Bulgarian participant Eliyana Pilitova (centre) shares her impressions of the week – from flight delays to the grand finals and beyond
I’m Ellie, a 17-year-old dreamer from Haskovo, a small town in Bulgaria, where nothing much happens. I’m not particularly confident and I hate competing against others, so entering the national public speaking competition organised by ESU Bulgaria was not an obvious choice. It was only when my teacher suggested that I take part that I paid any attention. I was happy just to be there and had absolutely no expectations of winning, so I couldn’t believe it when I heard I had qualified for the International Round in London…
Day 1 – Late & tired
My flight was delayed which meant I missed the Meet and Greet, the Participant Briefing and the Opening Ceremony. And that was not all. I was late for dinner, too, and felt extremely awkward when I walked into the dining hall with two bags and a suitcase to see 50 young people already talking to each other, sharing experiences and ideas. That’s when I started questioning myself and my own abilities. Eventually, I managed to start a conversation with a couple of them. My first impression was that they were enormously intelligent, lively and open-minded. These are qualities that I admire, but at the same time I felt as if I didn’t belong. After dinner, we went to our hotel rooms. I’d hoped to get to know my roommate Aiman, representing Hong Kong, and to spend the rest of the evening talking to her and having fun but she declared she was too tired to talk and went to sleep. I was devastated, upset and tired, so I just fell asleep, too.
Day 2 – Making friends
Still sleepy, I heard the words ‘Good morning, roomie’. That’s when I realised that every cloud has a silver lining. Maybe this adventure would turn out to be memorable and exciting after all! With this in mind, I went downstairs to have breakfast. There I met three people who are now my favourite people on Earth: Dulya from Sri Lanka, Aulona from Kosovo and Kay, from Malta – the creator of the participants’ group chat, which still helps us to keep in touch now. We talked and laughed and I felt full of hope. On the other hand, I couldn’t forget that we had to make our country presentations that day. I usually joke a lot but I’m aware people don’t always understand my sense of humour so I was terrified I’d say something wrong or inappropriate. In the end, despite my fears, these presentations became a memory I will cherish forever. I learned about a lot of cultures, new dances and listened to the guitar music played by Beycan, the talented Turkish participant. Inspired by them, and by our amazing coaches, I managed to fight my fears and to talk and be myself.
Day 3 – Tips & tuition
Today we spent the morning in the incredible atmosphere of the Globe Theatre, where our awesome coach helped us brush up on our performance and presentation, focusing on having fun. Later on, while giving my prepared speech, I forgot everything I had practiced – so my prepared speech became suddenly an impromptu one. It was a far cry from what I had imagined, but I passed this test as well. I was still frightened, tired and stressed, but I got used to being with the other people. I met some in the Ladies’ Room, others during the speech training sessions and step by step these people became something like a family to me.
Day 4 – Fighting my fears
Impromptu speeches and sightseeing… Sounds cool, right? My topic was ‘Victory’, chosen because the competition is naturally connected to it. But as I spent time with the other participants and mentors, I realised that it’s not about being competitive and coming first; it’s winning your own battles and fighting your fears that really matters. And so, everything I experienced was very different and way better than I had expected. I no longer felt afraid and finally felt ready to spend the time left properly, bravely.
Day 5 – Believing in myself
I was late for breakfast. Why? Because, last night, a few of the girls and I partied in our room, which was forbidden by the way, but we tried to be as quiet as possible. It was interesting to me to note that when I’d arrived, I was so shy to speak in English; and yet now I felt uncommonly confident in everything I was saying and doing. Even though my speech didn’t take me through to the grand final, I was inspired and impatient to see what the other participants, now my friends, had to say. Every entry I heard was beautiful in its own way – some people talked about their country’s government, while others preferred to tell a personal story. All of them taught me something valuable, too, from the importance of loving myself, to believing in my abilities, being persistent and using my voice for doing good deeds.
Now I’m back in Bulgaria and although I still hate competitions, this was no ordinary competition. Meeting so many new people, getting close to them and being surrounded by their smiles does not feel like rivalry. Instead, it has given me over 50 international friends, many stories to share and an adventure I will never forget. I arrived in London terrified but I’ve left motivated to work hard, study more and with a passionate interest in other cultures and countries. The group chat has done its work and we still use it every day – indeed we’re already planning a reunion in Italy next year. Things like time differences never bother us, for our bond is strong and we know that, even though we live in different places, we will always have each others’ backs.