Rebecca Unterschemmann

Rebecca Unterschemmann

Rebecca Unterschemmann

Rebecca Unterschemmann

The world is coming together despite unresolved political problems. People are moving across national borders to enjoy their vacations, visit friends and relatives or live and work for multinational organizations. The experience of living in a foreign country with different culture could change one’s lifestyle. AFRITOPIC conducted an interview with a lovely German model, Rebecca Unterschemmann, whose experience in South Africa changed her lifestyle.  

Afritopic: Are you from Bavaria?

Rebecca: I am a typical Bavarian girl. But I always dreamt of living in Hawaii. I had a girlfriend that went to Hawaii. She told me about the beauty of Hawaii and the very nice, very cool people and way of life in Hawaii. I dreamt of how life could be wonderful on the island. My dream remained a dream. I have never been to Hawaii. Looking back today, I prefer my life as an adolescent better than my life before the puberty. This has nothing to do with the way I was brought up. My parents took very good care of my brother and me. I believe that everyone develops his/her character, personality or taste irrespective of the parent’s influence. In the elementary school, the subjects I liked and my motivation to learn depended on the teacher teaching the subject. I did not like most of the subjects and I found the lessons boring. I retracted into my own world and immersed in my own thoughts when the topic was uninteresting. I knew that going to school was not for me. Moreover, I was a very shy girl. I could not defend myself whenever I was attacked, despite the fact that I was one of the tallest in the school. I did not know how to defend myself.

Afritopic: Did you stand out in the school because of your height?

Rebecca: Again, in the secondary school, I was taller than most of the boys in the class. Many of them were intimidated by my height and avoided asking me to dance with them at school parties. Some of them summed up the courage and approached me. I accepted their invitation, towering above them on the dancing floor. Later, I started receiving complements about my beautiful hair and soon about my looks. One day, I was offered a modelling job. Though, my father was a model, I never thought of being a model. Anyway, I took the offer and earned some money. Before long, I received more offers and was earning money while in the school. I decided not to go for the Abitur (Secondary School Certificate), which would make me stay longer in the secondary school. Instead, I optioned for a one-year school that taught correspondence in foreign language. However, I stopped attending the school after four months because I realized that I would have to work in an office all day for a job in the field. I am not the type that sits in the office. I decided to take up modelling as a full-time job.

Afritopic: Was being a model your dream profession?

Rebecca: Working as a model was not my dream. Like most kids, I loved animals and thought of animals as my friends. But I did not think of working with animals or working in any professional field. I never thought of following a career path. If I should tell anyone what I wanted to be, I think the person would just laugh. As a young girl or rather as a kid, all I wanted to be was a princess. I just wanted to be a princess and nothing else. As I grew older, I realized that I could never be a princess. My taste and lifestyle do not fit into that of a princess. I wanted to be free. I wanted to say whatever I feel like saying and express my opinion anytime and anywhere. In terms of fashion, I prefer casual street wear; jeans, sweat shirts, pair of snickers etc. The wish to be a princess was just a child’s dream. I got into modelling because I was offered the job at an early age. I was told that my height and figure are suitable for a modelling career. These were the basic requirements. I did not think of myself as being pretty. I never attended a modelling school. My modelling career was unplanned. It just happened. Through contacts from the modelling jobs I did, I was introduced to an agent who later handled my bookings and contracts. I was already earning good money at the age of 18 years. While many in my age group were sitting in classrooms, I was travelling to different cities in Europe and the USA for photo shooting and fashion shows. I felt good and was enjoying myself. This is the sweet side of modelling as a profession.

Afritopic: What are the difficulties in a modelling career?

Rebecca: There were times when my bank account was filled and I had a lot of money at my disposal. There were also times when I was in red and had difficulties in paying my bills. There were times of uncertainty. Contracts were not coming in and I was being turned down because I was too fat, too skinny, had wrinkles or pickles. Sometimes, the company is not satisfied and not ready to pay. There were times I felt burned out. In many cases, I had to travel long distances within short notice. I had to be at one photo shooting location after the other with minimum interval for a quick lunch or dinner. I sometimes have to act; if I am asked to smile and I am not in the mood to smile; only acting can help. Being a model is not all glamour. Many young girls aspire to be models because they believe that models earn a lot of money, have glamorous lives and are celebrities. This might be true for the very top models. But this is not the case for the majority of models. Even the highly paid top models have to cope with stress and other discomforts entailed in the business.

