Apart from one of my best and oldest friends, Diana Ivanova is an exceptional being, who has lived in 3 Scandinavian countries and recently moved to the UK. She has a Ph.D. as an environmental researcher and works hard not only to contribute to humanity’s sustainable development but also to be a better person. Here’s what she had to say for #POEE.

– Who are you?

Fill in your version of me here if you already have one. If not, I’m sure you’ll have one by the time you stop reading this text

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe

– What do you think of, when you think of Eastern Europe?

Home.

– You went to university in Western Europe right out of high school. In your opinion, what are some of the educational benefits there that are lacking in Eastern Europe?

To be completely honest, I did not make that conscious a decision. I was 18 years old, I had never left Bulgaria, I felt very curious about what life abroad and the people there would be like. I started a business program in Denmark, and I didn’t know what it would be about either.

I was one of the youngest students in the class because in Denmark it is common to use a couple of years after finishing high school to decide what to study or work with. Most people would get a job, do crafts or travel for a while.

I did well in that program, but I also lacked perspective and did not question it all that much. Some years later, I shifted my focus to ecology and sustainability, which felt more meaningful, needed and nourishing for my soul.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe

I don’t know how to compare the education systems as I never went to a university in Eastern Europe. Friends of mine who did have complained about lack of perspective and practice in the studies, poor discipline, less help with career development.

Something I missed during my studies abroad was the connection of the concepts we learn with the world around us. I also disliked the general drive to specialize in ever smaller and deeper subject areas thus losing perspective of the whole. I think we need to pause and rethink.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe

– You recently completed your Ph.D. but when you first moved abroad you worked in several different places. Do you feel you were treated differently at your job or university because of where you come from?

During my bachelor and master studies, I did various part-time jobs that paid my bills. At first, I went for jobs that were less mentally demanding – in a kitchen, hotel, warehouse – and as my studies progressed – I started tutoring and working on research projects. My colleagues out of the university were a diverse crowd and I appreciated them for that. I felt included in social gatherings, and I was generally treated well.

In my part-time jobs, there were also occasional remarks about my poorer origins or lack of cultural knowledge, from the “wittiest” staff members. Almost always these remarks came from people who barely knew me. And almost always it was more about the person saying it and their fears, than it was about me. This was a much rarer event at university, and I have almost never experienced it as a Ph.D. student or a post-doc.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe

Discrimination happens and is toxic. I feel very lucky that my life has been so privileged and full of love – abroad and in Bulgaria. And sometimes people show a general interest in where I come from.

My French-Spanish boyfriend is now reading in Bulgarian, and this winter with his family we made “banitsa s kysmeti” (fortune pastry) in French rhymes. Some days ago, my singer-flatmate asked me to teach her a Bulgarian folk song. And I will.

– Do you think there are any differences between how men and women interact with each other in Eastern and Western Europe?

Yes. I would probably not use the “western” vs “eastern” here – rather it was Scandinavia that challenged a lot of my previous ideas about what healthy women-men interactions are like.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe
On a “cabin trip” in Norway.

Objectively, Scandinavia has tackled well issues of domestic violence, pay gap, children care, which improved the position of women in society and can be a useful example for other places. Yet – in my opinion – an internal revolution is also needed for a balanced interaction. I think we all – men and women – need to embrace more “feminine values” – compassion, empathy, connection, support – to create a more balanced society that truly thrives.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe
Here I am “spreading wings” close to Geirangerfjord, Norway. Then Susanne Böhm drew a beautiful image for the art project of 365 women in 365 days.

– Your area of expertise is centered on sustainable development. Do you find any differences in that field between Eastern and Western Europe?

There are definitely differences in the general awareness about environmental issues and more specifically climate change, and perhaps the capacity to act towards a change towards more sustainable ways of living.

Earlier this month I joined the climate school strike here in Leeds in the UK (where I currently live) with thousands of students, teachers and supporting adults. This was one of many strikes taking place in more than 100 countries, where more than 1.5 million strikers joined worldwide.

