Denisa Harbuz is a student of Literature and Culture at the University of Amsterdam, she is also officially the new Bear Radio intern! And we’re so excited for you to get to know her.
Denisa is a storyteller and traveller, finding pieces of herself and her narrative in each place she resides in, each culture she explores, and each language she learns. At 14 Denisa moved from Romania to a small town in Germany – she’s since lived in Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam and now, at 21, finds herself back in Berlin, ready to explore a new medium of storytelling: Podcasts! In our conversation, Denisa discusses the beauty of vulnerability, how stories can heal, the big life questions that come with travel, her excitement at getting to dabble in audio production and more.
Hi Denisa! Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Hello! I’ll start off by saying that I’m the new intern at Bear Radio, which I’m really excited about! My name is Denisa, I’m 21, I’m based in Berlin and I’m a student at the University of Amsterdam. I’m studying Literature and Culture, and on the side I’m exploring all sorts of creative things like writing, film and podcasting.
And where are we having a coffee today?
The cafe I visit every day is the one downstairs, on my street – it’s my favorite. My family has lived on this street for eight years. I don’t even know what the cafe is called, but it’s tiny and everyone who lives on the street goes there. You even bring your own cup from home! My second go-to would be Shakespeare and Sons. It’s the first cafe I ever visited in Berlin and it’s my favorite place to study.
We first met through your story for The Europeans podcast, and again when we caught up for a bonus episode of URSA. Your passion for storytelling has shone through every interaction! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what it is about storytelling that has you so hooked?
Storytelling is so interesting to me because, growing up, it helped me navigate things better and understand myself better. I grew up as an only child, which was sometimes a bit confusing because when I’d experience things, like say, moving countries or losing someone in the family or my parents splitting up, and I didn’t have someone to share the experiences with, at least not anyone who I felt would really understand and be able to talk about it. So, I was often confused and uncertain of what to do next. “Am I supposed to feel this way? Is this normal?” And I think I really found comfort in either podcasts or articles online. These people were starting the conversation and I was inspired. Maybe if I had found someone who shared a similar story to mine back in the day, I may have felt less alone. And I’d like to be that conversation starter for people.
For people who haven’t heard it, could you share a little about the first time you shared your story on a podcast.
My very first podcast episode was about my experience moving from Romania to Germany when I was 14. Not to get into it too much, but it was pretty difficult. I didn’t know the language and it was just a very confusing time in my life. I think I’m still, I mean, you’re always still getting used to it.
Was there a part of the process of making that episode that you enjoyed the most?
I think it was actually just working with the people because everything I’ve ever worked on, like writing or recording or taking photos, I’ve always been by myself. It was really exciting constantly getting feedback from other people and rewriting the script together. That was really interesting.
You made that piece together with The Europeans in 2020. It’s been a couple of years, you’ve experienced a bit more of life, traveling to a few different places. Looking back, is there anything you might do differently?
I don’t think I would’ve changed the way the story goes, but sometimes when I listen back, I cringe a little because I was just so young and inexperienced. But really, what I would’ve changed is I would’ve spoken more confidently, and I think I would’ve promoted it more. I was a bit embarrassed by it because it was such a vulnerable story and I really didn’t want people my age or from my circle to find out about it because… I don’t know, I didn’t want to come across as a victim or seeking too much attention. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.
The whole point of the story was to start a conversation and share the experience and make other people aware of it. So yes, I wish I had talked about it more.
That is such an interesting reality that you’re highlighting – the shame that sometimes comes along with vulnerability. Where you take a second to really reflect on yourself, and what is revealed is sometimes not necessarily something you are ready for the world to see or to hear. Do you have any advice for someone who is looking to share their personal story and might be running into a similar feeling?
From my experience, when I do listen to vulnerable stories of other people, I always relate it to myself. When I listen to personal stories on podcasts I never find myself really looking for who the person is, I just listen to their story and make it my own. I think people need to remember that the stories they share are not as ‘personal’ as they might think.
You mentioned that you are studying Literary and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. First, what exactly is cultural analysis? And then, have your studies influenced your approach to consuming and sharing stories?
Cultural Analysis is basically analyzing modern culture. So everything from the late 20th century to the present. And we’re looking at everything from movies to literature, art exhibitions, songs and everything in between. We explore the philosophical and psychological aspects and then use those discoveries to analyze things like gender or environmental studies for example, and then look at how they have been expressed in culture.
