Loreto is from Chile and lives in Jerusalem. In this article full of colours, she tells us how her expat life started, and shares the greatest lessons her life abroad has taught her. Thank you Loreto!
I think I could say I was born an expat. When I was nine months old, my family moved to the United States. We were then posted to Argentina when I was a teenager, which wasn’t easy for me being at that age when friends are more important than anything else. It took me a while to realise that I had to start making friends again. Years later, I met my husband and that’s where my real adventure started.
Seven years after meeting him and having a diplomatic pouch relationship, we got married by proxy in Chile. I had a party to celebrate my wedding with family and friends, while he was doing the same with friends thousands of miles away. It took me 48 hours to get to Islamabad, where he was posted at the time.
I had not seen him for one and a half year, so I was quite nervous… as was my whole family! A couple of days after my arrival, I had my wedding ceremony in a country where I did not know anyone and far away from my family. Luckily for me, the Argentinian ambassador’s wife guided and supported me as if I were her own daughter. It was “the” wedding of the year, no diplomat had got married in Islamabad before at the Holy See Embassy, so we inaugurated the chapel.
Life in Pakistan was so different from what I was used to. Spicy food, (it took me six months to distinguish whether I was eating chicken, fish or meat, it was like eating fire at first), bright colours, extremely hot weather. They would close down the swimming pools when the temperature reached 30° C, because it was too cold. The ladies would wear their fur coats at 25°C. Were they all crazy? Maybe. It was different and an opportunity for me to learn from other cultures.
That has been my “motto” throughout my life, taking the best of wherever I was and growing with each experience. Good and bad ones, because it hasn’t been always as easy and fascinating.
I took refuge in the kitchen. I went through moments of joy, sadness or distress cooking and trying new recipes. In the kitchen, I felt at peace and in the right place to meditate on the problems that came with every change. The solution was not always there, but in the end we all had a good meal and that brought us together as a family. Sitting every night at the table and sharing a meal, sometimes we talked our problems, sometimes we didn’t, but we were together.
Raising my 3 children in 8 different countries has been a big challenge. I know it was difficult for them at times, starting over again and again. Learning the “codes” in each country taught all of us to be open-minded and respectful of other cultures. Maybe we did not always agree, but that is the beauty of meeting diversity. We spoke our mother tongue at home and always moved with our furniture and their toys, so that our children could have some sort of continuity, no matter where we were. It was a different country, a different house, but inside it was home. We were always open to receive other families and friends and we cherished those moments deep in our hearts, it was a way of not feeling lonely and sharing our new life experience.
I am little British regarding punctuality, love how Brazilians don’t know the meaning of “stress”, always joyful and relaxed, I haven’t mastered that yet, I am still working on it. Denmark and Norway taught me not to take a sunny and warm day for granted and appreciate the silence of a snowy day and the beauty of nature that leaves you breathless.
America made me feel at home, even though I did not go back to the same city where I spent my childhood. People were very welcoming. Mexico….an explosion of colours, smells, tastes. Everyone there is so proud of their heritage.
I could not live without appreciating the richness that came from getting to know so many countries.
Jerusalem has been my first post as an Ambassador’s wife and it has been a great experience. I have been able to meet wonderful people and make friends that will stay with me for life. It has also given me the opportunity to help through charity work. Here I have learned that no matter what circumstances, you can always give more and fight for a better world and a better you.
I have always tried to keep my heart opened to help, give advice or just be there for someone who needs me. Even though this kind of life is exciting and teaches you a lot, there are moments of loneliness when you need somebody that can just be there, so you can open up and talk. Just like the Argentinian Ambassador’s wife did for me: welcome and let people know they are not alone.
Thanks to all these experiences and cultures I am the woman I am now.
Translated from Spanish by Loreto
Photos ©LoretoDelRio unless otherwise specified