Afritopic: What are your hobbies?

Rebecca: My high priority hobby is listening to music. At home or when I am driving, the music is always on. R & B and Hip Hop are my favourites. I also love African rhythm and percussion. Talking about music artists, I would say I am a fan of Eminem. I do not like most of the boys/girls groups. When I was younger, I started learning to play the piano and tried to sing all the songs I liked, though I was aware that I couldn’t really sing. To be a singer would mean that I would have to practice hard almost daily. No, practicing long hours is not for me. I enjoy singing and feeling like a pop star, even if I am singing the song totally wrong. I like watching pop stars on the TV and going to music concerts. I find music concerts entertaining and I would admit that I do fancy some artists. But I am not the type that falls into ecstasy because of a pop star. I once attended a George Michael concert with 3 girlfriends. During the concert, my girlfriends went frenzy and were creaming. I could not believe it. I enjoyed the music, found the show cool and I had a lot of fun. That is all. I cannot imagine myself going crazy because of a music artist.

Afritopic: Do you have other professional or business intensions?

Rebecca: Today, apart from modelling, I am developing my own clothing line with my mother as partner. I create new pieces of t-shirts; sweat shirts, sweater and jackets by modifying ready-made ones using embroidery, patchwork or colourful textiles. All the modifications are hand-made. The idea of starting a clothing line originated during my stay in Brooklyn, New York. I thought of capitalizing on my design talent; the talent I inherit from my mother. She used to make beautiful dresses for me when I was a little girl and taught me how to sew. My brother also has affinity to design. I buy most of the ready-made clothing from different outlets including second hand shops in the USA. Each piece of the clothing with the label nakid desin is unique. I love doing the design. It gives me joy.  I have also been approached with the idea of starting a jewellery line. This is quite interesting because I was making jewellery while living in South Africa. I was inspired by the creative handworks of Africans; using colourful beads, they create beautiful jewellery. I am looking into the possibility of working together with a jewellery producing company. If all goes well I might combine jewellery accessories with the clothing line. I get a lot of help from my mother and sometimes from my brother. My mother helps me with sewing and if I lack idea she gives suggestions. But I am sole responsible for the sales/marketing, distribution and promotion. At present my designs are distributed to shops in Munich area. In the future, I hope to distribute to shops all over Germany.

Afritopic: Are you engaged in any charity organizations?

Rebecca: I also work part-time for an organization in Munich, catering for children welfare and fighting for a better world for children. The organization is a children foundation called Children for a Better World. I am happy being a part of this organization because helping people especially children makes me happy. When I was living in South Africa, there were many situations where I could offer my help due to the economic condition of the majority of the population. This is not the case in Germany. As I mentioned earlier, I do not like working in an office. However, I am willing to help. So, I decided to work twice a week in the office to help in the organization. I have been doing this for the past 3 years and I enjoy doing it.

Afritopic: You mentioned living in South. What impact did your time in South Africa have on you?

Rebecca: The time I spent in South Africa is very special for me. It is a significant period of my life. Before going to South Africa, I was living in countries, where I felt secured and protected. In Germany, I have my parents, my brother and friends. If I had to work in other parts of Europe or the USA, I could easily contact people I know very well. I never felt unsecured or exposed to any danger. I always felt like a girl embedded in the loving care of her parents and friends. My travelling to South Africa changed my life dramatically. I had to work and survive on my own. My parents, brother and friends were far away. The subconscious feeling of protection was gone. I had to face reality of life in a new environment and solve problems. On the other hand, I had the freedom to take my own decisions. I was free to do whatever I wanted to do without anyone questioning my action or intruding my private life. I was 23 years old. It was time for me to grow up and be myself.  

Afritopic: Did you go to South Africa to work as a model?

Rebecca: I visited South Africa for the first time on vacation with a friend. During the fabulous vacation, I made some contacts and decided to go back whenever I have the opportunity. The chance came and I took it. I was back in Cape Town, South Africa. For the first time in my life I was in the minority of a population. The situation opened up my eyes. I was in a new role, different from the situation in Europe. I started learning that what I took for granted in Europe might not be taken as such in South Africa. I became aware of other views and perspectives to social and organizational issues. In Europe I used to complain about every little disorder. I would complain if I found an insect on the wall of my hotel room. Life in South Africa changed such habits. I met my boyfriend in South Africa and experienced outdoor camping, which was new to me. I had direct contact to nature and having insects moving around my sleeping bag became normal. The beautiful beach and sunshine with blue sky induced in me a hitherto unrealised happiness. I was confronted with a different culture. A culture in which, generally speaking, the people are open and warm. I would not like to paint South Africa as a paradise. I had my share of bad experience and there were also people I could not get along with. But I met a lot of very friendly and amazing people. I made new friends and helped wherever I could.  