And, yes! It has definitely changed the way I consume stories because I think about everything way more analytically now. I find myself deconstructing everything I consume. I just always want to get to the bottom of it, like figuring out the meaning behind a single word. But it’s both a blessing and a curse because I think some things, especially creative things, should just not be overanalyzed too much.
I’m curious… How important is it for you to be able to tell your own story in your own way?
I think it makes all the difference. I think it’s a way of healing, of understanding yourself better and just being able to move on from a situation. It doesn’t matter who you share it with, as long as you get it out of yourself. I believe the moment you learn how to tell your story is the moment you learn. I think in our society, and especially amongst people my age, sharing or oversharing and being vulnerable is seen as such a weakness but I think it’s the only way to grow and move forward.
I’m really glad that this is being transcribed so that I can highlight that for myself in bold. That was so beautifully put, thank you!
I’d like to ask about the vagabond in you. You’ve lived in Berlin, Barcelona and Amsterdam in the short time we’ve known each other. And as I understand it you just got back from a short stint in England? Has living among these different cultures and languages changed you at all?
I think I keep finding pieces of myself in different cultures and I’m trying to find that one place that’s maybe a hundred percent me or as close to a hundred percent. I never like to go anywhere as a tourist. If I go somewhere, I like to really immerse myself in the culture, into the life there and not just observe. Moving from Romania to Germany gave me my first taste of what it meant to not limit myself – it was so difficult at the beginning but now everything feels possible. Like I could move anywhere, I could start fresh anywhere and always find myself again.
Have you noticed a difference between people who stay in one place for the majority of their lives compared to somebody like you who’s moved so much in such a short space of time?
What I’ve been observing is that people who have stayed in one place, are also just fine with that. And I really admire that because they’re kind of thinking; “This is it. This is what I know. This is what I like. This is where I’m going to be spending my life.” I find myself wondering if they don’t worry about life as much as people who’ve moved around a lot. I’ve experienced so many things that I’m questioning everything!
I see that. I used to look at people who’ve stayed back home, they live on the same street they grew up on, started families two doors down from their parents, and for a long time I thought that was absolutely insane – there’s a whole world out there! It took me a little too long to recognise and accept the fact that people don’t have to be travelled to feel fulfilled and live a fulfilling life. It’s different for everyone.
Yes! I definitely had times where I thought “I’m so much more interesting than everybody else” haha. But it’s just a different way of doing things. I do envy them sometimes, though. Because I’m questioning everything and I’m never sure which way is the right way to live. Is it the Spanish way? Is it the German way? What should be mine?
If I may be so bold as to say, I think whatever feels right for you is the right way.
I love that. Whatever feels right for this year or the next few years, until something else comes along.
I wanted to jump back to the very exciting news that you’ve joined Bear Radio as our intern! Clearly you’re interested in all the ways in which to tell a story. You’re an avid writer. You’ve mentioned film, photography, and writing. So, why is podcasting a field that you want to explore?
I think I just came to accept the fact that maybe storytelling is what I’m best at. It’s also the thing that gets me the most excited, and it doesn’t really matter what medium, just so long as I am telling stories. But I do feel like my thoughts sometimes just go too fast for the page. And my personality doesn’t always come through in my writing. The first time I recorded, I kind of knew that this is what I want to be doing. I just really enjoy talking. I feel like I have a lot to say and it’s really fun doing it.
And what are you looking forward to the most during your time with Bear Radio?
This might sound very boring but actually, I’m so excited about learning how all of the behind the scenes stuff works. How do you guys produce an episode? How do you record with other people? How do you edit an episode? People have always done those things for me so I never really got to learn and experience it. So I’m really excited to see how everything comes together.
We’re excited as well! Well then, to close, do you have a favorite podcast that you are listening to at the moment?
I think I’m going to go with my all time favorite: Gurls Talk hosted by Adwoa Aboah. It’s the first podcast that made me want to make podcasts as well. She has people share their very vulnerable, most personal stories and experiences, and it ranges from normal people to famous people sharing their stories. I’ve learned so much from listening to her show. I also feel so comfortable listening, it feels like I’m listening to friends or a big sister.
interview by Julia Joubert, for Bear Radio.