Here we glimpse behind the scenes into the
life of Turkish member, mother of 3, Merve Toksoz, a former psychologist, who
has an eye for art, a stomach for gourmet cuisine and the legs for ski slopes
anywhere in the world.
With an entrepreneurial husband involved in chocolate, wine, juice and pharmaceuticals to cure the excesses of the former, I´m not surprised you snapped him when you were 18.
Ha! Ha! I met my husband through his cousin
who was studying with me at university and we got married when I was 20.
What was it like to work with stroke victims´ families when you were a psychologist in Istanbul?
It was very challenging. Helping patients
and their relations adjust psychologically to life post stroke requires a lot
of patience and empathy from all parties.
How have you adapted to life here in Madrid?
husband fell in love with Madrid since he started to come regularly on business
in 2014. After our third child was born in 2017 we
decided to move the whole family to this sunny city and since then we´ve
thoroughly enjoyed the fun and peace Madrid has to offer.
What´s your secret Madrid?
We´ve always lived in La Moraleja so to be honest, whenever I´m in the city centre everything seems pretty exciting! However, I love El Invernadero restaurant that focuses heavily, though not exclusively, on plant-based cuisine in Calle Ponzano and Sally Hambleton the exquisite florist in Gabriel Lobo. (Editor’s Note: having checked both these out I can verify that Merve really does have her finger on the Madrid pulse!)
How do you support your husband professionally?
I´m now more involved in the HR department of the Spain office and outside work I ensure my husband´s work stresses are counteracted by plenty of listening and time for holidays and friends and family.
You grew up near the slopes and started skiing as a child, what is it like to ski together as a family now?
Sking altogether is our biggest joy during the year and we all look forward to these holidays enormously. Courchevel is our favorite ski resort but we also love to try out new slopes and resorts every year, including Japan!
What similarities and differences do you see between the Turkish and Spanish people?
nationalities are very family-orientated and talking is a national
pastime! Turkish people are a bit more
impassioned and impatient. I see Spaniards as being a bit more laid back.
You are a keen gastro travelling family, tell us about some of the restaurants in Madrid and Spain that have caught your attention.
– undoubtably the king of innovative cuisine, Kappo – for its daily changing
traditional Japanese menu, Sala de Especie – exceptional creative tapas
restaurant in Madrid. Restaurante Sala in the Sierra de Guadarrama for the best
family weekend lunch (complete with kids´area) and the third best restaurant in
the world (!): Asador Etxebarri Atxondo with its long waiting list in Vizcaya.
What sports do you practise to counter balance your gourmet preferences?
a personal trainer and twice a week I do interval training. In addition I love
yoga and I try to walk for an hour a day.
You are keen on contemporary art – are there any Spanish artists that have caught your attention?
We´re still on a huge learning curve when
it comes to art in Spain and we´re always keen to learn more about young artists – Manolo Valdés is a big one!
If you had to emigrate to a desert island what item would you have to bring with your (except people and digital devices)
book about someone who survived in an island!
If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next once your youngest daughter is older?
I would try to stop global warming and forest fires.
This month we dive
into the multifaceted life of INC´s Social Media Manager who originally hails
from Egypt: Nehad Sharaf, a former IT technician; mother of 3 with an MBA on the brink of
completing her PHD in International Business & Fashion Management who has collected
more exotic addresses, jobs and qualifications than Henry VIII did wives.
The oil industry is a recurring theme in your life, past and present. As a child your family was posted to Tripoli where your mother worked as a geologist. What was it like growing up in Libya?
Libya will always have a special place in my heart. Life under Ghaddafi wasn´t as horrendous as people were made to believe. I have many fond memories of trips to unspoilt natural settings, swimming in deserted Mediterranean beaches, my diverse group of friends from the British school and multiple food flavours which I still crave to this day.
You later accepted your first job as an IT technical engineer in Libya and met your husband on a chance encounter at work. You were married 2 months later. How did you know he was “the one” after such a brief courtship?
I wish I knew! Despite being usually quite reserved and a deep thinker who doesn´t usually trust her gut instincts I really was driven by intuition on this occasion. We had lots in common (not least the same zodiac sign) and next thing I knew we were making a lifelong commitment.
