Spotlight on Rocío Alférez

Madrileña, Mother, former Marketeer with a Masters in International Trading turned Mentor and Coach, Caterer, Flower arranger, Teacher of business skills and Spanish and ever-enthusiastic dancing Queen, Area 4/5 Coordinator,  Rocío Alférez talks to us about how living abroad and returning to Madrid has shaped her life and what makes her tick today.

Inter-generational family time

As former expat, how have your experiences abroad shaped your view of Madrid today?

I´d say that I´ve definitely come to appreciate how rich, vast and fulfilling the diversity of life around the world is. Within that, Madrid has undergone a dynamic transformation from Spanish capital to pole position as a vibrant, cultural, international landmark city on the must-see map.

After working in marketing you moved to Ireland, what was that experience like?

I have experienced Ireland both before and after its dramatic economic transformation and have always thoroughly enjoyed my time there, both in the city and the country. The Irish and the Spanish have much in common!

Rocío with her ICADE students

What aspects of your job did you particularly enjoy when teaching Soft skills and Leadership on Masters programmes at university in Madrid?

I love teaching, especially languages as I also teach Spanish. I enjoy opening my students’ minds and eyes to exploring a new world and encouraging them to dive in without fear.

Rocío´s apartment in Curitiba

You spent 3 years living in Curitiba, how did you adapt to life in Brazil?

Despite Brazilians being fairly close to Spaniards both emotionally and linguistically there were certainly plenty of differences below the surface. For example, femininity is embraced and celebrated with less reticence there. The women ooze power and confidence.

In terms of vocabulary, the “false friends” often caught me out. Soon after arriving, I was fairly shocked when my driver announced to me: “Eu te ligo e depois te pego” which in Spanish literally means: “I’ll flirt with you and then I’ll hit you” as opposed to “I´ll call you and then come and pick you up”. That experience encouraged me to master Portuguese quite quickly.

Flower power with stunning table settings

You used to be the President of the Parent-Teacher Association at your son’s school, ICS, did that role present any particular challenges?

Ha ha, well trying to harmonise 65 different nationalities and their respective expectations, cultural traits and parenting experiences in addition to those of the staff was certainly quite a challenge! However, the school was great at listening and most of the parents were reasonably familiar with that particular type of education.

Rocío’s artistic al fresco dining

How did your stint on the PTA at ICS then become a springboard into catering?

I´ve always been passionate about cooking and inspired by my grandmother. When I returned to Madrid in 2010 people (moms, friends) started to ask as me for recipes, menus, then they asked me to teach them so I ended up holding a weekly class with different groups. Later on, I started to receive requests to cater for parties, business dinners, private dinners at home etc so I´ve been running cookery classes and catering for several years now.

What attracted you to coaching and mentoring?

When I returned to Madrid I had to reinvent myself professionally which was quite daunting yet liberating at the same time. I had a real drive to help others and thought that my inner motivation could be useful to share. My shrewd friends pushed me towards the sphere of coaching and I discovered fortuitously that it was a perfect match for my passion and skills.

The merits of online teaching

What is Lindy hop and how did you get into it?

Lindy Hop is a dance in between Swing and Rock and roll. And I love it! Dance has always been part of my life (flamenco, jazz….) and prior to Covid I enjoyed classes and weekend dance groups all over Madrid.

In addition to catering you are also very creative with flowers?

Yes, I love flower arranging and décor. I can´t imagine life without aesthetics. I need it as a source of peace and joy. However, my main driver is humankind, I prioritise giving and doing my best by people. I sincerely believe that the main reason we are here is to truly love and be loved.

Floral nativity scene arrangement

What is your secret Madrid?

The Parque El Capricho- I grew up in that part of Madrid and used to play there as a child. Plus the magic atmosphere of artists and intellectuals in the Café Comercial in the Glorieta de Bilbao conjures up special memories us congregating there with my parents and neighbours when I was going out in Malasaña in my youth.

Roció’s house in the greater Madrid outback

What tips can you give to students looking for that motivation to be the best they can?

The first tip I would give to students is not to be hampered by fear but to enjoy every step of the way. Learn that life will gift them lots of opportunities in every season of their lives and that it is positive to have a vison for their own future and a commitment to their present.

