Today, we have the pleasure of hearing from Gabriela van Rij. Gabriela’s life has been, by definition, a cross cultural one. She was born in Pakistan, but raised in Europe and North America by her adopted diplomatic family. Currently, Gabriela lives in Canada, and works with a multicultural team promoting her book, With All My Might, which chronicles her life story and experiences and shares how she overcame adversity and came to terms with her own identity.
Tell us a bit about yourself. How would your friends or family describe you?
I am a self-made woman that has worked hard to get where I am today. Family is very important to me however, being adopted has not always given me the family I had wished for. My friends are terrific and mean the world to me, I have had them in and out of my life throughout which is amazing to me. Long lasting friendships with individuals from various cultures have become a surrogate family for me.
Where do you live? Where are you from? If those are different, can you tell us a little about what inspired your move?
I live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. I am originally from the North of Pakistan and lived most of my life in Europe and North America. I never knew any better than to be on the move in a diplomatic family. It teaches you to adapt for survival. What is even more important is that you learn to depend on yourself and that home is where you are. Living in Canada is quite amazing and diverse. Vancouver is an enormously safe place compared to some places in the world.
If you would describe yourself as multicultural, tell us a bit about what culture you most identify with and why. If you have kids, what culture do they most associate with?
I have identified most of my childhood and teenage years with the Western culture, but the older I get the more the fingerprint and identity of the ingrained and inherent culture come out which is Asian. I identify with the Western culture as that is the one I know the best. I have a child who is multicultural and has two ethnicities. It is not always easy for them either to identify which is which. I feel that most of them welcome more the Western world as they perceive it as better. This tends to be very true, at least for now, with my own daughter. She tends to feel European as do I.
Can you describe a typical day for you?
Wow, nothing I do is typical; I get up early (between 5:30 and 6) and throw on clothes and go for either a long walk or jog on the seawall with my dog. Then I get ready for work at my consulting job and work 3 hours for one specific client before my We Open Door’s team gets in. On a rather interesting side note my team is multicultural. I have been fortunate enough to employ individuals that embody my own uniqueness and diversity. My team is comprised of one young lady from Chile, one young lady from Australia, one man from Vancouver originally from Italy, one young man from India, and two agents from the US. Upon the arrival of my four-member office team we work solidly to promote my book With All My Might and before I know it is 4:30 PM and I should be writing my children’s book.
What is the best part of living in your country? The worst?
The best part is the enormous diversity and safety. The worst is that every culture seems to stay on it’s own and that true diversity of mixing the cultures still has to be created.
What books or films would you recommend someone who’d like to know more about your country?
I am not sure which movie you need to see to appreciate Canada. But the Winter Olympics in Vancouver 2010 showed the world that they were strong and resilient and that they support the dream of the athletes. What amazed me is that in these events every ethnicity, every one of all walks of life come together for one common good “the athlete”. No racism, no bullying, nothing, just a coming together of nations for the good of the athlete! Incredible experience! Canada you rocked!
What language or languages do you use on a day to day basis?
I use French and English daily, and I try to keep up my Dutch. But from a promotional standpoint I also incorporate Spanish on a large scale. I am preparing to release my book With All My Might in Spanish and will do so at an event in Las Vegas in mid June.
Tell me about a national hero in your country. Who are they and what are they admired for?
Having four countries that I call home makes it very difficult to choose anyone “hero.” Pakistan is rich in history and culture. The Dutch are known for their dikes and engineers. The French are known for their food and wine. Canada has produced some of the most famous entertainment personalities and athletes (especially in the arena of hockey) that are widely known in the US.
Tell me about your favorite holiday, and what cultural traditions you practice to celebrate on that day.
Every national day of most of the above countries I celebrate usually at the embassies. I celebrate the French, the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans, the US and the Canadian national holidays. As these are the countries I know best. I would say the 4th of July will always be special together with the national Queens day in the Netherlands. Tradition in Holland is to drink bitter drink that is orange to celebrate the house of Orange. The Dutch are traditionally not very shy and party like crazy on that day. The French 14th of July is amazing and a bit traditional.
Describe a favorite typical meal from your country.
The Dutch are not very known for their cooking. They are known for the pancakes, which is a sweet dish. The French cuisine is one of my favorites as it heightens all your senses. Amazingly enough the Indian/Pakistani cuisine I have come to appreciate very much. I could live of ‘tidka dahl’, which is a yellow lentil dish nice and spicy.
What’s something that visitors are often surprised by when getting to know your country/culture?
They are surprised the Dutch are so open.
They are also surprised that in Vancouver everyone is overly polite.
The Americans are always surprised the French are truly rude and shout.
But all of these quirks is what makes up a culture and gives us the true flavor of multiculturalism.
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