Your first posting together was to Pau in Southern France, what was it like to live in Europe for the first time?
visited Europe several times I wasn´t prepared for some of the cuisine in
France….I unwittingly threw out a brand new packet of intensely strong Boulette
cheese thinking it must have gone off and next thing I knew I was being served
a live snail on top of a plate of escargots which subsequently became my son´s
best friend for several months afterwards.
After France your expat life took off and your husband´s oil industry job took you to various corners of the globe including Abu Dhabi, Oman, Holland, Houston, Turkey and Uruguay/Argentina. What have you learned from working and volunteering in these places?
Over the years I have learnt how to engage, compromise and create new opportunities wherever we´ve been based. My expat experiences have really reinforced what I already knew; that all human beings are actually the same the world over no matter what their circumstances.
In addition to bringing up 3 children, tell us about your various jobs and several voluntary positions.
In addition to
working in IT support roles I have also worked as an expat families’ global
education advisor, newsletter blogger and Third Culture Kid mentor. I´ve also
done a lot of voluntary work including teaching disabled children, building
schools, helping refugee families, assisting at animal shelters and at a
substance addiction rehabilitation association in Madrid.
What inspired you to do a Phd in International Business with Fashion Management?
Ever since childhood I´ve been passionate about the arts, décor, interiors and fashion (except the design part). After completing my MBA in Houston I decided to embark on an PhD related to the luxury end of the Fashion industry and have launched my own business.
Are there any similarities between Egyptians and Spaniards?
Just as in other Mediterranean cultures both Egyptians and Spaniards are a warm and friendly nation who speak loudly, gesticulate a lot and are highly emotional! Other areas in common would be the laid-back lifestyle, late meal times and slackened schedules.
If you could wave a magic wand where would you go next and what would you do?
I would go to Egypt to help develop those in unfortunate circumstances or I would find any way I could to help the country in general, at any level.
Today the Spotlight falls on inveterate traveler, Susan Cordery who co-founded the INC in 1989 and whose unflagging energy and inspiration has steered the Club to being the vibrant go-to hub for unique cultural events and meaningful international relationships that it is 31 years later.
Having lived in Madrid on and off since 1987, how do you think this city changed you?
It showed me that one can call more than one place “home”.
You have moved house 22 times and described yourself as someone who does “tourism with furniture” – how did you get the travel bug in the first place?
As a child I had a great aunt who travelled the world every summer and returned with photos, stories and gifts from exotic and far flung places. I was enthralled and determined to do the same. At 13 my best friend and I began collecting travel brochures and planning trips!
Which are the places that have made the biggest impact on you today and why?
Mexico City was our first move abroad and my first child was born there. I fell in love with the indigenous cultures, artwork, architecture and did a course at the museum of anthropology which was fascinating. It is also where I first came across the INC of Mexico City which led to the inspiration for starting one in Madrid because it was so helpful and so much fun.
Madrid allowed me the opportunity to create an international club that has helped so many people over the years which has been an amazing and gratifying experience.
How about Argentina?
Well, living in Buenos Aires taught me how to drive like a maniac, full speed, on a 5-lane road with no lines marking the lanes!
Today newcomers and returnees to Madrid can connect with each other via social media, what role do you think does a physically present club like INC have today?
Call me old-fashioned but I think that human contact is far more important for well-being than electronic contact. What social media provides is the possibility to find that human contact more easily through organisations such as the INC.
What is your secret Madrid?
I don’t really have a secret Madrid as such. However, I do enjoy trying new restaurants since I love the food and wine of Spain and Madrid has such a dynamic food and wine scene to explore!
Has anything surprised you about Spain and its people?
One thing that surprised me about Spain is the extent to which the people, food and customs differ from one another in the various regions up and down the country.
What Spanish customs have your family absorbed into your own family life?
Eating our main meal at midday is probably the main one.
What has the INC meant to you in your life?
The INC has played a huge role in my life since it has been like another child in some ways. Something to be enormously proud of, something to try to guide without tyranny, something that has been there for me every time I’ve come back to Madrid..
