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Author Archives: violeta

About violeta

No special talents, just passionately and fashionably curious! I blog about what I can no longer keep to myself, and I write about my experiences and reactions to them. Everything from travel, sports and books, to social issues, trends and findings. I myself am a Bulgarian expat living in Amsterdam for more than 5 years now, mostly very happy and accustomed to my new home, and at times questioning where and what home is, craving for some neverland. I try to keep up with my regular job being a data scientist, my soon to be past academic research and my freelance editing while maintaining my passion for books and sports. I am a regular runner (did a marathon) and enjoy the mental release that comes with my boxing trainings. Besides books, sports, travel and expat life, I am interested in various social phenomena -- be it trends in happiness, inequality across nations or within a nation, and different determinants of behavior. In my research, I explored why some people turn the way that they are and what experiences and factors shaped them to be in this particular way, why they make the choices that they make and what this tells us overall about the general well-being of humanity. But above all, I am fascinated by numbers and data, which is what I am making my living from these days. Thanks for stopping by my blog, I hope you enjoyed reading it!

How I’ve been working out 5+ times a week for the past few months …and never felt better

In the past couple of years two major changes took place in my life. First, I left my academic life behind — and with it — the flexible schedule which allowed me to go for a run in the middle of the day. Second, I turned thirty and realised that unlike in my teenage years  it’s not okay to gulp down whatever and whenever I felt like.

While five years ago I used to box 4, sometimes 5 times a week and run on the weekends, 3 years ago I was running marathons, 1.30 years ago I would come back from work home to my boyfriend, too tired and unmotivated to do any sports. First my sport activities were limited to running on the weekends (I cannot run outside when it is dark because I am super clumsy and trip a lot 🙂 ). However, autumn in the Netherlands mean almost constant rain, wind, and overall gloom, which meant not even every weekend.

I was getting out of shape. If I had to run after the tram, I’d occasionally find myself being out of breath. So, last year January I bought a treadmill. I am fortunate enough to live in an apartment that has space for a whole treadmill (and that space is strategically positioned opposite the TV) and to be able to afford one. This is a prime example of how though money does not increase our happiness if you have enough to cover your basic needs, it can definitely be exchanged for goods and services, which can result in a permanent long-term boost in our well-being.

Fast forward a few months. I started a new job last spring and one of the perks of the job is the on-location fitness center. What I am most grateful for, however, are the group lessons they offer. I have discovered the comfort of going to a boot camp or a body pump class during your lunch break.

So, for a few months now I have been consistently attending such classes 4 days of my working week, and on the weekend I do my cardio/running. I have to say this has been one of the best things I could do for my body, health and ultimately, happiness. First of all, I have never had so many muscles! When I was preparing for a marathon, I was at my leanest but now I am definitely at my toughest. There is something so empowering in being in great shape and in being strong. Effects on my figure aside, I have noticed that I am in general craving healthier food, so my diet has naturally improved as well. Sleep also comes easily these days, and I had periods of my life when it used to be an enormous problem. Of course, we all know that exercise also helps to reduce stress, and that it does beautifully for me.

But such rigorous exercise does something more as well. Today when I was walking to the gym to go to my class, I noticed I was so happy and eager to go, I was almost hopping and jumping with excitement like a child. It’s not only the numerous physical benefits that motivate me but rather the mental ones: it’s this mixture of reward for doing something good for yourself, entangled with challenging yourself and seeing improvement; it’s having this luxury to disregard everything and everyone for a while in the middle of the day and just be quiet with yourself. It’s a treat and the best thing I have done for myself in a while.

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Posted by on February 27, 2018 in Sports

 

On (in)tolerance

Years ago when I still lived in my home country and was about to decide where in Western Europe I’d go to pursue my graduate education, how open/tolerant a country is towards people like me (highly educated expats from Southeastern Europe) was very important. There were a few countries which were unrivalled champions in that regard – or so I thought. I ended up coming to the Netherlands and have been happily living in Amsterdam ever since, which is such an open-minded and vibrant city, right?

Not always. What I will now share may come as a shock to many who believe in Dutch tolerance the way a flat-earther believes he can fall off the edge of the world. And sharing this has definitely not been easy, I wanted to write this post for a very long time but everytime I went through those experiences, I’d get angry and frustrated… Anyways, read on.. 🙂

While I was still in grad school and moving mostly in academic circles and mingling with other foreign students like myself, it was all glorious. Those were the days I’d enjoy Amsterdam to the fullest. Crazy school schedule aside, it was all quite marvellous — biking everywhere, dynamic cultural life, wonderful clubs and an endless supply of parties to choose from. It was never dull or boring. No one really ever misspoke to me or mistreated me. Of course, I found it a bit sad and strange that it was difficult to befriend an average Dutch person but it also made sense. They all already had an established circle of friends here and did not need to invest time in building a friendship with someone who could just be passing through.

