Nelly Afzali ’17 and Nia Alexieva ’17: Drawing Inspiration From People and the Present Moment

December 21, 2016 by American College of Sofia

Interview by Petia Ivanova ’97

Nilofar (Nelly) Afzali is the girl with the guitar and the broad smile who takes part in all art events at ACS, whether she is playing the guitar or singing or both. I’d been waiting for a chance to interview her ever since I saw а beautiful and moving migration video that Nelly created last year.
Nia Alexieva is the girl with the ‘a video a day’ project, creating unique, touching videos, or “time capsules” as she calls them, of community events and personal moments, capturing the atmosphere and people’s emotions beautifully. Always first when it comes to volunteer work, Nia seems to be everywhere, and always there when you need her. Actually, they both are. Also, they are true friends to one another, so finding them together was pretty easy and so was getting them to agree to share a bit about themselves in a 2-in-1 interview that warmed us up inside on a freezing December day.

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When did you both start making videos?

Nia: My first video was made in 9th grade for our Geography class with Mr. Zhelev with technology from the previous century, so naturally it was a tragedy. But the first actually good video was for English class in 10th grade, when I had to do a monologue for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I guess ACS is what started my whole obsession.

Nelly: I remember doing a video for that class, too, with very, very bad equipment and quality! But if I have to say when I started making videos, I guess it goes back to 2011 on a funny little webcam. My first proper video on my current channel was posted 2 years ago. Since then, I have 105 public videos, most of which are music covers.

Nelly, when did you start making music?

I’ve been singing as long as I can remember, but the thing that made me start making music was the a cappella group at ACS, called Lotus Notes. I was part of the first formation in 2013. This group gave me the confidence to get on a stage and sing, and just a year after that I started my YouTube channel and also participated in the school concerts as a solo performer. I don’t think I would have improved as much as I did if I wasn’t part of this a cappella group.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Nelly: My smile.

Nia: I talk a lot. I’m in constant search for an argument to pick up (no bad intentions, of course). I just think that there are too many important topics that should always be discussed by as many people as possible.

What do you want to be known for?

Nelly: I want to be known for something good. And maybe that sounds cheesy and very predictable, but the reality is that a lot of people are known for that one bad thing that they’ve done or said. I want to make a change and to inspire people, and not so that I could gain acknowledgement or fame out of it, but because this is what I feel is right.

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Nelly, photo by Nia

What inspires you?

Nia: The present moment. I always want to make the most out of my time and I value every second that I have, so instead of trying to focus on what could or couldn’t happen, I just try concentrate on where I am now and what I can do to make the most out of the current situation. I mean, it sounds quite counter-intuitive, but staying grounded in the now is a much better motivational starting point than trying to shape my future that hasn’t even happened yet.

Nelly: People. I think people are so fascinating. We see the same things, but the meaning is different for each and every one of us. We share so many qualities, yet we are so different. One of the main reasons for me to keep filming and sharing my videos is that I want to show everyone how I view the world and find people that share this perspective. It is something that I am able to do thanks to the internet and the technology available to us.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your life so far?

Nia: Definitely trying to understand who I have become, what my voice stands for, the perspective I use to look at the world. I can’t even contemplate the way that I grow with every passing year, even every month and every time there is quite the drastic change. I guess that is why I resort to the camera so often because it is the way that I can record my perspective for the moment and see how it will change overtime.

Nelly: I definitely agree on this one. I’ve always wanted to keep a journal, but I’ve never done it successfully and my videos are the best way I can look back at my life.

Who helped you the most to get where you are?

Nelly: My friends. Being surrounded by such wonderful people that support you and encourage you is one of the best things one could have. They are the reason I am here. I did not have a camera when I started with my new channel and I always borrowed a friends. This friend taught me the basics of editing and using different software. The first guitar that I taught myself to play on was a friend’s, and the one that I have right now is a present from my friends. They’ve always been there for me, and they’ve helped me build up my personality into the person I am today.

Nia: For me it is also my friends. I am in a constant state of self-doubt, so actually having someone there that will always reassure you, if needed, is priceless.

What is your favorite journey?

Nelly: One of my favorite journeys is definitely the one I went on almost 5 years ago to Afghanistan. It was a dive into a completely different culture than the one I was surrounded with for my whole life. I got to see where my parents grew up and I met with relatives I had only seen in pictures. The only thing that I regret is not knowing to film back then. Showing the world this beautiful country through the eyes of a 12-year-old would have been a very interesting movie that unfortunately will never be a reality.

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Nia, photo by Alexandra Baranova ’17

Nia: Definitely the biggest journey I have been on is the first 10 years of my life. We moved from Germany to America to England and to Stara Zagora before we arrived to Sofia and the influence that all these cultures, people, and places have on me still resonates within almost everything that I say and do.

What is your greatest regret?

Nelly: My biggest regret is not going to any music lessons ever. The fact that technically, I do not understand almost anything about music is one of the biggest obstacles I have right now. There is no chance for me to develop much further in music if I do not have musical knowledge, but as a senior in high school, I don’t have the time to start going to lessons now.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Nia: I would love more than anything to have any kind of musical talent. Everybody around me is very musical, and I myself need music as a constant background to everything I do, so playing an instrument or being able to sing a cover with my friends would be a dream.