If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?
Oh, I don’t know, maybe own and run a bed and breakfast in the French countryside?
For this month’s Spotlight we relax and lose ourselves in the life of Neopolitan-born Barbara de Simone, PhD, Acupuncturist and Zen Meditation Coach, whose career has spanned the frenetic pace of International Politics, Global Sales and Marketing brands before settling for the calm of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many other holistic treatments.
You’ve lived in Spain on and off with your Dutch husband since 1997, what does Madrid mean to you and your family?
Both my husband and I feel truly European and it has always been important to live on “neutral” territory… so neither Italy nor The Netherlands. This is where we got married, had our children and started our personal and professional life so Spain and in particular, Madrid, is a real home to us all.
What brought you to Spain in the first place?
I moved to Spain because I had applied for a PhD program in International Politics to investigate the relationship between Southern Europe and Latin American dictatorships at Granada University. Once I obtained my PhD, I had met my future husband and was hooked on Spain so I decided to stay!
You’ve had a diverse career in Madrid spanning the Italian Consulate, Holmes Place health clubs and representing Danish jewellery brand, Trollbeads – which has had the biggest impact on your life today?
My Trollbeads experience definitely left a big impression on me! I learned to be an independent business woman, who was a self-starter, able to take decisions under pressure, manage a large team whilst always focussing on the bigger picture! In any business I strongly believe in an action plan and a clear sense of direction to avoid wandering around aimlessly like a headless chicken!
How did you enter the world of traditional Chinese medicine and what attracts you to it?
I suspect that my interest Chinese medicine was already embedded deep within me since I was a teenager as I have always been interested in Asian culture, right from Siddharta to Origami.
Eventually I decided to listen to take notice of this inner calling and in 2015 I graduated as an MD (Doctor of Medicine) of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2015 after a stint in Beijing.
What is it like to be a practising Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and how is it accepted here in Madrid?
Well, the treatments are quite diverse such as acupuncture, phytotherapy (therapy with herbs, flowers, roots), qiqong (an ancient Chinese health-improving exercise routine), tuina massage (which works on acupunctural points to remove physical and emotional blockages), dietotherapy (food can be your most effective medicine) and aromatherapy. During our 5 years living in Germany I found that TCM was very much accepted and the government even subsidised some treatments. Whereas here the concept of TCM as a solid, holistic treatment method is less known and as a result there is more scepticism. So the majority of my patients are international and already well-versed in the merits of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
What is the difference between Zen and other forms of meditation?
Zen meditation is similar to mindfulness meditation but requires more discipline and practise. People may prefer it if they are seeking both relaxation and a new spiritual path.
People often assume that the Spanish are very similar to your Italian countrymen…is that really true?
Both Italians and Spaniards share a common “mediterreaneanity” in our temperament, zest for life, sense of family. However, it’s true to say that our different history marked many differences. Italy has been strongly influenced by the Renaissance period and artisanal skills, art and commerce are all deeply rooted in the Italian approach to life.
If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?
I would set up my own holistic treatment center, probably somewhere along the Mediterranean coast from where I could practise Traditional Chinese Medicine, offer Japanese beauty treatments, cooking lessons and teach my most recent passion: meditation!
This month we delve into the war-torn past of ultra-resilient Lebanese Structural Engineer, mother of 3 with a classical choral voice who enjoys the best of both worlds in Madrid and Athens and their respective INCs, Marlene Makhoul.
What was it like growing up in Lebanon in the 1970’s?
My childhood in Lebanon was wonderful as there was a close community spirit. I come from a large family, with 6 siblings and lots of cousins. In 1975 civil war broke out and lasted for 15 long years, some of which coincided with my time as a Structural Engineering student at university in Beirut. I remember we would often spend the nights in the shelters to protect ourselves from all the shelling outside before sitting exams as normal the following morning while the people of Beirut were trying to fix up their bomb-shattered windows. Yet there was always a sense of hope, a positive vision for the future and for better times ahead.
How did you end up in the UK and how long did you live there?