When faced with tough decisions I ask them to focus on achieving a balance between and finding concrete examples of these 3 things:

  1. 1. what they enjoy
  2. 2. what they are skilled or best at
  3. 3. the kind of life they want to have

You have a very positive, social outlook, how have you maintained that during the pandemic?

I have to say that in my case being a Christian and having faith is what truly helps me go forward in my life. Also, understanding that what we think is not necessarily what we are is extremely helpful!

Sunny side up at INC events

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life?

Can I just recoup a normal life please!!! And travel A LOT.

Mummy´s boy

Spotlight on Susannah Grant

This month INC´s Blog Editor talks to herself (ooops – must be going mad) about bullseye spitting, teaching Scottish dancing to Spaniards, royal lingerie and the perils of Indian tigers

Business was always a pleasure in Roussillon

Is it true that a lot of Brits are quite eccentric?

Of course it is, my maternal grandmother was a keen collector of original antiques such as Queen Victoria´s bloomers. Most people adorn their walls with precious family heirlooms, I´ll be lucky to inherit some second-hand gargantuan pants.

Bloomin’ marvellous – but too big for my sister or me

Why are you so restless?

Family holidays were spent at my paternal grandmother´s house in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands yet I was brought up on a diet of exotic tales of our globetrotting ancestors making their name in distant lands.

As soon as I was old enough to ditch armchair travel for the real deal, I was off to explore the world for myself.

My father and brothers enjoy some quality Highland fare

Where did you start?

Funnily enough Madrid was my first port of call. On my gap year, aged 17, armed with 2,000 pesetas (€12), I arrived at Chamartín by train as, understandably, my father refused to pay excess baggage costs for my 3 suitcases and a ghetto blaster the size of a Shetland pony.

At the post office in Bhutan

What were you doing here?

Despite an A Level in Spanish, my poor linguistic skills relegated me to the photocopying cupboard on day one of my internship at McCann Erickson. By the time they realised that I was more of a guillotine operator than a photocopier, cutting off the heads of most of the material I was supposed to be copying, I had acquired sufficient colloquial Spanish to be allowed out to shadow some of the directors or rather one in particular.

I have always preferred to adapt the well-known maritime phrase about having a girl in every port to a more efficient aeronautical version by having a boy in every airport and over the years I have acquired fluency in 4 foreign languages.

One ice cream is never enough in Florence

Where does your heart lie?

Madrid will always be my first love and this is the fourth (and final) stint of living here although my childhood was influenced by my parents´ posting to Italy before I was born which had a lasting impression on them and me. So, after university, having had a narrow escape from Kimberly Clark´s UK graduate recruitment scheme at their factory of sanitary towels whizzing round on a conveyor belt in the heart of the Kent countryside without a nightclub in sight I headed for Florence. I lectured in English at their university for a few very happy ice cream-filled years until the recession eased off in London. Italy will always retain a very special place in my heart.

Another day at the “office” – tasting Port in the Douro

What prompted you to join the wine industry?

My love of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian language and culture have always been the principal driving forces of my life and these are all spoken in top wine-producing nations. Newly returned to London I enlisted the help of my lifelong friend and fellow wine bod to help me perfect my aim of spitting out wine in a perfect rainbow-shaped arch into a spittoon. We started off with the bath tub and after 2 full days of swilling out €100 of Bulgarian plonk I was ready for professional wine tastings, wine exams and a fabulous fun-filled 12-year career travelling round vineyards all over the world.

Ready for merengue with my husband

What hobbies do you enjoy?

Latin music is my passion. Particularly good old-fashioned salsa, merengue and son Cubano orchestral bands. In my 30s I took a career break to travel for 2 years and the other backpackers in my hostals were rather bemused to see this seasoned woman getting changed to go out salsa dancing at 1 am when they were just staggering back to the dorm intoxicated from a backpacker´s BBQ in Perth, Auckland or Miami.

I have danced my way round the world and once accompanied Cuban Orquesta Aragón (the precursors to Buena Vista Social Club) whilst they were on tour in Colombia.

My own bucking bronco in Panama

What other dances rock your boat?