But somehow when I ventured and dared out of my academic bubble, I saw that not everyone was as kind. Case 1… During my PhD studies, I had to commute a lot by train. In some Dutch trains you have a so-called ”silent couch”, which obviously means you should be quiet and NOT talk. I enjoyed the idea of the silent couches very much because I thought it could give me the chance to read, do some work, and all in all make use of my commute time. Once a group of 3-4 loud, white, male Dutch teenagers came in, and I went and kindly asked them (in English because my Dutch was quite shaky still) if they could please keep it down or move to another couch. They responded back, in English, that they will do whatever they want and if I want to demand something from them, I should learn Dutch first and address them in Dutch in their own country… And continued to be very loud and obnoxious whereas I felt lower than a murderer of a baby kitten. As shocked as I was from their response, I was more disappointed that other people in the couch did not interfere, they way they often do (epsecially like when it is absolutely none of their business)..

Fast forward to a few weeks later, I am on another train. A couple of foreigners who spoke in Russian and had a little toddler with them came to a silent couch, and quite obviously they were not aware what it was. Then mere seconds later some white, middle-aged Dutch gentleman started shouting angrily to them in English to go to another couch and wondering where the hell they were brough up in, and have they ever seen a civilisation.

Fast forward yet some months more, and there I was looking for a job in the industry. By that time, I had finished my PhD and I thought that gave me relatively good chances in a growing, healthy economy, especially in a very booming field (I work in machine learning). It was not as easy to find a job as expected. I do acknowledge that the job market is all about matching indeed (I was mostly looking in the summer, which can be a bit slower because everyone was on a holiday), and I had no working experience in the field at that point. I also do understand how in some smaller companies where they conduct most of their business and daily operations in Dutch, they’d feel it too much of a burden to deal with a foreigner. Anyways, fastforward to a job and a career and all and then this happens… I was told by people at a workplace (people higher in the hierarchy than me) that they can simply take any random Dutch person from the street and they could do my job just equally well.

Another fun fact I realised was that since I left academia and the research world, all my colleagues who had PhDs were foreigners. Non-Dutch. Expats. Yes, a big part of the reason is that after finishing their degrees they perhaps liked it here and wanted to stay and work in the country. And academia is a very tight and competitive market in any field, as far as I know. You often do not have a choice of where you end up living. So if you want to work here, you leave academia and find a normal 9 to 5 job. Yes, I understand why I’d see mostly foreign PhDs in the industry. However, that doesn’t explain why most of these people (my sample is not that large after all, so perhaps I am wrong) start at the same level as a Dutch person with a bachelor/at best master degree. They are seldom given higher positions or more responsibilities. Apparently, if you a foreigner, you need to have higher education to be considered qualified to do the same work as your Dutch colleague.

The truth is that once I left my cozy, academic bubble I realised how the famous Dutch tolerance is not as widespread as they like to pride themselves with. In an average Dutch corporation, you’d be hard-pressed to find diversity — be it gender, ethnical, national — especially at the top levels. One of the reasons I did a PhD was because I wanted to have a better chance on the job market. Because if you are a young woman from Southeastern Europe in her late 20’s looking for a job in a market dominated by a middle-aged white males (who pride themselves on being tolerant because they perhaps go to a gay barber), then you better bring up the big guns and surpass them in skills, education and open-mindedness. And this, for them is pretty scary. And no, I will not shut up or rot up naar mijn eigen land.. 

girl power

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2017 in Discrimination, Intolerance

 

Taking some time off and the complete serenity of it

Not long ago I wrote about how important it is to timely act upon all decisions and urges we have, and not put things off (you can find the post here). I mentioned there that I was planning to take a few weeks off between my two jobs because I had never before had the chance to do that. Well, now my time is up and I wanted to share how the whole experience went for me. Spoiler alert: It was one of the best things I have ever done and few things in life have made me happier.

One of the first things that happened was that I was put in uncomfortable situations. I travelled with a group of other people, who spoke a language at which I don’t feel super fluent; I travelled alone, going on daily excusions, communicating with people I never met in my life, explaining and sometimes defending the fact that I was travelling alone. I travelled with my boyfriend and we were offerred overpriced touristic ‘attractions’ which made me feel quite uncomfotable. But all of these weird and uncomfrable things did expand my horizons, one way of another.

Secondly, I got to visit stunning places I always wanted to go to. All of them — to some extent but not equally — had rich history, interesting culture, beautiful nature, delicious food, soulfood music, friendly people, interesting flora and fauna, and all the air of a new place that charms and mystifies you.

