The odissey of Radoslava Ivanova

“I have always looked upon my life as a journey to discover the meaning of life, I have always searched for some deeper meaning, a secret, the essence of things and maybe that’s why I went through so much disruptive changes” Radoslava Ivanova said.

Radoslava Ivanova is now 22 years old. She is originally from the outskirts of Sofia in Bulgaria.

Ivanova currently lives in Bulgaria in the same small village in which she grew up. She builds handmade furniture and organizes small art exhibitions.

But it took a long time for Radoslava to reach such an outcome: in just an handful of years she has gone through, and experienced, probably more than what many people try out in their all life.

Going through changes, different countries and expoloring different directions in which her life could go.

Already in her early teenage years Radoslava exposed herself to literature which could be considered premature for a 14 years old: ” I read everything, I started reading mythologies and then the big books by the big authors, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and shit, basically as i look upon it now, I was taking too much information that I could not really digest”, Ivanova said, ” Same age I discovered marijuana and the magic that it brought really gave my imagination a lot of work. The high ideals taken from literature combined with weed made me think a lot… all of this thinking brings a lot of isolation from friends and family and most of all it deprives you from the energy to act. I wanted to learn so much but now I know that the best way to learn is by doing stuff”.

Nevertheless, Ivanova remained really successful in the academic context being an excellent student in Bulgaria: “I have always sensed that there is something very elusive  and just not right in the education they gave us,   I couldn’t tell what it is, but I would intuitively respond to it with disobeying, I started skipping school in 9 grade and continued to do so for the rest of my academic record. Maybe for the whole 5 years of high school I have actually been to school 2 without exaggerating. I didn’t have problems with skipping school because I did all the work for the grades and had high ones, in a lot of cases the highest. I was not skipping school because I didn’t like to learn. I was skipping it because of the repulsive ways that knowledge was presented with all the rules and jail-like atmosphere”, Ivanova said, ” After grade 10 I enrolled in the IB (International Baccalaureate program) exactly because I was in need of more knowledge and the program was with standards higher than the Bulgarian ones. The IB was better because it lacked the post-communist taste of Bulgarian education”.

During IB Radoslava experienced at a really young age what freedom was: away from her parents and family, she was able to simply hang out with her friends while still managing to pass all of her classes with excellent grades.

However, there seemed to be something that constantly bothered Radoslava, the feeling of urge which pushed to somehow sort out her life: ” at the end of 12 grade I was very sad and confused, soo confused that I would often get angry at myself saying After all of this reading, why can’t you get how things work? What is the problem here? I really couldn’t understand.” Radoslava said.

Growing up in a smaller European country, eventually less developed than its “big” neighbors, often causes many issues. The probabilities of growing up with the myth of the “western developed” countries are higher. Anything which is done in those countries appear as somehow superior, more legitimate.

As a consequence, big European cities become, in the popular imaginary of smaller countries, real boiling pots of opportunities in which any kind of interest and talent can be cultivated and in which incredible results can be achieved.

“I was kind of brought to the conclusion that I MUST do some kind of a business, to make a lot of money because this is the most serious thing in the world and anything else does not make sense..It was not because my parents told me too, but they too were worried with the unstable economic situation in the world so they were quite pleased when I said I wanted to study in the Hague University of Applied Sciences. After all it was proper western education, in Bulgaria this is sacred. So, feeling so lost, I said to myself that my sadness is because I had not sorted out the security of my future, and this will be done with studying business.” Ivanova said.

Unfortunately things did not go the way Radoslava expected it: the school in De Hague demanded really strict rhythms and demanded a marketing mindset which Radoslava was simply not willing to accept:  “only one thing is left – money. The world is Economics. It is all about the money. You start with money, you invest the money so that you can make more money with the ultimate goal to make more money.”, Ivanova said, “It was very interesting to see that most of the other kids that stayed and continued with this prestige education were seriously drug addicts. Cocaine, E-candies they got it all, lots of weed, speed, they had it all. They used more drugs than hard core squatters”.

Nevertheless, Radoslava was convinced that she had simply chosen the wrong field. A western university was still the right choice for her future, she just needed to pick more carefully this time: ” I immediately enrolled in AUC… There is a business for young confused people that are smart, but also don’t know quite what they want to do, so they portrayed it as the divine crib for a person that wishes to develop himself in every possible direction, to endeavor in every sphere you are curious about and become a master of both art and science. Best of both world. Best of everything. The people that study there are super special. They are different. They are unique.” Ivanova said.

