Friday, December 3, 2021

Diplomatic IKIGAI

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Diplomat Magazine
DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands. Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. "Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions." Dr. Mayelinne De Lara, Publisher

By Alexandra Paucescu

When I checked the dictionary, I found out that ‘a person’s IKIGAI is represented by the things that the individual finds truly motivating, described as his or her reason for existing’.

It seemed to me the best word to associate with Tomohiro Harada.

He is currently accompanying his Norwegian diplomat wife on a posting abroad, to Chile, but he never forgot about his own aspirations, purpose and finding what makes him truly happy. He is constantly trying to accommodate their life together, as a mutual benefit. ‘We, as diplomatic spouses, have the important role of looking out for broader changes that could affect the course of our lives in the future. It’s about creating intellectual space between us to discuss what our interests are. It’s about taking lead in discussing issues that affect these interests in order to “future-proof” our home’. 

Tomohiro Harada.

He tells me about his life so far and I have to admit, I am quite impressed with his extensive international living experience! He also has a rather wise approach, saying that ‘a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable’.

His story began in Japan, where he grew up. He later attended primary and high school in New Zeeland. ‘After that, I started my undergraduate degree in International Relations at the University of New South Wales in Australia and then transferred to the University of St Andrews in Scotland. I did my postgraduate degree at Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Russia and moved to Norway in 2016, where I started my PhD’.

So, one could say that his whole life on the move has prepared him for the current diplomatic situation. He tells me candidly ‘until I married my wife, everything has been rather temporary and uncertain in my life. I thrived when I was constantly on the move, but I was also scared of it. All of that changed when I married. From that point on, I’ve felt like I finally have “permanent fixture” and “certainty” in my life. I haven’t given up my old life, because it very much continues, but I gained something by having a life companion on a diplomatic mission’.

Such nice words, a true love statement, although life is not always easy as a diplomatic spouse.

He points out that ‘we (diplomatic spouses) are not a monolithic group, with a uniform experience. If someone says “our lives are super easy,” we can only confirm or deny this perception, based on our own experience (or experiences of people that we know). I am in Chile now, but I lived in a lot of countries, and prejudices come in many forms, not just as a diplomatic spouse, but also as an “Asian” person. I would say that prejudice arising from being Asian has been much more consistent and personal than being a diplomatic spouse, at least when I am out on the street among strangers. But of course, there are perks for being abroad as a spouse of a Norwegian diplomat. Not only being a male diplomatic spouse is widely accepted and welcomed in Norway, but “belonging to Norway” also gives me disposition as “Norwegian”, to an extent, to belong to the Nordic communities, where I am accepted,  while distancing myself from the “Asian” community, which doesn’t always accept the idea of a trailing husband’.

He continues ‘I am now formally employed as a researcher at a university in Norway, to complete my PhD studies. I have to say that this has been extremely difficult as a diplomatic spouse. Pandemic also has a lot to do with it, and it affected my work environment significantly, knowing that I thrive more at my office. I thought that keeping my job and working on it while abroad is the best case scenario, but there are clear downsides too, and I continue to struggle. 

On the bright side, I see a lot of opportunities. Once I finish my PhD, I want to start something new. It’s given that finding a job is a difficult thing, but what if “job” is not what we are looking for? I’m looking for things that make me happy, things that I am good at, things that keep me busy during the day, and so on. Then, a job becomes just one of many things rather than “the thing”. Not having a job often means no income and I think a lot of expats, especially the young ones, feel the money pressure. It’s something that my wife and I talk about a lot, because if that is to be expected, we need to talk about how to be smart with our money. And that’s what I research immensely in my spare time, thinking about family planning, pensions and “rainy day” funds. I actually find it very surprising that while a lot of ex-pat coaches touch upon expat life generally, they don’t talk about expat life and money, and that’s the big thing I am trying to understand right now’.

I asked Tomohiro about the general perception about diplomatic spouses, whether he feels it is close to reality, and furthermore, how is it when it comes to diplomatic MALE spouses.

‘Misperception is a problem that exists not only externally but also internally. For example, many male spouses, including myself, intervene quite forcefully when we are rendered invisible in diplomatic discourses and practices, as female spouses as well as female diplomats have done for decades, if not centuries. As I mentioned before, Norway, albeit not perfect, has come a long way to change the societal perception of men taking paternity leave or becoming diplomatic spouses. Because of this, we feel the exclusion of male spouses very acutely in diplomatic and expat communities abroad’.

‘So, before we think about what misperceptions are out there about us, we need to know more about ourselves. What kind of diplomatic spouses are there? There are mothers, fathers, unmarried spouses, gay spouses, spouses in hardship places and so on. Only then can we discover who we are, as a group’.

Asked if he had advice for other diplomatic spouses, he responded ‘to the extent that spouses are dependent on diplomats, the diplomats owe their spouses the vision of their life on foreign soil. It’s about ensuring that the diplomatic spouses see themselves in the life of their significant others and diplomacy at-large. At the same time, diplomatic life can create a false sense of security in a world that is really in disarray. As fast as the world is changing right now, we, as spouses, also need to adapt to these changes and pursue new skills which enable us to make positive impact in our world’.

Tomohiro Harada seems to me like the type of young man who perfectly understands the position and the role that he has right now, but who is constantly looking for opportunities, ways to express and evolve, new ways to find his “IKIGAI”.

About the author:

Alexandra Paucescu

Alexandra Paucescu- Author of “Just a Diplomatic Spouse” Romanian, management graduate with a Master in business, cultural diplomacy and international relations studies.

She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian,  gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.

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