The snapshot below shows clear differences in the engagement of students across Europe. I don’t know why that is, but potential reasons come to mind: differences in the climate change education and the emphasis on the urgency to act in schools and universities, the general environmental awareness of the population,  the belief that a change is possible, other cultural and social norms, support by family, friends and institutions, general capacity to “worry about climate change” beyond more immediate concerns … and who knows what else.

I asked around and in my hometown Varna – the second (or third depending on who and when you ask, let’s stay on point) largest city in Bulgaria and no one in my circle had even heard about it.

According to #FridaysForFuture statistics, 51 Bulgarian students reported to strike around the country, keep it up you brave souls!

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe
Snapshot reporting the climate strikes happening in parts of Europe as of 27.03.2019. Source: https://www.fridaysforfuture.org/events/map

These trends are perhaps changing as I see more and more great environmental and social initiatives starting in Bulgaria or around.

I was recently involved in a project exploring various sustainability-focused grassroots initiatives in Europe and a coordinator from one of the Romanian ecovillages from the project shared that he regularly goes to networking events in Bulgaria. Lots of action is happening in Bulgaria too, I don’t live there now so, I am a bit behind on the news.

– What do you think needs to happen for Eastern Europe to be more appealing tourists and easier to live in for locals?

I don’t think we should try to be “appealing” for the tourists. I would prefer to focus my energy and capacity on improving the well-being of those around me first.

Satisfy basic needs like food, housing and adequate level of consumption – as well as other needs for a good life – good health, loving human interaction, inclusion in the community, protection and freedom, beautiful and thriving natural world. Wherever we are – our homeland or anywhere else– we are part of a bigger community, which can be nourished with our love, care, skills, and attention.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe
Bedford fields community garden in Leeds, where I spend a lot of my Saturdays with other volunteers and singing robins.

Bulgaria, and Eastern Europe, can benefit from a more genuine appreciation of their identity, customs, local knowledge and wisdom, which is not incompatible with tourism, but it sets a different priority. And who knows, the attracted tourists may even share some of these values and more respectfully visit the place and its people.

Diana Ivanova for #POEE People of Eastern Europe
On a cabin trip somewhere in the Norwegian forest, the most typical form of domestic tourism.

– Еven though you haven’t lived in Eastern Europe for the past few years, do you think there still are regional opinions and characteristics that affect your life now?

Definitely. My family, childhood friends and other teachers have all been key in shaping my values and worldviews. Thank you all, sending you lots of love!

– Let’s end the interview with something from the heart. Whatever you want to add 🙂

Diana added a text by Åsmund Seip. You’ll find it below and here is the link to the original website.

Well, here’s the thing: It’s easy to write about shit. This is not true, of course, it’s programming, it’s software. I learned this once, that shit’s better than gold, that shame’s better than joy, that the best way to be a human being is to be well hidden underneath fallen branches and wet moss. 

And I wasn’t the only one. The story we’ve told ourselves and our kids and our grandkids has been a struggling, fighting, shitty story. Scarcity. Austerity. Shut up and produce. But I don’t want that story anymore, I’m full of it, I’m sick of it. 

Because, here’s the thing: My body. Your body. The pattern of migrating birds. Oak leaves turning yellow. People facing reality, facing pain, facing whatever is right in front of their feet. People reaching out for help. And people helping.

I don’t think the universe wants shit. I know the universe wants flow. And balance. And compassion and love and expansion and friendship and children who get to grow and grow and grow until they’re as big as their dreaming souls. No, bigger. I know the universe wants life. And what is life? 

Life is here. 

(ah, how I love you when I write this) 

Here. Reaching out through our bodies, our actions, our songs. Saying loudly and clearly that the time for every kind of system that constrains life’s own movement is over. It’s done. It’s done. It’s time.

Time to let life in. 

How do you feel after reading about Diana’s worldview? Do you think that we should collectively turn to love and acceptance, instead of division? Please share your thoughts in the comments below or in the Facebok group People of Eastern Europe (#POEE).

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