While I was working as a Structural Engineer designing schools, hospitals, office blocks and houses in Beirut I met and later married a Lebanese man who was living in the UK working as a research fellow in Nuclear Physics after finishing his PHD at London University. So I moved to the UK in 1987.
You are a very resourceful woman, tell us about returning to work in the UK with 3 small children, including twins.
The marriage did not survive and 9 years later I was a single mother in the UK and I resumed my professional career in structural engineering. I was the only female engineer in my office and on several occasions I would be the only female in a seminar with 60 men but I was never made to feel out of place. Working in the UK was comfortable for a single parent and unlike in Lebanon the children were not the only ones of their respective classes to have divorced parents.
How did your time in the UK shape your life? What did it teach you about yourself?
My time in the UK taught me to be completely independent with only myself to rely on, as opposed to in Lebanon where there is always the extended family to fall back on. My priority at that stage were bringing up my three kids. I then met Adam who was widowed with 2 daughters of a similar age to my children.
How did you end up relocating to Athens?
Adam, my husband who is a banker, accepted a posting in Athens where we lived for 4 years until 2018 and I became an active member of Athen’s INC. The timing was right for us as all the children were grown up and away at university. Our house was set amongst a forest of pine trees and only 4 minutes’ walk from the beach. Athens is a fascinating capital city to live in with the added bonus of being on the coast and it was geographically convenient to everywhere we wanted to go in the world. Lebanese people feel very much at home in Greece and it had elements of purity that reminded me of Lebanon before the war. We are now enjoying life tremendously in Spain and luckily for us we still have to spend one week a month in Greece.
What hobbies do you have?
In the UK I sang for a long time with a semi-professional classical choir. We played tennis in Athens and I never tire of walking by the sea or in the Retiro Park.
What sort of future do you foresee for Lebanon right now?
I would like to see Lebanon free from outside interference and with an effective government operating independently from their own vested interests. That would encourage investment within the country which, in turn, would allow it to prosper once again.
This month’s Spotlight focuses on INC’s very own, multi-faceted, multi-racial, Community Relations and Advertising executive as well as educator, trainer, entrepreneur, mentor and champion of women, mother of 3, Russell Zehtab-Noghiu.
You and your husband could be United Nations just on your own, can you take us through the 11 different ethnicities you have between you both.
Well my husband, Alain, is part Romanian, Hungarian, German, Jewish, Slovak and Russian. The latter is the nationality we share, as well as our Bahai faith. Whilst I’m partly Filipina, Spanish, Iranian, Chinese, Turkish and Russian. We arrived in Madrid in August 2016, after having lived in Holland for 6 years.
What was it like growing up in Central Philippines, has this had any particular bearing on your outlook of life as an adult?
Central Philippines is “the islands”, so we have the gorgeous sunsets and beaches. Being exposed to intense natural beauty, one then seeks it in all the places one visits. At the same time, we are exposed to the most severe typhoons and natural calamities. The capacity to arise and rebuild is built into the Filipino psyche. In the blink of an eye, a whole village disappears from the map, yet at the same time, everyone alive after the calamity, contributes to rebuilding the community in any way they can. So one sees the most humbling coming together of people.
How did you adapt to living in Holland for 6 years?
The secret of living in Holland is “do not hate the weather or talk about it”. You carry on regardless despite the WINDS, RAINS, COLD and DARKNESS. Also, everyone bikes, so I had the best developed leg muscles in Holland ever, in my life.
While in Holland, we set up a public speaking training program for kids, which I have continued here in Madrid. My children were the inspiration for this. They can talk my ear off, and during those rare moments when they share something significant, I am totally blown away by their skills. If they are educated and trained to speak with dignity, eloquence and grace, then they are ready to face the world….and so the work continues.
What inspired you to set up Silk Mentoring?
I was lucky to have mentors in my life who were just awesome, strong and seriously tough cookies. I think all women should have a tribe of their own who support them unconditionally.
The Silk Mentoring program uses this platform as a tool for personal and professional development to help women determine their goals and next steps whilst empowering them in their command of English as a second language.