Nelly: I would love it if I could write any kind of literature nicely. I think it takes a lot of talent and practice to write something of value and quality.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Nelly: I am the worst procrastinator that I know of. Even this interview was postponed until the last possible day. After years of warnings from teachers not to leave the major assignment for the night before the deadline, I’ve always took it as a personal challenge to prove them wrong. As you might have guessed by now, most of the times I did not succeed. However, this is something I’m working on in my final year at ACS, and it is definitely a thing I would like to change about myself.

Nia: I want to have a little more faith in myself, since I always try to stay out of my comfort zone, which lays a very solid foundation for self-doubt. I do owe this to being a perfectionist, since I cannot possibly put something out there if it is not polished to the furthest possible extent. So I guess becoming less of a perfectionist and not being so hard on myself will definitely help me, although these are characteristics that I very much do value.

If you could change one thing about your school?

Nelly: I think that the one thing I truly dislike in the school system in general is that the focus has shifted from learning to memorizing, from creating something meaningful to writing just enough to get a 6. Our brains are filled with rubrics that we have to follow and the whole purpose of thinking is lost.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Nelly: Mine will have to be getting on a stage for the first time and managing to get through a full song without crying. It was definitely one of the scariest and most exciting moments in my life.

Nia: This is going to sound ridiculous, but getting a dog is my biggest achievement. I have wanted a dog since I was three years old and it took me nine years’ worth of arguing that I can take care of a dog. It is an actual living being that I need to take care of and I am completely alone in this task.

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Nia and her dog (from the People of Sofia collection)

What is your most treasured possession?

Nelly: Our cameras?

Nia: Oh yeah, our cameras. They offer you a completely different perspective on the world and that is so valuable, say, when you travel. The way that I can capture countries and cultures through the lens of my camera has no match. It is this little time capsule that you can carry around and keep some of your most important memories.

Nelly: Yeah, and although cameras are much more accessible nowadays, I’d still say that’s my most treasured possession. It gives me the chance to control what I show, so that I could create a world that anyone can see. I give people the chance to look through my eyes and a tool like that is irreplaceable.

What do you most value in your friends?

Nia: I value that they are all individuals of their own. I think it’s something that recently has been questionable, like the identity of someone just as a person and who they are. And I think that all of my friends are very self-identified.

Nelly: We kind of have the same friends, so I can talk for both of us. I’d say that one of my favorite things about them is the fact that they want to make us better people. Essentially, that is what people look for in their partners, but that’s what we have right now. Sometimes they criticize us, but it’s always with a good intention.

Nia: And also trust. These are the people that we trust the most and we share basically everything with each other.

What is it that you most dislike?

Nia: I dislike negativity. I really like it when people have an open and positive outlook on life. It’s just draining when you are surrounded by negativity.

Nelly: I completely agree. There is no point in spreading hate and being pessimistic. I try to avoid people like that.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Nelly: It doesn’t exist. Nothing is perfect. I think that anyone whose goal is to be perfect, will always be disappointed because this concept is created to be unreachable.

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Nelly and her guitar

Nia: I don’t know about the word “perfect,” but happiness is when I do the things that I love and want to do. That’s my goal in life.

What is your greatest fear?

Nia: Not standing up for your interests and giving into the most common vices of humanity. I don’t want to give up on a dream because it’s not the most secure way to “success.”

Nelly: “Never falling in love.”

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Both: Next? We don’t like this question.

Your worst and best days at ACS?

Nia: I always push away the pressure that comes from everything related to school, so it just builds up gradually, until one day the cup spills and everything become a bit too much. Those have been some of the hardest days in my life, overall, and you just really need to learn to push through and keep going, since the scary thing is that it is very easy to just stay in this state of despair and tiredness. The best days though are definitely the times in which the whole school gathers for an event, such as the first day of school, Faculty Follies or the Christmas concert. There is something about the energy of the school, the spirit that is one of the most unique and honestly, just heart-warming feelings.

What is the best lesson you learned at the College?

Nelly: The best lesson I’ve learned here is to always strive for better and to never feel satisfied with something below my capabilities. Although I am definitely not saying that every project I’ve turned in is perfect and represents the best I can do, the whole drive to pursue that is what makes students here different from those in any other school in Bulgaria.

Nia: The best lesson that I learned is understanding how much I am capable of. I have never thought that I’d be spending over 20 astronomical hours for one project and really, it’s the fact that we do these for ourselves and not so much for school. That is extremely important. In the end, it is most important to be motivated to do something because you find it interesting and worth your time.

What is ACS to you?

Nelly: ACS is the place where I built myself. In these five years, I found all of my strengths and weaknesses. I was given the chance to develop further – not only my academics, but also my artistic personality.

Nia: Change. These five years have been the biggest and probably best change up to this point and I value that above all else.

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Nelly and Nia, photo by Katrin Gidulska ’17

What next? Do you already know what and where you are going to study?

Nelly: I am definitely going to take a Film-making/ Film Production Course in university, which is hopefully going to be somewhere abroad. Unlike my peers though, I am not so stressed out about the application process. We’ll see what’s going to happen with us in 10 years, when we are going to be the alumni receiving these magazines.

Nia: I am applying to five countries and have too many interests to stick to only one. I guess we can only wait and see how things are going to unfurl.

Sofia, December 2016

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