When you take away the stress and pressure of your job, of the daily routine, of all small troubles and trepidations you have in your everyday life, something wonderful happens. You open up for new experiences, you start noticing the small beautiful details of things that surround you, and stop sweating off the small stuff. You become content with little and you want to do more. But then again, it is easy to feel that way when you have nothing to really worry about.

I had the chance to spend time reading books, doing some sports, watching movies and TV series, to find new music that calms and inspires me and overall, open up and allow myself to be moved by different forms of art. In the past, whenever I had some free time, I would devote a bigger part of it to learning something new, usually related to my job, or related to learning the local language (in my case, Dutch). But now I read for pleasure. I watched silly, as well as beautiful movies. I watched TV series about beautiful places and women leading ordinary lives but having extraordinary friendships. I ran outside when the weather permitted and simply enjoyed the sun and breeze in my face, taking in the view wherever I was. I listened to music that gave me goosebumps. I sang in the shower to it and danced to it while no one was around. I lied on a gorgeous Caribbean beach and simply looked at the wind playing with the palms’ leaves.

For a few weeks I simply did nothing but I felt everything, experienced so much and have seldom before in life had this feeling of pure content and serenity. I focused on myself, and at the same time, focused on everything and everyone but me. I reflected and felt grounded. I travelled, I saw, I sought and felt complete and utter freedom. Would I have felt this way if things in my life were different, if say I did not have a job waiting for me, or a person happy to see me back from each new trip? I don’t know. Will I ever be able to travel as much, and to feel this way of complete freedom and satisfaction with my life and feel like I might not have everything I ever wanted but I have more than I ever hoped for and needed? I don’t know. Will I be able to go to some stunning, gorgeous places any time soon and forget about all the little troubles I might have at that point in my life? I certainly hope so. It might not happen to me again but these past few weeks have been among the best and happiest time in my life. I felt I have travelled a lot but I always felt at home, I always felt safe, sometimes homesick though not sure for where. And now I returned and feel at ease. I feel sad it is over but I am energized and ready to tackle a new challenge. But I have to admit a very good part of this all was that there was someone, always awaiting for me to return.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2017 in Happiness, Travel

 

Life is too short to put things off

I am not into new year’s resolutions. I never needed this kind of stimulus to make changes in my life. Whenever something feels not right, I try to change it as soon as I get the courage and summon the power of will to do so.

This year somehow something did not feel exactly right. In particular, I was in this job, which I enjoyed but was getting a bit bored at. I had a steep learning curve at the beginning but things had begun to taper off. Given that this is my first industry job, and coming from an environment where you always want to learn more, there is always something else, some new skill and technique to add to your arsenal, I decided I was too young, and was at too early a stage at my career, to become that comfortable. So, I made a switch. And unlike the first time when I looked for a job (you can read about my experiences which were anything but a walk in the park here), this time things worked out quote smoothly.

Then the next thing I really wanted and needed to do was to take a month off between assignments. Most people will do that after high school or college. But after high school I had no money to travel, nor after undergrad and grad school. After completing my PhD, from my new job they wanted me to immediately start working. So I split my vacations between going back home and stealing a weekend here and there. But that’s it. No where super exciting. Nowhere you need shots to go to. And when if not now? After all, what to do with some draining savings if not invest them in life experiences?

It is an overused cliché, but life is indeed too short to postpone what you want to do. A completely different life could be only a decision away. And a few steps out of your comfort zone.

 
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Posted by on March 19, 2017 in Holidays, Life, Uncategorized

 

Putting 2016 behind

As the bad news keep on pouring on us on a daily basis, many of us – I bet – are eager to put the year behind. I am not one who is very fascinated or excited with the coming of any new year (partly because January and February are such bleak months, they tend to get me a little depressed). Therefore, I never do New Year’s resolutions, never draw lines and make countdowns when the year comes to an end. But given the many bad things happened to humanity in the past year, it made me ponder how well I fared.

It has been not such a bad year for me personally. I did have a number of firsts and a number of achievements. The biggest is perhaps that I defended and obtained my PhD diploma, something I was working on in the past 3 years of my life. I wish back then I felt a speck of pride or joy, but well… I am and will be reaping the fruits of it in the future, I hope.

I moved out of the apartment I was sharing with other people in the past 4 years to an independent, grown-up space of my own. I got to decorate it the way  it seemed fit to me, I painted it and bought the furniture I wanted to have in it.

I was doing well in my job and in my relationship. I learned a lot at my job, and was happy to be adding value to an important real-life problem. My relationship also moved on to the next level and I shared many happy moments and invaluable experiences with my significant other.

I did some travelling and exploring. When it comes to travelling, my notion is that it can never be enough, but I am always satisfied if at least I have visited some place I had never seen before (and re-visited some other beloved places).