I gather, having loathed camping you actually rather love it these days ….but are you a happy camper or more of a gorgeous glamper?
I am of the opinion that all women are adaptable creatures. Saying this, caravanning or camping is a shocking experience the first time, especially if you are used to a lot of space. Leaving your home and actually having only the barest of essentials makes one realize that many things are not necessary and they take up space and time.
If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?
Wow!….I will definitely be on stage and sing with Madonna and George Michael…will be eating dinner in the markets of Tabriz and Tehran…scuba diving in Palawan…. listening to Rumi and Khalil Gibran whispering poetry to me. I guess that means in my next life, I am either a fairy…or I own that machine from Startrek.
This month the spotlight falls onto INC’s multi-lingual Belgian Vice President, GM organiser extraordinaire and former criminologist, Brigitte de Cleer
1) What brought you to Madrid?
Having finished my studies in Criminology Law I decided to pick up a 6th language and came to
Madrid to study Spanish and …. where I promptly met my husband. Here I am X years later!
2) What exactly is a criminologist?
Well, we investigate the various psychological and sociological causes and consequences of crime. It is a vocational job and huge passion of mine. I specialised in juveniles, trying to find solutions for youngsters in extreme circumstances. It is very rewarding and enriching.
3) Moving on to your currently role within INC, how do you search out such interesting places for our GM’s ?
Well, like a true criminologist, my antennae are always working!!!!! I spend a lot of time just watching and observing, talking to people, being (politely!) curious and ready to learn about everything including: art, gastronomy, whatever topic might be of interest to the INC. I think I am addicted to my work for this wonderful club, with so many good friends!
4) What is your secret Madrid?
Some of my favourite secret spots are the walking paths only known to locals near the mountains where I live, between Becerril de la Sierra and Cerceda. So…….if you want to know more, you will have to come so that I can show you!!!! We could even stop by one of my favourite cake shops called, Domca.
5) If you could wave a magic wand what would you do……?
I’d travel, travel and then travel some more……getting to know different cultures, new lifestyles, different aspects of nature and generally enjoying life to the full. I’d also like to fulfil one secret wish of mine, even if it were just for a day, which would be to resume my criminologist career as I once did, with a private detective in Madrid.
6) How has this city changed you and what does the city mean to you?
Being a long-term expatriate has made me value even more those friends I had in Belgium prior to moving here. Fortunately Madrid is a wonderful city and has given me fabulous friends, beautiful places to visit, lots of art to appreciate and at the end of the day ….I can come and relax in our house in the mountains, just like Heidi, after a fascinating day in the hustle and bustle of Madrid.
7) How long have you been a member of INC and what does membership mean?
I have been a member of INC for about 8 years now and it has been a hugely positive experience so far. Not least because it has given me a fascinating insight into the many different facets of Madrid whilst enjoying many international friendships.
My current role as INC’s Vice President and organizing GM’s has given me the chance to work for the club and try to give a little bit back to the association that has given me so much. It brings me much pleasure to try to offer you interesting and original events every month.
8) What Spanish customs has your family absorbed into your family life?
As we are a mixed Belgian/Spanish family we always try to combine both cultures. So we celebrate Saint Nicolaus (Sinterklaas) on 6th of December as well as the Reyes Magos. My cooking used to be Belgian- French but now I’ve branched out to include paella, tortilla de patata etc!
This month we catch up with Boston-raised, former corporate banker, organiser extraordinaire of INC wine and tapas events, US Embassy Community Liaison Officer, intrepid traveller and imminent grandmother, Linda Talluto
What have you been doing in Madrid since you arrived a year ago?
To be honest, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what one does all day after working every day since I graduated from college….which was a long time ago!
Where have you lived before?
Atlanta, Moscow, Chennai, Pretoria, Karachi, Lahore, Buenos Aires and now Madrid.
Tell me about living in Moscow in the 1990´s just after the Cold War.
There were shortages of food items in the shops, our kids learned to be hoarders because we never knew when we might see peanut butter again, so we would buy 12 jars. Every day was a challenge, but we also witnessed a lot of progress and exciting changes along the way.