Afritopic: Which type of help did you give in South Africa?

Rebecca: Unfortunately, the wealth derived from the abundant natural resources of South Africa is still within the reach of only a few.  Many families are impoverished. I met a woman raising 4 children, a boy and 3 girls, alone as a single parent. She became sick with heart problems and could not earn enough money to provide schooling for the children.  I decided to cater for the 3 girls named Abigail, Tumi and Manana and support the family financially to provide education for the children. They all speak 3 South African languages; Afrikaans, Zulu and Xhosa as well as English as a fourth language. I am fond of them and communicate regularly with them either via post, phone or SMS. I could also contact them through a German family friend residing in Cape Town. The family lives in Guguletu Township, Cape Town. I hope to continue helping them until they can take care of themselves. They represent my tie to South Africa. Overall, I had a wonderful time in South Africa.

Afritopic: Why did you leave South Africa?

Rebecca: I left South Africa due to 2 major reasons. At that time, the South African currency, the Rand, was devaluated and I was not earning much as a model. For better paying modelling contracts, I had to go to Europe. Secondly, the relationship with my boyfriend came to an end. My relationship was the most important reason why I stayed in South Africa despite the devaluation of Rand. I could not bear staying in South Africa any longer. I applied for contracts in Europe and was lucky to receive offers that took me to Turkey, England among other countries. I visited South Africa again after seven years. I was happy to see that the family I have been supporting over the years were in good condition and my 3 “little” girls have now grown into adults. Meanwhile, their mother’s health has improved and she has a job. The joy we all felt during my visit was overwhelming. The girls wish to attain higher education and would still need my help. I have discussed the issue with my parents and people I trust. They are willing to help.

Afritopic: Is modelling still you main focus?

Rebecca: I intend to continue working as a model. I feel I could be a model for more years to come like my father who still models. However, I have stopped excessive travelling as a model. I like to travel for other reasons, such as promoting my designs but not for jobs as a model. I do not want to do that anymore. I am shifting my focus to my clothing line. I would like to devote more time to my designs and develop the fashion business, while I work for the children foundation. Naturally, priorities change the older one gets. I am not a teenager anymore. I am now living together with my Bavarian boyfriend in Munich. We understand each other very well. In fact I left Miami for Munich because of my boyfriend. This shows that I am not all that emancipated.

Afritopic: After living in other countries, do you have difficulties adjusting to life in Munich?

Rebecca: On arriving in Germany during the winter, after some years of sunny weather in Miami, I was depressed. I think that the weather could impact on peoples’ feelings, moods or state of mind. I also missed the multi entertainment available in Miami due to the mixed cultures. This made life boring for me and reinforced my decision to start the clothing line. I am now used to life in Munich. I am fine and I do not have any depressions. I believe that I can never have any form of depression again. I have lived in different countries and mixed with different cultures. I have experienced great happiness and love. I have gone through sadness and pain. Together, these experiences have made me psychologically stable. Though I was brought up in a Christian home, I do not believe in going to church. I believe in God and pray before I go to bed. In terms of religion, I do not constrain myself to Christianity. I worked in Nepal as a model at the age of about 17 years old and have a small Buddha statue at home today.

Afritopic: How important is love for you? Do you believe in God and are you afraid of becoming old?

Rebecca: My zodiac sign is Aires. I believe in love. If I were to choose between love and money, I would definitely choose love. My parents gave me abundant of love and still shower me with love. This is surely one of the reasons why I am able to give love. Money is necessary to pay for the living requirements, which is why we have to earn money. There are problems caused due to lack of money, but there are also unhappy rich people. I am happy with my life and I am not afraid of becoming old. I only hope that I retain my good health in old age. I pray that I remain physically fit like my parents and grandparents. I am careful about what I eat and maintain a balanced diet with a lot of vegetables. I go to the gym regularly to do yoga-like exercises. I enjoy relaxing with a glass of wine and background music. With the combination of all my activities, I am optimistic about keeping my body and soul together for many years to come.

Rebecca Unterschemmann

Rebecca Unterschemmann

Afritopic 2004


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