The international lifestyle is not foreign to Monique, a cultured and brilliant American photographer and designer who had lived overseas since an early age. However, working to promote child welfare in one of the world’s poorest countries took on a whole new meaning for her work and art. This is her story.
Monique Kovacs Nathan’s creations are exquisite. If you’d see her designs, you’d notice immediately how impeccable the colors, textures and finishing in each one of them is. The variety of tones, top-quality materials chosen and techniques used make her art very unique, to say the least. Monique’s taste and eye for beauty don’t come from an artistic background necessarily. In fact, before joining the expat lifestyle, Monique worked in foreign policy and academia for a number of years. She left her career in the U.S. shortly after being named director at the University of California’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC) in Washington D.C. While it was difficult for her to leave her satisfying career to move abroad, she also knew she would have unique and interesting opportunities ahead of her.
When I asked Monique if she always wanted to live in a different country, she didn’t hesitate. “Yes! I grew up mostly abroad and have always had wanderlust.”
To her, the most rewarding experience as an expat so far has been living in Nepal for four years. She regards it as her most life-changing experience. During her time there, Monique was fortunate to be able to do meaningful service work in child welfare; as well as to work and travel to new countries as a university recruitment officer for her alma mater back in California. Aside from her commitment to contribute and make a difference around her, her passion for photography and design kept her busy on a regular basis and fulfilled her artistic cravings.
Monique tells me how living in Nepal was meaningful at a very personal level too. “I was able to parent with peace - meaning it was the first non-violent country in which we had lived during our 15 years abroad. In Nepal, life seemed more peaceful and innocent - particularly for raising children. I grew in more ways than I can describe. I made friends who enriched my life and who will be close in my heart forever.” She added.
Living overseas makes us stronger and wiser in different levels. Though it is usually the challenges that help us grow the most. No country, I assume, comes without its own set of challenges. Living as an expat who is constantly on the move is part of it.
For Monique, “the most challenging experience of living abroad as an expat is recreating myself in each new place we live. I have not always been able to work (at my paid job) which at times is stressful. Moreover, for each move I have had to settle us as a family (ensuring that my children are safe and well in their new schools), take care of the logistics of starting up a new household and making it "home", establish new friendships for myself and create a new family social life for us, and find a way to fulfill myself beyond the home. Photography has always allowed me to be an artist and fulfill a personal need. Delving into design while living in Nepal was a new facet of being an artist that was both fun and interesting. And Nepal gave me the opportunity to immerse myself in service work, which was (and continues to be) deeply gratifying for myself and our whole family.
We usually move to new countries where we do not know anyone or have any network or ties, and thus creating “home” takes time and significant effort. This process is akin to planting seeds in a garden, which hopefully lead to the growth of beautiful plants, yet sometimes yields nothing. These efforts require a huge leap of faith and great strength on my part. I do not always feel up to the task, but I do my best.”
Isn’t that true? I completely relate. When you’re doing something creative, changing posts is always interesting but challenging at the same time. For instance, the costs and the availability of services and materials can be restrictive to your artwork. Finding the right audience or venue that appreciates your work takes time and a few failed attempts.
With an academic background like Monique’s, I wanted to ask her how did she decide to give creativity a chance. “I simply had to give my creativity a chance. I felt I was suffocating by not having my creative outlet. It has been a challenge to balance motherhood, working, and moving with fulfilling my creative desires. In Nepal, for the first time in all of our posts abroad, I found a community of photographers and designers that formed a support network, which was helpful as I tried new things (furniture and jewelry design). And I had the support of my photography buddies, who became my closest friends and mentors. I was - and continue to be - truly blessed for knowing these outstanding people, who are always there for me, even from afar.” Monique explained.
From designing her own jewelry to working closely with local craftsmen and goldsmiths and creating unique home décor items with her images, Monique has a lot of experience and wealth of knowledge to inspire us all. However, she is also a very humble and unpretentious artist. This is what Monique had to say when I asked her what was her advice to those creative entrepreneurs living the nomadic lifestyle on how to pursue their passions.
“I am not sure I have advice other than the mantra “go for it”. People’s circumstances are different - time and resources greatly influence one’s ability to delve into their creative life. However, if you can find even 10 minutes a day to do whatever injects your life with creative fulfillment, then I urge you to do so.
I guess one other piece of advice would be to try something outside of your comfort zone. To challenge oneself this way can open one's eyes, heart, and mind in unexpected ways.“
Monique’s art was highly regarded within the diplomatic community as well as with local Nepali artists and entrepreneurs. In fact, her colorful prints, as well as her home accessory designs, and timeless jewelry were very sought after during the years she spent in Nepal. Currently back in Washington for the past year and a half, Monique has taken some time off from her creative business to resettle and continue supporting two Nepali NGOs with fundraising and communications in the US. In spite of a busy schedule, she finds artistic inspiration in her surroundings - which currently is the abundance of beautiful nature in the D.C. area, and she continues to seek out interesting jewelry, photography and art designs.
“I have come up with ideas for things I would like to create, and I am saving that for later. I know at some point I will have more time and more resources, so for the present I am content to let ideas percolate.” Monique added. And while Monique is feeding her imagination and curiosity with her unique aesthetic eye, I cannot wait to see what her new collections will be like.
The two Nepali NGOs that Monique mentions above are Pushpa Basnet's Early Childhood Development Center , and Maggie Doyne's BlinkNow. Collaborating with them gives her a great sense of purpose to be working towards bettering the lives of disadvantaged children in Nepal. Please click on the links to find out more.
When she’s not busy creating, Monique’s favorite thing to do is to curl up with a good book while sipping on a cup of the always favorite earl grey tea. One of her spiritual practices is walking with Jack, her beautiful Indian dog in the woods around her house. This experience is enhanced by her mindful practice of exploring nature, listening to the birds, breathing deeply, and sometimes plugging into an audiobook or podcast that takes her mind away from the day-to-day life. Monique finds peace in the quietude of nature and at home when everyone has gone to bed and she has time to herself. You can find Monique on Instagram as @mknkathmandu