Has returning to the US ever been challenging after time spent overseas?
After four years of living in Moscow with its extreme weather, scarce food and jammed Metro it was a real culture shock to go “home” and listen to sedate southern ladies discuss their latest beach vacations or what was on sale at the local enormous supermarket. I felt like I had zoomed in from Mars.
Has anything surprised you about Madrid?
I love walking down the streets of the city at lunchtime and seeing how many older people enjoying wine or beer with their lunch. People seem more relaxed; I don’t think I have ever seen someone running to their next appointment while eating a sandwich on the go!
What was it like as an expat woman living in Pakistan and India?
I dressed the part, wearing the Salwar Kameez and an occasional sari which the locals appreciated. I was reminded of the cultural differences and conservative nature of women’s dress when we returned from a trip to Thailand and I was wearing shorts, a T-shirt and sneakers. When we got to baggage claim, there were young boys literally pointing and laughing at me and people staring at my white legs everywhere. I was like the funny looking animal in the zoo!
7. You and your family are avid travellers, where has most impressed you?
We took an amazing trip to Japan last winter. The county is so orderly, clean, people so courteous and amazing food. It was a pleasure to use a public restroom! The scenery is fantastic and we enjoyed the challenge of getting around and ordering meals without any English spoken.
What’s your secret to juggling a career in corporate banking with bringing up a son and daughter?
Team Talluto. My husband, Frank, has truly been an equal parent. We both had careers and needed to chip in with everything from meal preparation, cleaning, shopping, driving carpool, shuffling kids to their activities or taking turns staying home when a kid was sick and couldn’t go to school. The kids also knew that we all had jobs – ours were in an office, theirs was in school. Everyone needed to work together so everyone could be good at their jobs.
What is your secret Madrid?
I love the Capricho park for just wandering around looking at the laurel labryinths and interesting statues and structures. I also discovered a store called Melquiza which sells all kinds of products made with saffron – lotions, soaps, honey, oils etc. It is very fun.
Do you have any stories about adapting to life here in Madrid?
To be honest, it was a really lonely year for me. I was not used to living in an apartment, not working and not knowing anyone in the city. I looked for every opportunity to get out and meet people, but it takes time. Friendships don’t happen overnight. Madrid is a great city, but it’s harder to meet other people here than in some of the other places I’ve lived in as there are not the same hardships or challenges that encourage people to stick together. INC has provided me a great opportunity to get out and about to varying events and also to organise some evening activities for spouses/partners too.
Photo captions include India, Pakistan, Russia, Japan and on the sand dune of Namibia
This month we talk to Shanghai-born, Auditor, Financial Broker, Professional Singer, Author, Multi-lingual interpreter and Business Advisor, Carrie Chen Jun.
What brought you to Madrid in 2002?
An aeroplane! I felt like taking a break from my hectic financial career in order to focus on developing some of my other talents and having been greatly inspired by Pedro Almodóvar’s depiction of Spain as a very colourful and exotic country I decided to come and see it for myself. I was really keen to learn Spanish in order to sing Bolero songs, having been totally blown away by the Bolero song “Piensa en Mí” from Almodóvar’s film: Tacones Lejanos.
Your life to date includes a fascinating financial and theatrical career; do these careers share any common skills?
Ah yes, juggling lots of books! I’d say you need several qualities: self-discipline, a sharp as well as an open mind, an inquisitive spirit and a knack for looking at the bigger picture. You can learn broad skills and then hone them in detail with dedication and practice later on.
You have gone from being a shy young girl to an actress and opera singer, how has performing enriched your life?
Sticking to a script has been very instrumental in helping me overcome my shyness.
As an experienced speech giver, what are your top tips?
Keep a positive attitude. You are on stage to share an experience with your audience. Enjoy yourself and people will enjoy it too.
What inspired you to write books?
I have always like writing as a way of sharing stories with people and I find that writing books fulfils my creative side.
What is your secret Madrid? Somewhere that has a special meaning for you
Ooh, I can’t reveal that, as it would no longer be a secret!
Do you have any stories about adapting to life here in Madrid?
