Expatriate Network: Tatyana Mekhontseva

President of the International Women’s Association Kuala Lumpur, Tatyana Mekhontseva explains what made her join IWAKL, why she prefers a busy life, and where her real passion lies.

by / Published: 8 May 2014

Expatriate Network: Tatyana Mekhontseva

Interview by Ian Johnston |  Photo by Amir Rashid

As president of the International Women’s Association Kuala Lumpur, Tatyana Mekhontseva is a woman in high demand. She explains what made her join IWAKL, why she prefers a busy life, and where her real passion lies.
Who are you?

Name: Tatyana Mekhontseva

Nationality: Kazakhstani

Occupation: President, IWAKL
Time in Malaysia: 4 years (in two stints)

Tatyana on…

Moving to Malaysia…

Initially it was a culture shock, of course, because it’s very different from Kazakhstan, where I’m from. But after finding our way and getting used to the heat of the tropics, we started to like it a lot.

Joining IWAKL…
I’ve spent so much time with all kinds of cultures at the International Women’s Association so basically, I am absolutely multicultural, multinational and cosmopolitan – and I’ve moved all around the world. I’ve been in Africa, I’ve been in Australia; I’ve travelled a lot and know a lot of people from various cultures. I like to explore so that’s what actually brought me to IWAKL because you have 35 cultures mixed in one group. 
The challenge of presidency… 
I wish lots of women wanted this job, honestly. It’s demanding and you have a lot of responsibilities. The most difficult part for me was getting used to the fact that everything you say and everything you do represents a big, international group. Even in my private life. You have to be very thoughtful in everything you do, very diplomatic.
But you become diplomatic because you spend a lot of time with all kinds of ladies, all kinds of backgrounds, all kinds of religions and cultures, and of course, all kinds of customs. So sometimes it’s eye opening but I like that experience, I really do love the experience.

Passions Beyond IWAKL... 
My primary voluntary work is with Riding for the Disabled (RDA), and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last six years. I was doing it in my first stay in Malaysia, then I was doing it in Australia, then I came back and I restarted again so this is very important for me; this is what I really love.
I love working with special needs and disabled kids and I love working with the horses and I love the team we are working with.
There are many branches of RDA in Malaysia, it’s a really big association. It’s really heart-warming to see the local population warming up to volunteering with disabled kids and with the horses.
That’s important because as expats in Malaysia, we could have to leave at any moment, so we really want to have someone that can stay here forever and continue our work; that’s why it’s really important to have more local people involved.
Expatriates giving back… 
I had a frustrating first year in Malaysia because I didn’t know anyone, I was alone, my husband was working; I was basically stuck to shopping, cooking and spending the weekends with my husband. You just get so stuck and start to get a little bored and irritated. And I was a working lady before I came to Malaysia.
But when you do things like volunteering, in any organisation, you meet lots of nice people and you build up friendships and then your life becomes so busy and filled. I can see a difference with the kids I worked with six years ago and now they are so progressed and they feel so much better and you feel great…