.’
From New York to Puerto Rico, to Myanmar, and soon to be Colombia, this is just the beginning for her and her diplomat husband.
She is a passionate blogger and a talented photographer. She had the privilege to travel to over 25 additional countries and documents her journey through her beautiful pictures on Instagram (@Jessonthemap). ‘All these places hold a special place in my heart, but being of Puerto Rican descent made it the most meaningful. It gave me the opportunity to explore the beautiful island, from which my family originated and learn more about my culture and people.’
Her artistic nature is to be seen in everything she does, and also helped her career in fashion, from the very beginning. This is how it all started:
‘I was Vice President of Operations for an apparel manufacturing company, with businesses in New York and Lima, Peru. I had the opportunity to see how a garment is produced from start to finish. This allowed me to expand my knowledge within the field and open the many doors that followed, so that at our second diplomatic posting, in Puerto Rico, I was able to maintain my position in fashion, working for one of the top retail chains on the island. I used my knowledge to develop new collections and to create in-house brands that would sell across 100 locations.
This was my proudest professional moment, being able to carve out a position for myself in Puerto Rico and maintain my career in fashion. As I was preparing to close one door in New York, I was determined to open another. At one of the many trade-shows I attended annually, I introduced myself to the head buyer for Kress (one of the top retail chains in Puerto Rico) in Los Angeles. My goal was to open an account for the company I was currently working for and land a meeting with the owner of Kress. It took months of back and forth emails but my persistence paid off. I not only got the owner to agree to a meeting, but I opened an account and ended with a pitch for myself. One month later, I was on a plane to Puerto Rico, for an interview and was offered an executive position.
In Myanmar, I went on to work in the Public Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Yangon. My creative and distinct background helped to develop messaging, social media campaigns, and visual branding for all embassy platforms. I mentored the local staff on ways to increase online engagement and highlight U.S. assistance and investment within Myanmar.’
Embarking on this life time of travel and diplomatic postings forced her to adapt and reinvent herself. She had to acknowledge the fact that this journey will affect her career and what that meant for her long- term goals. But she confesses with great honesty ‘I was more afraid of losing myself than I was of being away from loved ones or living in a foreign country. Ultimately, I knew a job or a place doesn’t define me’.
You can tell from her words that she is an ambitious and tenacious woman, determined to succeed, no matter where she is.
How does she do it, how does she keep her energy and optimism from posting to posting?
She likes to try new things, is friendly and courageous. ‘Life in the Foreign Service isn’t for everyone but it doesn’t mean your career or dreams have to die. If there isn’t a space for you, create one. Don’t deprive yourself from new experiences. The goal isn’t just to survive but to thrive in this lifestyle’ she says.
She also found ways to get involved in the local community, volunteering or staying engaged in causes that are important to her.
‘I’m a firm believer that living abroad is most rewarding when you not only take something with you but when you give back and make a difference.’ Indeed, it’s also one of my strong beliefs and I really think that by volunteering and helping others, you also help yourself, as you get back positive energy and great emotional rewards.
In time, she also learned that life in the Foreign Service always comes full circle and you’ll find yourself crossing paths with the same people. She encourages everyone to stay active and involved. ‘Join expat platforms to meet other like-minded people and widen your network, attend diplomatic events and build relationships within the diplomatic community. The beauty of travel is immersing yourself into new cultures and embracing new traditions. Being open minded is important. It’s also important to remember that while we are creating a life for ourselves overseas, we are still guests there. Maybe not every country we’re assigned to is at the top of our list but that doesn’t mean these places aren’t worth exploring. Sometimes our preconceived notions about living in certain countries get in the way of what could be one of our most memorable experiences. There will also be difficult times when we’re alone or wait for a panel to decide where our next temporary home will be…’
Maybe we don’t get to choose where we live next, maybe we feel lonely at some point or discouraged but, as she points it out, ‘with the right positive attitude, we can achieve anything’.
‘Spread love wherever you go and try to leave things a little better than you found them.’
Thank you, dear Jessica, I am so happy to have met you!
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.