Radoslava soon realized that AUC was really different from what she was looking for: ” The word “academic” was put on pedestal, it was sacred, you were free to choose but they had carefully selected the things you could choose from, so there is not a chance for you to choose something that they didn’t want you to choose. Also they would be strictly observing  and regulating the process of choosing it and if you even stepped  a step aside the rules, you were punished.” Ivanova said.

Radoslava realized that it was simply not possible for her to do as the university demanded to.

Soon after the semester started she was kicked out of AUC. Due to her expulsion, she also lost her house in Amsterdam (AUC provides a room for each one of their students, but they have to leave the dorms in case of drop out or expulsion). Houseless and broke Radoslava remained in Amsterdam, unable to go back to her home country facing  her “failure”.

She kept on looking, convinced that in the city she would have managed to find an opportunity that would have allowed her to somehow reconstruct a life which seemed to be lacking any certainty. throughout this research she got to know different groups and met many different people, experiencing the downsides of a big city: ” I started squatting. First I lived in a refugee squat, some of the people there had lost their relatives, they didn’t have a place to go, it was starting to know reality. It showed me how civilized people in Europe live in a bubble where the troubled people are put in prison, or just are not paid any attention to because they are not pleasant to look at…It is forbidden to sleep on the streets and parks in Netherlands! And when there is no place for you to go where the fuck are you supposed to go? And if you get caught, you go to jail.” Ivanova said.

Radoslava grew more and more irritated with what, in her opinion, was an inhumane system. She started to grow intolerant, encountering the consequences of her “misbehavior”: “I went to Den Haag the night before the International Nuclear Summit and started spraying Peace for Tibet on the walls of buildings on the way of the procession of the World Leaders so that they could see it. I got arrested and then got to experience the beautiful wonder of jail time. Jail is something you cannot talk about and discuss if you haven’t actually experienced it. It’s really fascinating thing, such a simple action – you just get locked up in tiny room – but so powerful! The moment I got in the cell I realized what it is to be human! You have so many abilities, you are a God-like creature, able to manifest in so many magical and amazing ways… when you get locked up you suddenly realise that you cannot do anything! They take you your humanness! It is so humiliating! You have every right to kill me if you want, it is your choice, your sin, you can do it if you decide, but not lock somebody up! The jail system if really ridiculous. It absolutely fails to resolve social issues, to lock a person up is like the parents locking out their child – they are just helpless and hide from the problem.” Ivanova said.

She was kept in jail for a week and then released she was facing the same situation in which she was before. Slowly she became more and more involved into squatting, even if the community still demanded rules and codes of conducts. Radoslava had no choice, after her jail experience she was feeling so alienated from the rest of that society that to her eyes just looked like a system: “The last squat in which I lived in was a complex of 5 squatted buildings. The scary punks and outcasts were actually supporting each other, always helping out, taking care of each other, and they were happy! We cooked food for everybody, when you went to a place you could always get food and something to eat for free, just people being kind to each other. I could not believe it. Were they using drugs? Yes, they were, but not more than the posh business kids I had met in den Haag or more than any other modern person. We live in a drug society but only the people that just don’t look  pretty when taking their drugs are being judged.” Ivanova said.

Living in an environment in which she felt more accepted, Radoslava had finally the time to think over the two previous years of her life, finally realizing that (for her) it did not really matter whether she was living in a place in which she could turn her abilities into some greater good for the world.

All she wanted was to find an environment in which she could work on herself, and that was home in her small village: ” I lived more than half an year in crazy places, sleeping in my sleeping bag, painting all the walls I wanted in the squats, sharing food with people, trying to save Tibet, trying to save the world. I always had some master plan, some plot to save the world… My greatest lesson actually from being abroad was that I love Bulgaria. In Holland I was an immigrant…I also realized that instead of changing the world, I must first change myself.. And now I am here in Bulgaria, I am happy, magic is happening, next month I am participating in a alternative festival and I am making a workshop for traditional Bulgarian dances and also an Art atelier. I am making exhibitions with other people and everything that I have ever dreamed of is slowly materializing. It’s just that I found the right soil for it to grow – home!” Ivanova said.

Radoslava Ivanova concluded her story with a sentence that struck me, a saying which I had never heard before: ” I think that a person is born in a given place for a reason, there is a saying that when your soul is being reborn and comes down to earth it makes two choices – first is your parents and second is the land. All your lessons, all your energy flows from these two choices.”

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