Well, 18:00 is evening time in China, yet it’s still afternoon in Spain. That means I live longer in Spain since I have more time in the day.
Has anything surprised you about Spain/Madrid and its people?
The Spanish are great at improvising and love focussing on the present whereas the Chinese tend to make longer-term plans of a 5-10-year time frame. As in Spain, the Chinese value friends and family very highly and there is a strong gastronomic culture.
How has this city changed you?
Madrid has taught me to cherish the present.
If you could wave a magic wand, where would you go next?
I would like to stay in an underwater hotel made of glass and watch the fish.
What Spanish customs have you absorbed into your own life here?
Consuming substantial quantities of jamón.
You have witnessed enormous change in China over the last decades, how easy has it been for the Chinese to keep up with the enormous ongoing transformation of their country?
It has not been easy but the Chinese are flexible people, down-to-earth and hard-working. Understandably, the Chinese aspire to being better off and improving their standard of living. However, now people are beginning to realise that having a good quality of life is not always about having more money. China will continue to transform and Chinese people are an intrinsic part of this amazing process.
What’s in store for you in the next 5 years?
Even more grey hairs…
Photo captions include Carrie’s public-speaking career; with Almódovar actress, Marisa Paredes; performing on stage and in schools and interpreting.
This month we dive into the life of former translator and Spanish Embassy employee, Bulgarian INC member, Madlén Velinova
What brought you to Madrid?
I moved here 11 years ago with my Madrileño husband who was repatriated.
What did you do before you came here?
I used to work in the Culture and Education section of the Spanish Embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria and was also a certified translator. In addition I helped Spanish couples through the adopting procedure and also organised hunting trips.
Tell us about your first job in a Spanish NGO in Sofia, was it hard working in Bulgarian orphanages?
Witnessing the poor conditions and the lack of love and care some kids had to endure was very traumatic for a girl of only 19, yet at same time I learned a lot and enjoyed being of genuine service to people in real need.
Where have you lived before?
We were posted to Sarajevo when I was expecting my second child and then to Ankara in Turkey. Whilst it was hard starting from scratch twice, we had a wonderful time in both countries.
What is your secret Madrid?
I love strolling round the Parque de Eva Perón or The Retiro, having a glass of wine at any of the restaurants on Calle Juan Bravo and enjoying a good cup of English tea with a croissant at Living in London café.
What was it like living in Turkey?
We felt really privileged to be able to visit numerous Roman or Lycian archaeological sites right on our doorstep, some of which date as far as XIII BC. In fact, we were sometimes the only people meandering among those true gems along with only the local goats for company.
Do Spaniards bear any similarities to Bulgarians?
I felt completely at home right from the start and people have been always very kind and warm to me. Bulgarians, like Spaniards appreciate going out a lot and spending quality time with friends and family.
What Spanish customs have your family absorbed into your own life here?
As a bicultural family we have always kept alive both Spanish and Bulgarian traditions as we believe they are an intrinsic and enriching part of our kid´s upbringing. We celebrate Christmas and Easter according to both countries’ traditions along with some of the other key Bulgarian festivities such as The Day of the Cyrillic Alphabet (May 24th) and The 1st Day of Spring (March 1st).
What’s unmissable for you in Madrid?
I think one shouldn´t miss out on The Prado museum, Los Gerónimos Church and Madrid´s 17th century old historic quarter.
What do you miss most about Sofia?
I never thought I would ever say this but I truly miss the snow and the proximity to the lush green mountain of Vitosha (15 drive from the city centre) which is great for skiing and ideal for walks and all sorts of outdoor activities throughout the whole year. I also miss the continuous opening hours of the shops and restaurants which gives you a greater sense of freedom.
Why do you think you have slotted in so easily into Spanish life here in Madrid?
I believe it is mainly because I never had to deal with the cultural shock many newcomers experience when they first move here. I was lucky to be fluent in the language before I arrived and to be familiar with Spanish culture, literature and customs and this gave me a real headstart in understanding how life works in Spain. Another key factor in helping me feel integrated was the fact I started working full- time three days after I arrived.