On one occasion my interpreting skills at a conference were stretched to the limit as I was asked to teach the entire sales team of González Byass (as in Tío Pepe sherry) to dance Scottish reels in Aberdeen. Naturally, the Spanish, with their innate sense of rhythm were instantly better at it than most of their British counterparts. As also exemplified at my wedding. González Byass are also responsible for my year-round addiction to Salmorejo (the weightier Córdoba version of Gazpacho soup). I first tasted it at a lunch at their Jerez bodega and haven´t stopped swigging it surreptitiously out of cartons in supermarket carparks ever since.

Cooking up a storm in China

So are you a bit of a foodie then?  

I live to eat and I also love to cook. My first dish entailed melting plastic cheese slices in a pan with ketchup to make a pot noodle-inspired pasta sauce. I´ve come a long way since then.  

Some of my Japanese-inspired handicrafts

Do you have a creative side?

From time to time I creep out of my natural creative-phobic comfort cave to make jewellery. Although ordinarily I just buy it. As you may have noticed I have a necklace (or two) for each day of the year.

Lesson 1 – dive into as many experiences headfirst as you can

What lessons have you learned over the years?

The world is smaller than you think. I shared a dormitory with an Irish lady in Fiji who happened to know the candidate that Kimberley Clark had chosen over me 15 years earlier. He had been impossibly pig-headed during our last round of interviews and I was not surprised to hear that he was subsequently sacked 6 months into the job for not gelling with the team. So much for multinational psychometric testing.

Trekking in the snow-capped foothills of Everest with my lovely Gurkha guide

What´s next for you?

Probably a shady plot in the British Cemetery of Madrid. Before that I´d like to write up some of the family history of some of my more notable (or should I say notorious) ancestors.

Hanging on for dear life in New Zealand

Why would anyone want to read about your relations?

Well it´s an excuse for some more travelling and although some of my ancestors’ achievements are still in evidence today I would like to document them for posterity.  For example: Tsum, Moscow´s flagship department store was inaugurated by a Scottish family member; another built a Speyside whisky distillery with his own hands; whilst Capetown´s main street is known as Adderley street after my ancestor successfully campaigned to prevent South Africa from becoming a penal colony. Other forefathers were less successful, namely Captain Handcock who was killed by a tiger in Ooty, India, whilst out hunting aged 24 and Jock Delves-Broughton who was suspected of murder as featured in the film and book, White Mischief set in Kenya´s so-called Happy Valley. Not to mention the forebear who did two stints in Wandsworth prison for fraud. Hopefully, my legacy will be less irksome.

Educating the kids on the marvels of Lebanon
Off to work on my trusty steed in Florence

Spotlight on Amanda López-Moleón

Hang on to your seats as we whirl through the multi-faceted life of business angel, film producer, movie buff, property guru, Three-time Jamaican president of Women in Film & TV, amateur painter, crafter, certified sushi-chef, scuba-diver and mother of 3 humans and 2 dogs that is Amanda López-Moleón

You have a rich multi-cultural heritage, how has that shaped your life?

It’s helped shape my life.  Not only am I bi-racial myself (Indian/ Goan and Black/Jamaican) but I have added my Spanish husband´s nationality to the mix. This helps me to see things from three cultural perspectives and to be accepting of all races and cultures. I’d say I´m a “Woman of the World” so to speak. 

What was it like to run your mother´s health-food business after your mother suddenly died when you were 25 years old? 

It was tough at first to persuade my mother´s former staff to accept that the little girl they´d seen growing up was now going to be their boss. However, despite the initial challenges my brother and I won them over and expanded the business., which we later sold. I learned the importance of good communication, treating people well and learning how to become a inspiring leader.

Amanda with Ben Stiller

You are your brother were known as the “Dynamic Duo” in the film industry in Jamaica – tell us about your career in Jamaica. 

My initial plan after completing my university studies in Canada was to combine my film degree with my minor in Environmental Management. I had romantic notions of becoming a Caribbean-based National Geographic Documental filmmaker. However, as soon as I was asked to move to the rural mountains on the island to work on a sustainability project I realised that my creature comforts and amenities were more important to me! (very fickle, I know). So I opted for working in advertising making corporate TV commercials and music videos instead! I also produced and was Assistant Director for overseas productions who use Jamaica as a film location (such as BBC, NBC, Universal Studios, Warner Bros etc).

Which celebrities did you cross paths with?

In my career I have met the likes of Usain Bolt, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller, Mandy Moore, Jose Coronado, Javier Sarda, John Krasinski, Peter Strauss, amongst many others. 

