By Alexandra Paucescu
An old saying goes :’you have the life that you make for yourself’.
Milena Padula, a beautiful Italian born in Naples, certainly knows that. Despite the many changes she went through so far in life, she always knew how to make the best of every situation. She tells me that she was only eighteen when she first left home and went to study Economics and Banking in Tuscany, then, as one of the first Erasmus students, won a scholarship and spent one year at the University of Reading, in the UK. It was on the flight back to Italy where she met her future husband and from there, a life of diplomatic postings began. Moscow, London, Bahrain, Montreal and Ho Chi Min City, where she recently moved, they all left strong and dear memories to her.
‘I always had the feeling that every posting was my country for the 4 years I spent there. I usually fall in love with the food, the people, the language, the culture and I even start to get goose bumps when the National Anthem of that country is played. If I had to choose nice memories from each of the cities I lived in, I would remember my wedding day in Moscow at the gorgeous Italian Embassy, the typical British lifestyle in London, with the Queen’s Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace, the races in Ascot, the tennis matches at Wimbledon and the Chelsea Flower Shows, the very welcoming people of Bahrain, with its interesting culture and strong traditions.’
Milena is a very active woman. This is how I met her and, besides her beauty and elegance, it is her actions which caught my attention. She tells me that she realized, from the very beginning of her diplomatic life, that she needed to be more than just a diplomatic spouse, she wanted to have something of her own, and I couldn’t resonate with this more!
She says; ‘I strongly believe that, as a diplomatic spouse, if you are not able to work, it is very important to keep up to date and to make the most of any training opportunity. I always recommend it to other spouses that if, for any reason, they have to pause their career they should take the chance to go back to study. And it is what I did in Montreal, where, the only way to escape the harsh winters was to go back to my studies. I achieved a master’s degree in Public Relations and Fundraising at McGill University. Back in Rome after Canada, I took another course at the Sapienza University, on the role of women in the peace processes (UN Security Council Resolution 1325)’.
Her experience abroad as the wife of a diplomat allows her to put this knowledge to good use. When in Rome, she usually collaborates with ACDMAE, the Italian Foreign Affairs Spouses Association, which carries out voluntary activities for the employees of the Ministry and their families.
Milena says: ‘within the association, I founded the Education & Career Group, which supports spouses to follow their professional path, despite their constant moving from one country to another. I helped to promote the “portable career” concept, teaching spouses to shift from one posting to another while keeping their career. I have been elected ACDMAE President in 2021 and was honored to give my contribution in organizing events for the members of our association and supporting the spouses during their relocation.
I have also been for many years, the Italian delegate to EUFASA (European Foreign Affairs Spouse and Families Association) with members from twenty European countries, meeting at annual conferences. The purpose of EUFASA is the exchange of ideas and information among its members, in order to improve the provisions related to spouses, partners and families of diplomats. It aims to identify best practices, to gain support for family-friendly policies within the EU MFAs. I will participate as the Italian delegate to the next conference, in Paris on May 2 & 3 2022 (www.eufasa.org)’.
During the pandemic, she yet started to be involved with another project. ‘Here We Are Italy’ (www.hereweareglobal.com/italy) is a network which aims to connect international professionals on the move, as accompanying partners. During lockdown she organized, together with partners in Modena and Milan, many workshops to help expats moving to Italy and around the world. I attended some of them and I remember the pleasure to be part of that community and to learn new things.
She confesses to me that, after more than 25 years as a diplomatic spouse, 5 countries, 2 children and a huge number of boxes, her most valuable advice would be that it is important to realize that we are not defined by our spouse’s job, we need to have an independent life.
‘We have to develop our own interests and we need to have what I call a double life’, she says.
Another important goal would be ‘to contradict the stereotype that the life of diplomats is a glittering life full of parties and never ending holidays. Nowadays, it is increasingly difficult to move from one country to another, considering how many postings are gradually becoming very dangerous’.
She had the opportunity to write about her own experience during the civil war in Bahrain in a book. “Nella buona e nella cattiva sorte. L’altra faccia del servizio all’estero” describes the ‘not so glamorous’ side of life as wife of a diplomat in a conflict zone.
But, despite the ups and downs of this diplomatic life and the difficulties related to changing countries every four years, leaving family and friends behind, she admits that she still thinks that this is the best life she could have ever asked for.
She remains optimistic and open to new experiences and opportunities to make her ‘vita diplomatica’ as beautiful as possible, no matter where she is.
After all, as her favorite quote says: ‘always see your glass half full’!
About the author:
She speaks Romanian, English, French, German and Italian, gives lectures on intercultural communication and is an active NGO volunteer.