I have also been enriched in life experiences. I sort of overcame my fear of roller coasters, I saw some amazing operas, I attended a concert of Coldplay (and Coldplay and U2 were the dream!), needed to become comfortable riding a motorcycle, learned how to paint and assemble furniture, completed (yet another :P) course in Dutch (so allegedly, now I am supposed to be good at it), for the first time ate at a Michelin-star restaurant, climbed mountains, read more than 30 books, had another academic paper accepted to a good journal, and overall, will finish the year feeling a bit enriched, older and wiser than at its beginning. And in my book, the past years have not been all that eventful..

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2016 in new year, Uncategorized

 

Abandoned places in Bulgaria

To be honest I do not always closely follow all news that involve my home country. Of course, I keep up-to-date with the major events, and strangely with the (less important) news from my region and home town. Certain things (such as political news, corruptions and all kinds of scandals), I prefer to ignore. I, however, do not apply this ostrich approach to humane feature stories; I do not close my eyes and ears for the daily misery and tragedy that engulfs lives of many people in Bulgaria.

There are a certain type of photo features (or you might say photo journalism) that I especially appreciate and devour. These are photo series of now almost abandoned places, usually villages in some mountainous location in Bulgaria. There is so much nostalgia oozing from these photos. I am transported to the days of my own childhood when I used to visit my grandparents who lived in a small town themselves. At the same time, I notice the lonely, small, cobbled streets, the houses which are falling apart, and the few, most often old people living there. I cannot help but think that after them, no one will be left, and these villages will become complete ghost places, until the wind and the rain dissolves and washes away anything left from the old barrack-like structures, and nothing will be left from its former residents. A part of me is saddened that these villages, once prosperous, housing sizeable populations, were bursting with activity and now are sleeping in silence. Yet another part of me, appreciates the silence, even envies it. That part of me sometimes, when life gets hard, dreams of escaping everything and everyone and finding solance and refuge in such a place.

But let me stop rumbling, and leave you strol through some forsaken places in Bulgaria. I can look at these forever..

Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with taking these photos, I found a number of these series on the High View Art site that I follow on social media.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2016 in Life, Nostalgia

 

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Moving in a grown up apartment for the first time on your own

After first living with my parents until I moved abroad to do my grad studies, then living in student dorms, and sharing an apartment with other people for a few years, a moment came when I could not take it anymore. I just couldn’t be woken up by noises on the street in the relatively noisy neighborhood I used to live in, by flatmates you don’t have the same schedule as me, or spending hours on cleaning other people’s mess. I was just done.

Now, when it comes to housing in Amsterdam, one should always keep one thing in mind : it is a cruel, grueling, making-you-want-to-give-up-the-will-to-live process. And I struggled with it. For  a couple of months, I visited apartments in nice and not so nice neighborhoods, I took time off from work, took days off, sent endless applications forms, collected documents and documents, and then some more documents. I tried, visited apartments, submitted forms and waited for months. And then, I was lucky to get an apartment I really wanted in a new and very residential part of the town.

Very often when you rent an apartment via an agency, the apartment is completely empty, often needing serious renovation.I liked the apartment I am currently living in because it needed a bit less of the hassle. I ‘only’ had to paint it and lay a floor in the bedroom.

And the work only started from there. Little did I know how much I little informed i was about renovations, hooking up appliances to the electricity and making grownup decisions such as what pieces of furniture to buy for which room. But fortunately, they either offer a service for everything, or if you cannot afford it, there is always a helpful friend or your boyfriend who can help you for you.

Not only the limitations of my knowledge and, sometimes purely physical power, were a limitation. I was also short on time. I had only a few weeks to move out from my old  flat, set everything in place in the new one (enough so to make it livable), alongside my full time job in another city. For a while I had to forget what it felt like sleeping without an alarm clock, free time on the weekend, and in general having time for things as simple as doing sports. Now, I didn’t do everything absolutely alone. My boyfriend was helping as much as he could, but as it happened, he could not be there as much as I needed him. Friends also helped me. But mostly I was struggling, suffering and bruising on my own.

The awesome part though is that you might be suffering on your own but you end up going where you want to go, and you end up creating the cozy little place in which you feel absolutely comfortable. And it is all up to you, not having parents, friends, landlords, or partners setting it up instead.

And I cannot describe the pure joy of simply sleeping to your own needs and desires, or having just a little peace and comfort after a busy day at work. Just a quiet place where you can be on your own, all by yourself, undisturbed and perfectly at ease. Then relax with a cup of tea or wine and indulge in a guilty-pleasure type of a habit (mine is TV series).

But even I cannot deny that it also feels pretty great when someone is waiting for you in the quiet little place to come back home.

 
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Posted by on October 17, 2016 in Feeling at home, Uncategorized

 

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