Growing up during the Bulgarian socialist regime, Silvia Lozeva dreamt of exploring a world that was always just out of reach. She has since lived in 10 countries, taking every opportunity presented to her. Now she’s the Project Officer for Curtin AHEAD, where she uses her experiences to help disadvantaged youth see the potential they have and the benefits of higher education.
What inspired you to travel the world?
A lot of things actually, but I should probably start with the fact that I lived under almost every political regime that you can think of. At the time I was born in Bulgaria, it was a socialist country so we were not allowed to leave the country. I often saw the big buses and trains passing by my hometown, and it was always my dream to be on one of those buses one day. We often used to drive down to the Greek border with my father and look at the mountains on the other side and at the time they were always out of reach and as soon as the borders opened I couldn’t wait to explore the world. I took the first opportunity there was.
What age were you when you started exploring?
I was 21 years old at the time, I remember because I had just graduated from my economics degree at the University of National and World Economy. The first place I travelled to outside of Bulgaria was Graz in Austria; I still remember how beautiful the trams were. It’s a beautiful place and very different from Bulgaria. I also migrated to Wellington, New Zealand and I loved everything there, especially the environment. I started working for the Ministry of Fisheries, but at night I volunteered at Community Access Radio where I quickly learned how to host a live radio show. Two of us produced a science-fiction audio novel, called This Pointless Thing Called Life, and even won an international award. For the first time, I learned that nothing was impossible, if you put your heart into it. A complete contrast to the socialist regime I grew up with.
Why did you choose to come to Curtin as a PhD student and then work here as an academic?
It wasn’t an immediate transition so to speak. In between Bulgaria and Australia I lived in about 10 different countries. New Zealand for two years, Russia for a year, Czech Republic, Slovakia, the UK.
My first point of arrival in Australia was Sydney. I was at Wollongong University for a short period of time. To be honest the attraction to WA and Curtin was actually the picture of dolphins on the lonely planet guides. You would not believe that, but I had a lot of reservations about coming so far to live and study. Obviously I had other opportunities as a European citizen and it was this picture that completely tipped the scales. I was just fascinated by it. I always dreamt of seeing sea lions or dolphins or whales. It was just beautiful and was one of the reasons why I decided to take up the opportunity to study here.
Have you had the chance to go out swimming with the dolphins whilst you’ve been here?
I actually haven’t been. But I did my PhD on environmental activism and migration so I’ve seen the whales. My first trip was down in Dunsborough with a whale watching cruise and I was a volunteer with the Sea Shepherd for a while as well.
It was interesting with the Sea Shepherd because the Steve Irwin ship was docked in Fremantle, and I did my PhD just 500 metres away from the port. So we were frequent visitors to the Sea Shepherd and it was how I did a lot of my field work for my PhD because I interviewed a lot of the crew members.
What do you love most about your current job, working for AHEAD?
I guess I’ve always had a passion for ethics and social justice, since I’ve been either a victim of it, or a witness to it. One of the things that attracted me to it was the community outreach projects where we can make a real difference. It just sort of happened that I followed my dreams and my career and education path followed me.
Are there any particular projects that you’re currently working on?
One of the projects I’m working on is called ‘Ride AHEAD’ and I’ve just come from Parkerville Children and Youth Care. So basically this is a project where we aim to re-engage young people with education. This is to help people who are severely disadvantaged – people who have suffered trauma or abuse in their lives by trusted adults – and we are creating a program of fun mentoring, with bike restoration workshops, as well as campus visits, career guidelines, and sustainability seminars.
Besides Ride AHEAD, are there any other examples you can give of what you’re doing?
Yes, we are creating forums for refugees and anyone who has a humanitarian background to voice their concerns about access to higher education. Currently we have a partnership with the City of Belmont where we will be holding a forum and another in November in the city of Mirrabooka. We had one at Curtin last November called ‘Let’s talk student debt’, where we talked about the financial barriers and the potential effects of university deregulations on aspirations and access to higher education.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone, what would it be?
My grandfather always used to say to me, “Silvia when you walk never look down, always look up.” I always thought this was a health hazard at the time! But now I realise what he meant. So in a metaphorical sense, always look up never down. Also, just keep going. If you keep at it you will get there.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I just want to say something about the Humans at Curtin, and why I think it’s important. There are so many stories and a lot of people do not feel part of the bigger picture. Well at least I didn’t feel like I was a part of Curtin for a long time, it was only when I felt like I could make a difference that I felt like I belonged in Curtin. But I realised that no matter what you do you’re still making a difference, no matter how little or small you feel.