More than a decade ago, Alexandra was whisked away from her management role in Romania to go to Austria for her husband’s job as a diplomat. Abroad, she has volunteered for various not for profit organisations and this year, she published a book to share her experiences. Read on to hear more about her unique lifestyle – the diplomatic life is not always as glamorous as it sounds.
Can you please tell us a bit about your childhood?
I grew up in Bucharest, the capital of Romania. My high school years happened at the end of the communist regime, just as travel was opening up. When I was 16, I went to the US as a high-school exchange student. After a week in New York, I stayed in Louisiana with a local family.
After I returned, I taught English, which kept me in work while I was studying management at university. There were two branches of management study: corporate and social institutions (not for profit organisations, hospitals and so on). I chose social institutions for my bachelor’s degree and corporate for my Master of Business Administration, so I can look at a project from both sides. Corporate managers are always thinking about profit; NGOs have a different approach.
After graduation, I worked for a construction company in Bucharest. I started in sales and marketing and eventually became a Sales Manager.
When did you leave Romania?
I moved to Austria when I was 31. It was a good time for me, because my daughter was 18 months old and I was pregnant with my second child. It was a busy time personally, but I wasn’t professionally active.
Now, my children are 12 and 11. They attend a German school, so they speak German, Romanian and English. We’d like them to maintain their German, which means we have to find the right school when we move. When you have kids, new postings become more complicated.
How do new postings work?
Usually, postings are for four to five years max. Available posts are listed, and you choose three. Maybe you get one of them, but there are no guarantees.
We had five years in Vienna, one year back home, and now are in our sixth year in Berlin. We were expecting to move, but because of Corona times, we’ll probably move next year in the summer.
How did you meet your husband?
We met on a ski slope in Romania.
A week earlier, I’d bought a pair of special ski glasses. Glasses need to be good for use at high altitude and low temperature. This brand was all over the media, ‘These will never break’, ‘if you break them, we will give your money back’. I took this on and tried to smash them with a hammer, but I couldn’t even crack them, so I took them skiing with me.
On the mountain, I was waiting for a cable car with a group of people. One of the guys I knew introduced me to my husband. I took off my glasses to be polite, and that minute, the glasses broke. I was shocked and started laughing. People said it was a sign.
When you moved to Austria, how did it impact your sense of identity?
At the beginning, I didn’t give it too much thought. I was too busy looking for a kindergarten and getting my young family settled.
Later, I started asking questions: Who am I? What am I going to do now?
Being a diplomatic spouse is underrated. People on the outside think you just live a privileged life, but the stress and loneliness that come with it are often forgotten.
It’s very hierarchical, like the military, so at the beginning when your husband is junior, you are a junior too. So, you’re not recognized from the outside, and you’re not treated very seriously inside either.
What did you do?
I looked for volunteer work. Vienna isn’t very big compared to Berlin, but I was lucky, because it houses the UN headquarters, so there are lots of international spouses. I joined the United Nations Women’s Guild, an organisation that started in New York but has a branch in Vienna. It’s run by wives of UN employees and diplomats. There were a lot of formalities because it’s inside UN headquarters, but I was accepted. I found it very rewarding.
We ran lots of functions and events, organized charity lunches, Christmas bazaars and raised a lot of money each year to sponsor causes around the Globe.
What happened when you moved to Berlin?
I had to start again. I sent emails to NGOs for volunteer work, but sadly, I received barely any replies. As a diplomatic spouse, you can apply for paid work, but there are usually restrictions, so I prefer not to get into this.
After two years, I eventually found a role by accident. I did a course in cultural diplomacy and international relations, where a lady from UNICEF came to give a lecture. Afterwards, I spoke to her, and this led to my job. I now coordinate their international group. We do lots of events for schools, fundraising activities, and all the events for the international community.
In 2020, our work has changed because of the virus. Previously we worked in kindergartens, but we can’t go there for workshops at the moment. We now hold more videos and webinars, but online, things don’t have the same impact.
How did you get into writing?
Over the years, I’ve kept in touch with an Argentinian friend I made in New York as an exchange student. Two years ago, he came to visit me in Germany, and asked me to tell him about my life, making a comment about it being pretty ‘worry-free’. This triggered something for me, because it’s a misconception. Life isn’t like that. I decided to write about what it’s really like as a diplomatic spouse.
Looking from outside, it is privileged and worry free maybe, but you have to be resilient, to adapt quickly to new realities which are not always comfortable, to get to know all the rules you have to play by and to try to make the most out of it. The emotional burden, the struggles, the occasional loneliness and sometimes discontent with the lack of meaning and high-level professional life are things to be considered and recognized. And not many talk openly about it. Sometimes appearances are more important…
It’s not a heavy, pretentious book, it’s light, honest and friendly, as a conversation between two old friends. It’s about diplomatic rules, etiquette and ranking, about my life in Austria and Germany, observations about local customs, also a travel guide. We like to travel, and I’ve seen places, some which are not so touristy, so I talked about them in my book. I also hope to offer advice for other expat spouses who are at the beginning of this road. Maybe I can help them, so they don’t have to go through what I went through at the beginning. There is a guidelines chapter in the book, specially made for that.
Could you please share the blurb for Just a Diplomatic Spouse?
Alexandra Paucescu is an educated Romanian woman who, at the age of 30, changes her whole life when she marries a diplomat and embarks on a lifelong journey as a trailing spouse.
She presents the diplomatic life, which appears from outside as a privileged one – she travels the globe, meets lots of interesting, powerful people and has incredible experiences. She lives in a protected world that gives her immunity … only diplomatic, not for her soul and feelings. It is a roller coaster of emotions and mixed feelings.
She learns to be strong, to adapt, to understand the rules and to make the best of it. This book is a diary, a book on diplomatic etiquette, a lifestyle and travel blog, all in one.
Do you plan to write another book?
I was often asked this question when I was interviewed for some international magazines and also the Romanian national television to promote the book. The Diplomat Magazine offered me the chance to write for them. It was totally unexpected but that’s how I’ve started my freelance journalism career. This is a direction I’d like to follow. Not so much books. I don’t see myself as an author in the long term. I’m good with words and I enjoy working with people and doing intercultural training and workshops. I would like to keep following this path.
You can follow Alexandra on:
Facebook: Just a diplomatic spouse
Next time: Christmas Book List 2020 features books from all the Brightside author interviews for the year.
Next interview: Louise Ross on Documenting the Expatriate and Immigrant Journey.