Rubbing shoulders with John Krasinski

You´re a huge movie buff, what´s your favourite film? 

There are soooo many- If I have to choose just one it has to be: The Gladiator by Ridley Scott. A fantastic combination of amazing cinematography, high production value (locations, costumes, art department) … with a riveting story about the constant struggle between good and evil, the rise of the underdog, vengeance, love, allegiance, devotion…and beautiful people set against a great soundtrack with high action, blood, guts and drama. It still gives me chills. We even gave our eldest son the middle name Maximo (The Spaniard) because of the film!

Do you have a professional Midas Touch? When your father got sick you built up his vet business to become the largest clinic in Jamaica and the Caribbean. 

A Midas Touch? By no means!! Although I do think I treat people well; I am fair and calm, I make good alliances and all this helps to make my projects a success. Perhaps I have a keen eye for the right people for the job whether it be for a film crew, designers for our property projects or partners for Wednesday Wanderer events. 

On a personal level, I chose an amazing husband who compliments me (another great alliance). Where I am weak, he is strong and where he is lacking, I am there to lift us, to complete us…making our family a success. 

It’s something my parents taught me. They were polar opposites, from 2 very different cultures and backgrounds. Yet they each created historic businesses and had an incredible, successful marriage bringing us up to face the world.

And my mom always said, “Always make the world a better place for you having been there.”

I carry that through with everything I do. 

Wandering around Madrid on a Wednesday

What prompted you to set up the 250-strong whatsapp group, Wednesday Wanderers? 

I was inspired by my own experience of wanting to explore and experience the best on offer in my new country. (Even though I had a Spanish husband who showed me the  ‘ropes’). So I got a couple friends together and we started doing walks round various areas of Madrid. I called the four of us the Tuesday Trekkers. And we committed to keeping our Tuesdays free to tour together. Then we decided to offer other practicalities to the greater expat community – such as demystifying how to order in a typical Spanish butcher and fishmonger. We then incorporated numerous talents from so many stay-at-home expat parents we met through school to form workshops on topics ranging from nutrition, self-defense to cookery. It’s cool to learn! I’m a bit of nerd like that. And I love getting people connected and together! Community is very important.

Culinary artistry

In Madrid you run lots of cooking workshops, what food sums up happiness for you?

I’m a total foodie. I love it all…

But the Asian continent as a whole, is truly my favourite cuisine.

Indian, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, Vietnamese…the list goes on.  

What other hobbies do you have (& what do they provide in your life?)

I paint, I watch lots of TV series, documentaries and movies.

I craft with my kids (not as often as we would like).

I love cooking and travel really feeds my soul. I incorporate a little bit of wherever I´ve been to into my life or cooking when I get home. Exploring recharges me and I´m a firm believer in enjoying a trip or two alone, annually, with your partner (minus kids – it’s critical for couples)!

You and your husband run a commercial and residential property business in Jamaica, what opportunities do you see in the country?

Jamaica is a stunning country with tons of natural beauty a rich culture, vast wealth of talent and enormous potential. Tourism is becoming more refined and Jamaican music, film, cuisine and art are gathering momentum thanks to the support they´re finally receiving. 

If you could wave a magic wand what would you do next in your life? 

Well despite turning 50 (this May) with 3 kids I do still toy with the idea of going back to school to study Tourism and Hospitality for the sake of our villa rental business that I love. I have already got more cooking classes for myself (and my husband) lined up for this year (more Thai and starting Korean and Chinese), which also helps our tourism product in Jamaica and of course it simultaneously benefits the family, Since my kids love food also.  Although, fantasy wise…. I would love to open a cooking school, or maybe a restaurant/ lounge bar of some sort. A funky little Jamaican-fusion place with a great Caribbean vibe…music and food!! 

Amanda makes a trunk call

Amanda´s film quotes to live by:

Neil Armstrong in First Man… 

“When you get a different vantage point, it changes your perspective…it allows us to see things that maybe we should have seen aa long time ago. “

Braveheart…

“Every man dies, but not every man really lives” 

Ferris Beullers Day Off…

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Lastly…

Forest Gump..

“Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you might get.”

