Join the family

Being President of the Young Diplomats in London is like being the head of one big happy family, Rafal Sordyl tells Elizabeth Stewart

Heading up the 3000-member Young Diplomats in London (YLD), Rafal’s mission as president is simple: “I want our members to enjoy London with us – this city is such a wonderful place to discover with likeminded people.”

It takes an all-rounder to be president of this fast-growing club and Rafal, who took over the role in January, certainly is that. London is Rafal’s first long-term posting (as second secretary in the Economic Section at the Polish Embassy), but he has done enough to fill several lifetimes.

Studying, he says, is “a hobby” he has no less than eight degrees to his name – not to mention a string of languages. While studying and juggling a trainee job at the Slovak Consulate in Krakow, Rafal also found time for an accidental career on stage.

As a French speaker, Rafal was asked to fill in for a friend at the French-Polish Théâtre de l’Entr’Acte. It was supposed to be for one performance but he stayed four years… “I’m actually a terrible actor,” he says bashfully. “Mostly I played chairs and dead countesses!” But the part-time job sparked a love of travel as he toured all over the Francophonie.

Bitten by the bug
The diplomatic bug bit as a local employee at the Slovak Consulate in his native Krakow in Southern Poland. “In diplomacy you are never bored because every day you do something different, especially in bilateral diplomacy,” he enthuses.

A stint at the Council of Europe followed, after which Rafal decided to join the Polish Foreign Ministry. After graduating from the Diplomatic Academy he was posted to Beijing to prepare the ground for Poland’s EU Presidency, and then went on to spend a year in Taipei learning the tricks of trade diplomacy. Returning to Warsaw, he was appointed to the Policy Support Section of the Foreign Minister’s office.

Arriving in London in 2014, it wasn’t long before he was voted on the YDL Committee before being catapulted to president this year. Coming from a close-knit diplomatic community in Beijing, Rafal is acutely aware of how vital the YDL is to London. “London is such a vast and diffuse bilateral capital that you can just disappear.”

Without a place to meet, diplomats can easily stick to their “regional cliques” or hang out with other colleagues handling similar portfolios.

Family atmosphere
“This is where the YDL is so useful because it provides the platform for diplomats to find each other in a family atmosphere,” he says. Because the club is inclusive, it is a place where diplomats from all regions and job descriptions can mingle informally with non-diplomats from parliament, the British civil service, think tanks, academia and business, so it’s a good way to break free from the “diplomatic bubble”.

Reaching out is part of diplomatic life, he says. “We all have long careers ahead of us so it makes sense to meet colleagues from all over the world because we never know where we are going to be posted next. So this is a great way to broaden our contacts.”

The composition of the committee reflects the YDL’s inclusivity, with committee members from Asia, Africa, Europe and the Pacific as well as International Organisations (IMO) and Parliament.

Together the committee has pooled its considerable talents and access to come up with a great calendar of events.

On the professional side, members get to meet top politicians and officials, such as the IMO Secretary General and the Speaker of the House of Lords.

On the social side, highlights include exclusive tours of London landmarks, such as the Tower of London; Parliament’s clock tower; a boat trip down the Thames; and the popular Jack the Ripper tour of the East End.

Rafal also wants to introduce a YDL ‘Pub Club’ where members can get to know each other over a pint at London’s many historic pubs. “These pubs tell the story of London so it’s a brilliant way to find out more about the history of this city.”

Beyond London
Family daytrips outside of London are also in the pipeline. The successful trip to Leeds Castle last year was an excellent template so this year destinations may include Bath and Stonehenge. “We can organise it cheaply because we are a non-profit organisation. All our members need to do is buy a ticket and enjoy the trip with a busload of their friends.”

And as always, there are the regular parties, thanks to the YDL’s generous sponsors – from Friday Night Fever at the Taj, to the Halloween Party at BMW Park Lane or the Secret Garden Party with Hamptons, to name but a few.

Rafal hopes to put back on the calendar popular fundraisers such as the YDL Black & White Ball, in aid of Kids for Kids, or regional theme parties supporting regional charities.

And now that the weather is warming up, he will also be turning his mind to sports events and family picnics. “We are up for anything and we’re open to suggestion!” he smiles, repeating the YDL’s motto: “At YDL there are no strangers, only friends you have not yet met…”