By Alexandra Paucescu
Often in our diplomatic life we find ourselves in places and situations that we have never experienced nor expected before. We try to find ways to express our own personality and nurture further on our passions.
Sandra van Vaerenbergh, a Belgian with a master in Political Sciences, worked as a civil servant for the Belgian Ministry of Internal Affairs for years. She acted for three years as deputy manager of a closed center for illegal immigrants, offering her immense satisfaction and professional recognition. She married a diplomat and then started her nomadic life abroad, in exotic countries like Syria or Thailand and also closer to home, in the Netherlands.
Continuity in our diplomatic life is something that, I guess, we all wish for and it is something not always easy to achieve. She tells me: ’home is more of a feeling rather than a place, more specifically, feeling comfortable in a house as a family, surrounded by our own things that move with us from one country to another. Creating a feeling of home is of course also important for the children during the process of settling down in a new country. During our latest relocation to Bangkok, the girls (8 and 9 year old back then) were so excited to have their own stuff back after 8 weeks apart.’
Children need stability, so do we. If it’s about the home we live in or the job we do, the everyday life is something we design ourselves after our own habits, opportunities and desires. ‘There are ones who need a job to feel satisfied, for others it is already satisfying to be home and take care of the children, which is also not something to neglect. During our postings I stayed home, raised my girls and also learned new skills. We did not have the morning rush, like many of my friends in Belgium had, and it was a good balance. I realized the importance of the life-work balance when I returned back to work during our stay in Belgium after two postings. I worked full time for one year but I have to admit that I did not want that rush and decided to work on a 4/5 days schedule. It was the best decision for me at that moment, no matter what others would think.’
Taking time for herself and having the luxury to explore the new countries of residence is also important to her. She says: ‘take your time to settle in and make your home a place where you feel good and comfortable.’ She also confesses that, from all the postings, Syria is still closest to her heart. Why? ‘It was our first posting as a young couple and both our girls were born in Damascus. Furthermore, I will never forget the warm people, the delicious food and the beautiful cities in Syria. I still have a lucky charm, received from a Syrian when we had to leave Damascus, due to the circumstances, and I always carry it with me wherever we go. Syria will have this special place in my heart forever.’
Regarding the advices she would give to other spouses, she says:’ try not to compare yourself to others; each one has her/his own vision on being a partner of a diplomat. Try to reinvent yourself, learn new skills and dare to jump into something new. It was not easy for me, as I like my ‘safe place’, but after all, these years while the kids are growing up, are the perfect time for me to start something else.’
And she did!
‘During our first posting in Syria, with a newborn and a one year old at home, I started to read Belgian sewing blogs (yes, in between taking care of the little ones, I found the time!). As a mum of two girls, I always dreamed of making swirling skirts and dresses with beautiful fabrics for them. So, upon our arrival in The Hague, I bought a sewing machine and some other tools, as I wanted to finish up ‘perfectly’ the garments I made. I am an autodidact, bought some sewing books and monthly sewing magazines, followed online tutorials and became part of the Belgian sewing community online. I also took some sewing lessons for two years. That was really ‘me-time’ and I loved it. Over the years I became a real fabric addict. I love fabric shopping, touching, feeling the fabrics and looking for the right ones for each specific garment. I must admit that I often buy fabric without a purpose, which leaves me now with a huge fabric stash. But I must also say that I feel very happy to live in Bangkok. I love wandering around Chinatown, looking for fabric shops. It is a true Walhalla for me. I often feel like a child in a candy store. The choices are amazing here and that in combination with good prices… I think you know what that means!
Following her passion, she started a professional course now. ‘As my motto is ‘live now and do what you like to do’, I recently started studying ‘pattern design’. With my sewing experience and the new skills I will learn now, I plan to start working on a concept of workshops, to offer in the near future. Turning my hobby into my work, that’s a dream come true! And not to forget, there’s a job that I would carry on, no matter where we are on this globe. Let’s say it’s a ‘win-win’. Furthermore, I also followed a photography training here in Bangkok, which I can perfectly combine with my sewing passion: now I know how to make the good looking photos of the clothes I make.’
She tells things with passion, she follows her dreams, carefully sewing her diplomatic life with sharp needles and colored threads, proudly presenting her work to the world.
Way to go, Sandra!
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.