Dressing the part in Thailand

Spotlight on Hyacinth Rebaud

This month we dive across many oceans into the life of INC Board member on the VP Team, mother of 3, half Australian-half Filipino, owner of studio l’atelier Pilates 18 and Pilates instructor, Hyacinth Rebaud who after finishing school on a sheep farm in Australia went onto acquire a Master´s in Development and has carved out a career in the sector in various cities ranging from Manila to Manchester. 

You started globetrotting from a young age, what was it like being sent from your home in the Philippines to school in Geelong near Melbourne, Australia?

This was definitely an experience that marked me profoundly and I made many lifelong friends.  Once I´d got over the homesickness I took full advantage of the opportunity going away to school meant, especially for a girl from the Philippines. It gave me the mindset to believe that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it (and to always be prepared!).  

Riding by rickshaw in the Philippines

As someone used to densely populated Manila, how did you adapt to finishing high school on a merino sheep farm in Australia? What impact has that experience had on you in later life?

Well, it was certainly a steep learning curve! I wasn´t exactly enamoured with the remoteness of the location but I did acquire an appreciation for nature in all its raw beauty which has stayed with me today. 

I also had to skill up on how to deal with bushfires, droughts and such things like having kangaroos running around your property or snakes under the house. I am not a country girl at heart, but I would not change that time for anything in the world. 

Girl time in snowy Madrid

Having met your French husband during a brief stint at home in the Philippines you took a 1-way ticket over to France to be with him. Would you describe yourself as a risk taker?

I´m usually completely risk-averse but I knew I´d regret not giving the relationship a chance so despite having spent only a few months together I jumped on a plane to see what his world looked like. It’s fair to say that I tend to trust my gut feelings/intuition (always have, always will). 

You spent the bulk of your professional career in development and Corporate Social Responsibility – what attracted you to that sector?

Today, roughly less than 20% of the population live below the poverty line in the Philippines (about 18 million vs 3% in Spain). I simply wanted to understand this ‘inequality’, why it exists and what can we do to change that, practically speaking.  Through my interest in Development, I have worked on a range of projects such as urban development and economic and social impact in China and Inner Mongolia; fundraising and implementing Gender and Diversity in Australia and the Philippines; female entrepreneurship in Uzbekistan and microfinancing in the UK and France.

Hyacinth in Uzbekistan

Prior to moving to Madrid you spent three years in Athens, how did you adapt to life there? 

Once we´d mastered the rules such as: 

  • Guests should arrive at least one hour late for any dinner party
  • At 7 pm you will be served coffee not wine
  • Pedestrian crossings are decorative only
  • It is mandatory to invite ALL family members to children’s birthday parties and to stay for the entire day
  • Smoking is still acceptable in all indoor places

We found the Greeks were some of the warmest, most hospitable people we had ever met. 

How did you enter the world of pilates?

Raising a family constantly on the move meant I had very little time to dedicate to self-care and I felt my body had almost been hijacked by the needs of everyone around me.  Pilates provided a valuable one-stop shop in terms of healthy exercise and centering my mind and eventually, I trained to become a certified Reformer instructor to set up my own business. I feel privileged to have overcome the challenges that come with the territory of being a small business owner and Pilates has allowed me to really re-kindle my mojo.

You´re a great advocate of the Reformer in Pilates, what does it add in your opinion?

I am very biased I know, but personally, Pilates on the Reformer is a game changer and takes the Pilates experience to another level. It consists of various components that can be adjusted to each person´s specific requirements. If you haven’t tried stretching on the Reformer, then you have never experienced what a really good stretch feels like! 

I have a small studio in which I teach 1:1 private classes. It is such a humbling and rewarding experience to be part of someone’s physical and mental journey to boost their confidence and “blossom again”. 

Alhambra time

Which is your favourite podcast?

I´m currently enjoying :

‘More Than One Thing’ with Athena Calderone – the imperfect journey of various creatives, storytelling about professionals who have not necessarily taken the ‘normal routes’.

Hyacinth with 2 of her brood in the Plaza Mayor

Have you found any traits in common between the Philippines and Spanish?

Yes! The weekly family Sunday lunch ritual; warmth and hospitality especially to total strangers (I feel like I have been very fortunate! Finally, the love of dancing and music which are a frequent feature, Covid-permitting, of most social gatherings. 

Fun in the UK