“Always Give Everything the Benefit of the Doubt”

Viktoria is an eighteen-year-old student from Bulgaria. Since a tender age, she realized that what triggers her altruistic perceptions is that she wants to be aware of this world and to contribute to its development. It dawned on her that her dedication should be aimed at helping people improve. She is ready to overcome every obstacle on her path through the nourishing obligation of becoming that key figure to reshaping the thinking model of a whole nation and to inducing the understanding of fairness, equality and commitment. Viktoria Kostova's mentor is Iliana Schmatelka.

Q: Tell us a few things about your country, and also your life's story! 

A: My country - Bulgaria - is situated on the Balkan peninsula. Plovdiv, the city I live in (the second-largest city in Bulgaria) is one of the most ancient towns in the world - according to The Guardian 'Plovdiv, meanwhile, has a far stronger case, with evidence of continuous settlement dating back to 6,000BC'. Lucian (Roman writer) wrote: 'This is the biggest and loveliest of all cities. Its beauty shines from faraway'.

It is selected to be the Bulgarian host of European Capital of Culture in 2019. It is famous as 'the City Under the Hills' because it is built on seven hills. One of the most interesting places is 'Kapana' district ('The Trap') which is an art site, full of creative industries. Bulgaria is distinguished as a country of abundant nature and a diversity of cultural traditions with colourful folklore. In its capital - Sofia - a lot of international exhibitions and conferences are held.

My life story begins in Plovdiv - I have always had a strong passion for literature and from an early age I have been reading a lot, books and articles, and I started participating in different projects and competitions. Throughout these days I also discovered the pleasure of sports as I used to train track and field athletics professionally. Today, I practice yoga and I am extremely interested in Eastern culture. During my life journey, I realized that the thing that has existential importance for me is my ability to help people so I enrolled in a couple of voluntary organisations. I also was keen on English from the very beginning so I became a Junior Counsellor in GLOW Leadership Academy where I had the opportunity to provide girls aged 14-18 with information about 'soft skills', European programmes, etc. Later on, I held a lecture about the nature of emotions on a festival, dedicated to the healthy way of living, because I was trying to identify my own feeling and was self-analysing my thoughts from a psychological perspective. Since then, I was an intern for Bauersachs foundation as an 'Assistant communications and events', I learnt a lot about entrepreneurship and marketing and I did simultaneous translation for an outsourcing conference and for TEDx Plovdiv.

Q: What is your view of the world as it is today? And how do you define the concept of a better world?

A: I think that nowadays people are confused - they do not have enough information for great examples to inspire them and guide them through the path of self-discovery and awareness. Youth generation has not been taught how to properly search for the data it needs - media is the dominating source and is manipulated and full of negative influence. We have the obligation to educate ourselves and to provide the world with emphatic, emotionally-intelligent people who do not depend on their ego and materialistic interests. A better world is an aware world - there is no difference between us, differentiation in terms of religion or race or whatever only enriches the beauty of the Universe. We are all one and people should be encouraged to be socially engaged, to do voluntary work and to acknowledge their inner world and intuition - the essence of life is not in the job that you are going to get but in the impact of your actions towards the human being in need.

Q: What are some of the key challenges in your society?

A: People struggle with acceptance - they find it hard to adapt to the altered values and hectic lifestyle. There is an adoration of the term 'busy'. A lot of representatives of the young generation seem to be rebels and to oppose to the society norms. This is because they do not understand and simply have other perceptions for the community and its meaning - and there is nothing bad about that. 

We should embrace our subjectivity and support each other, be tolerant and grateful. Moreover, there is a lack of trust between the government power and the people - with the absence of transparency it is almost impossible for a harmony to be achieved. Many misinterpretations exist. That is why we need to create an environment in which young motivated people could fulfill their potential, participate in the government decision-making processes and build a community with perseverance, ambition and integrity.

Q: As a young individual what are a few of the hurdles that you had to overcome up until today?

A: The source of our troubles in Bulgaria is the educational system - the opinions of the young generation are not taken into account and we do not have the right to choose. There is no space for creativity and individual horizon - everything is supposed to be universal and to lead to unification. We have different academic interests and we also need a personal approach in the communication with our teachers and more non-formal methods of training because there IS space for art in science. So the most significant obstacle for me was to search for sources of information that were going to help me with my development and improvement and that are independent and non-biased.

Q: Why is the role of a mentor important for you?

A: Because a mentor is a leader-he shifts the circumstances around him so they would match his ideas and he never makes compromises with his beliefs. Also, a mentor has more life experience, he can help you cultivate determination, devotion and integrity and will guide you in the right direction but will leave you alone on the path so you can gain experience.

Q: Do you have a lesson that life has taught you and you would like to share?

A: Life taught me to always give everything the benefit of the doubt and to never speculate or be prejudiced. Everything could be achieved through an honest conversation without hidden motives.

Q: Name a project, a foundation or a person in your country that you think is doing great work in helping improve other people's lives!

A: Bulgarian Red Cross, Center for Development of Human Services, Modern Academy of Arts 'Syndicate', Time Heroes, NAVA, 'Hello Health',  'I Can Too', a NPO that helps children with autism.

Q: Share with us a phrase, a poem or a story that you love or you find interesting!

A: ’Salvation must grow out of understanding, total understanding can follow only from total experience, and experience must be won by the laborious discipline of shaping one’s absolute attention.’ - Dante Alighieri, 'Divine Comedy'

Q: Tell us one thing that you have learned from your mentor.  

A: To respect the vulnerability in people; to never spare time and efforts for what I really appreciate; to be conscious of the present moment.