About a month ago a colleague forwarded a Facebook post to the group.
As part of the International Women’s Day celebrations in Cyprus, women across the island could enter a competition and the prize was to spend a day with a female ambassador in Cyprus and learn more about their work.
All you had to do was send a short video (up to two minutes) with a brief introduction about yourself, why you’d like to be an ambassador for a day and why International Women’s Day is important.
Truth be told I didn’t know much about an ambassador’s life and I was really happy that there was no age limit to enter (I felt a bit frustrated lately with the amount of events or initiatives only for people under 30 years old) so I thought I’d send a video. I had nothing to lose and I love making little videos.
Unsurprisingly, two minutes were not enough to express all my thoughts but I tried. This was the video I sent.
I didn’t really expect to win. I’m older than probably most of the participants and ,well for those you’ve known me for a while, I’m infamous for my bad luck (don’t forget, during the first of what was supposed to be a few years of travelling and teaching English, I spent it in Italy, half of it locked inside due the global Covid pandemic).
Against all odds though I did win and I was matched with the Austrian ambassador in Cyprus, Dr Eva Maria Ziegler.
We had a little chat on the phone beforehand during which she explained that due to the current lockdown situation in Cyprus there weren’t many events planned this period so there was no point spending a whole day with her just in the office. I was pleasantly surprised with her honesty and openness from the get go, even over the phone.
So the plan was to meet her a few days later at the Austrian Embassy and have a chat. But she first invited me to the (virtual) Press Conference on Francophonie (the annual international celebration of the French language) and the celebrations planned by embassies across Cyprus as well as the Ministry of Education and Culture. I couldn’t believe I was part of a Press Conference which consisted of various ambassadors in Cyprus as well as the Minister of Education and Culture. What a surreal experience that was!
I knew about Francophonie as I happened to be in Brussels two years ago on that day, during which there was live music next to Manneken Pis, but I didn’t realise that was also celebrated in Cyprus with events planned and all.
A few days later I went to her office and we had a long chat. What an amazing experience it was to visit an embassy!
I can’t remember the last time I learned so much in such short space of time. I can’t possibly document all I’ve learned but I’ll share the highlights.
Dr Ziegler’s father was a diplomat, so she was familiar with that way of life since she was a child. Although she originally studied music management (and law) she found it hard to get into it and decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She had an incredible career. She worked for the Austrian Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs and she worked as an Austrian ambassador in Milan and in Lebanon amongst other countries.
We talked about politics, travel and she shared amazing stories from her ambassador life including the story of the extraordinary life of a 103 year old Jewish lady who ended up living in the Buffer Zone in Nicosia (and sadly recently died).
What she loved most of the ambassador life is the variety as embassy work is not just about visas and passports but also organising cultural events and initiatives as the embassy is given a cultural budget, as well as meeting a diversity of people from all walks of life. And of course an Ambassador gets to travel as every 4 years postings end and you get to apply for a different country. I would love to live the ambassador life!
The worst part of her job that she doesn’t enjoy as much is writing reports and long meetings. I don’t blame her!
After our chat I got to meet her PA, Mr Antonopoulos, A Greek-Austrian who’s been working as a PA in embassies for a few years. Similar to the ambassador, he loves the variety and travel that comes with the job. What he doesn’t enjoy is moving.
All in all it was a great experience, it’s not every day you get to meet an ambassador, let alone an honest, fun, easy to chat to one, as Dr Ziegler. I’ve learned a lot and it gave me a few ideas on what I’d like to do in the future.