The life of a diplomatic spouse is anything but conventional. The spouse of diplomats must juggle a unique combination of family life, professional commitments, education, responsibilities and travel.
The role of an ambassadorial spouse is, above all, to represent their country. A great honour, major job and huge responsibility; to create a positive and attractive image of their home country, to inform the diplomatic and local community about different aspects of life there and – sometimes – to break stereotypes. Their job, on almost a daily basis, is to meet, get to know and entertain a large variety of relevant people, in order to communicate cultural and social messages of their home country. Also, as active members of the IWC Belgrade, many ambassadorial spouses take part in all relevant IWC events.
The IWC is an organisation run by volunteer members that provide opportunities to meet other international women, ex-pats and repats. It provides fun, friendship and support. The IWC is open to women of all nationalities.
In conversation with CorD magazine, Mrs Christina Czetti, vice-president of IWC, herself from Austria, speaks about the history of the club, saying:
“The Association existed during the days of Yugoslavia. Belgrade was bursting with embassies from all over the world. The Club was founded by diplomats during the late ‘60s and operated under the name of “International Women’s Association”. All activities were free and organised by the members. It was an exclusive club; Serbian members were just a few established writers and artists. Upon arrival, every new diplomat would automatically join the club, while the managing board had five members. Art auctions were organised and with these funds, they purchased hospital equipment. Ladies regularly visited the children’s hospital in Tiršova Street in Belgrade, spending time with sick children, reading books to them and giving them emotional and financial support. They also helped in International schools.
“The activities of the Club were interrupted in 1998, when most of the embassies, foreign schools and clubs closed. Several embassies reassumed their activities in 1999 and diplomats came back with families. The first Bazaar was held in 2000, as a small event at the International school, while charity events were organised at diplomatic residences or in hotel halls. The name was changed to the IWC Belgrade. The official registration took place in 2011.”
A very important task of the IWC is to explore the host country, learn about its history, culture, heritage, traditions, values, top businesses etc., to learn at least the basics of the language and share the experience with our spouses, being informative partners in conversations with them. As they are often busy with everyday challenges and tasks, they can learn a lot through the IWC.
“This April, for the first time since the club´s registration, IWC Belgrade members met members of IWC Zagreb, not only to present the city Belgrade to these ladies based in Zagreb but also to exchange experiences in the organising of fundraising events and the daily activities of the two clubs
However, for those who lack the opportunity to be involved actively in diplomatic work or who are distanced from the diplomatic world, this seemingly prestigious profession is regarded as a life of luxury, glamour and globe-trotting….a sort of extended holiday. This is far from the truth.
“Together with an ambassador’s responsibility as a representative of his country abroad, the spouse also has to bear the same responsibility. Spouses are on many occasions heavily involved in the activities of their embassy, from culinary and cultural diplomacy to national day celebrations.
“I believe that several factors, such as personal experience, skillset and personality, influence the way a person carries out the responsibilities expected of an ambassador’s spouse. I think an openness to learn and develop friendships, enthusiasm, and a sense of humour can make this multifaceted role enjoyable and fulfilling. I can say in this respect that, as a spouse of an ambassador, I have complimented my husband’s work as a diplomat and an ambassador. I also enjoy having such an opportunity in Serbia, as the host of our current diplomatic posting,” explains Mrs Milica Lundin, president of the IWC and wife of the Ambassador of Sweden in Serbia.
The role of a spouse, thus, is not so simple – they must provide support to spouse and family, create new homes many times throughout their lives and get involved in promoting their home country whenever possible. This is all easier said than done, with the supportive role very often meaning that a spouse has to forsake their own career path and shift their life focus.
“It is very important to learn and understand new cultures and customs, to be engaged in activities organised by other spouses of ambassadors and to see each new posting as a possibility to bring different countries and their people closer to each other.“It is a great responsibility to be the spouse of an ambassador or any diplomat, as you represent your country, its culture and traditions. For that, it is important to have deep knowledge of the subject, to be able to create a broad network among representatives of both diplomatic and local communities,” says the IWC Belgrade president.
The IWC Belgrade serves to unite women from all over the world, helping members who come to Belgrade to settle in, enjoy their new environment and gain a better understanding of Serbian life and culture.
The IWC Belgrade, through the activities of the IWC Charity Committee, works to meet the needs of vulnerable and marginalised populations in Serbia, striving to effect positive long-term change in local community
“In addition to our regular monthly meetings, there are several social and special interest groups that offer stimulating and enjoyable events, adding an important element and a more personal dimension to club life with the IWC. These groups not only provide an opportunity to meet new friends with shared interests, but often help members further develop those interests and talents, or even to discover a talent you didn’t know you had! We are always open to any ideas that will enrich our club life and offer the multicultural diversity that is the essence of the IWC.
“Social interaction goes a long way towards helping settle into a new country, and we are here to offer friendship and help each other enjoy all that Serbia has to offer. We do, however, have established client-service partnerships with some Belgrade firms that are mutually beneficial. The condition is that they are not related to any of our members.”
The IWC Belgrade Executive Board manages, with the additional help of two IWC committees, all aspects of the IWC’s functioning, membership, meetings, charity projects and events.
The Bazaar, organised in the first week of December, has been growing in popularity and serious donations have been collected. Since the official registration of the IWC in 2011, we have collected over 500,000 euros thanks to generous donors, and all of the funds have been allocated to support community projects selected by the IWC Charity Committee through an application process. The IWC receives many proposals and field visits are made to each potential project prior to approval; proposals are then reviewed and evaluated according to a demanding set of criteria. The IWC Belgrade, through the activities of the IWC Charity Committee, works to meet the needs of vulnerable and marginalised populations in Serbia, striving to effect positive long-term change in the community.