Season 1, Episode 25

Listen to your heart


Vlada Zerkalenkov


If you are inspired to start your own podcast, check out the links on The Arena page.

Today’s Guest

In today’s episode I am speaking with Vlada Zerkalenkov.

Vlada is the founder of Travel Content Creators and House of Creators. She is also a photographer, content creator and Pinterest Manager.

She is originally from Ukraine, but moved to Germany at the age of 17 to study at the university and has already lived there for 8 years.

After  years of studying at the university, she has decided to take fate into her own hands, to drop out of university and to start her own business with her husband. She believes that it is possible to live life on your own terms and not worry about what society has to say and wants to promote this idea to the world.

Vlada works together with her husband and helps travel photographers, travel bloggers and travel brands increase their traffic and brand awareness and create  unique content. She helps digital artists adapt and thrive in this changing business world and also helps them to start their own online business around their passion.

Vlada practices yoga and meditation. She is an active person, dancer, artist, aspiring traveler, photographer and would love to live by the sea.

 If you love the show please leave a rating or a review.

If you have a comment or question please reach out to me at or on Instagram @gladiatrixpodcast

Malini Sarma 0:01

Hi, Vlada. Thank you so much for joining my show. There are so many young women just like you who are waiting to hear your story. And I can't wait.

Vlada Z 0:14

Hi, Malini, thank you for having me here.

Malini Sarma 0:17

You're very welcome. You have no idea. So, um, let's start right away. Okay, so you were born and brought up in Ukraine with your parents, and you have a younger brother? Yes. Right. So what was it like growing up? What did you want to do when you grew up?

Vlada Z 0:34

So I was born and grew up with my parents and my younger brother, the Ukraine, as you said, in Odessa, if somebody knows the city, or this is a big city, at port city, with other a million inhabitants, and it's very international and active city, and I think this had also an influence on me. And on my childhood. I love dancing. I grew up being a part of different events where I also performed and sometimes this events more organized by myself. I'm very interested in different cultures and mentalities. I love to travel, learn languages, and explore the world. and explore myself through the world. Mm hmm. And yes,

Malini Sarma 1:31

yeah. So so when you when you were young, you What did you want to do? You know, when you're like, oh, when I grew up, I'm going to say you're going to be a ballerina? Or did you say, you know, I'm going to travel the world? Or did you say, I'm going to be a doctor? What did you think like when you were young? Oh,

Vlada Z 1:51

so I had a lot of dreams. But I think when I was young, at first, I wanted to become a teacher. Yes, I wanted to become a teacher, especially for primary school. Okay, because I was so inspired by my teacher and I wanted to do the same. I just wanted to teach kids everything I know, to inspire them to dream bigger, to help them to believe in yourself and thus, at that time, and just give at that time kids this belief that they're also incredible and unique and special. I was really inspired by my teacher. And the second dream was I wanted to work on the ship. Okay, yes, for example, cruise ship, because of my passion to travel. Mm hmm. And I want to just follow the similar path like my parents. Mm hmm. They even met each other on the ship.

Unknown Speaker 2:59

Oh, okay. Your dad is a Marine Engineer right?

Unknown Speaker 3:02

Yes. Right. Okay. That's awesome.

Malini Sarma 3:06

That's really cool. So now you, you studied in Ukraine, you went to school? And then you did an extra year of college, and then you went to university in Germany? So how did you convince your parents to agree because you are living in Ukraine? You know, how did you manage to move a foreign country different language? far away from home? How did you convince your parents?

Vlada Z 3:35

Actually, it was very, very easy. Okay. And I explained to you why. So my parents wanted back then give me the best university education he could. Mm hmm. And as ever, parents, I think. And my dad's opinion is that universities in Ukraine are not so good than, for example, in Germany. And in addition to this, they education Germany is much cheaper than Ukraine. Okay. And that's why then they found out that in our city there is a school, that has opportunity to go to Germany after you finished it. And then they found it out. They are after my primary school, I went to this special school and learn German language. So I didn't have to convince parents to go to Germany. This was already their decision. And I was just opened for new opportunities and new adventure life.

Malini Sarma 4:42

That's awesome. That must have been so easy for you. So when you were in Ukraine, what did you study?

Vlada Z 4:49

and Ukraine, I met my general school education.

Malini Sarma 4:53

Okay, and then right before you went to college did you have to so you learned so you were learning English and German And, and you were already speaking Ukrainian and Russian anyway. Yeah. Okay, so by the time you were ready to leave for college, you were speaking four languages.

Vlada Z 5:11

Ah, right.

Malini Sarma 5:12

Right. Okay. Ukrainian, Russian, German. And a little bit of English too.

Unknown Speaker 5:17


Malini Sarma 5:19

Okay. So when you went to when you when you had to apply to school for to Germany, what did you apply? For? What? What subject? or What did you what is how does it work there? Like? I mean, how do you apply to college over? Did you have to say, this is, this is my major then when you apply to or you just apply to college, and then you have to decide once you go in?

Vlada Z 5:42

So I'm first, in my opinion, interesting system for applying for university in Germany. I'm not sure if it's the same system for United States. I mean, if somebody from United States want to start in Germany, but I can speak only about Europe and Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and these countries. Okay. So the first way is directly to school. Mm hmm. And as a foreign student, if you had on the 11th grades at your school, like in Ukraine, I had 11 grades, okay, you have to do one year of college, here in Germany. Okay. And because Germany has 12th grade, okay. And the second way, and the second method is, after, after or while you're starting your study at the University, you can just start your study just start your study, yes. And after two years, without, after two years already, without a diploma apply for university in Germany and just change your study. Okay, already, you can finish your university and apply after that. Oh, yes. Okay. My way was a directly for a school, from the school after school. And I should have this one year of college. And for colleges, it does apply it just a major. I just applied for social sciences. And after the college, I could decide what the faculty I would love to study deeper. Oh, the university,

Malini Sarma 7:29

right. I think that's very similar here to so you apply to college, and then after two years, because your college is four years. So after two years, you can decide what major you want to focus on in the first couple years. You're just doing general study. So yeah, that's very similar. So how old were you when you left? for college? She was what? 617? Yes, right. I was 17 years old as I moved to Germany. And how did you manage in a new country all by yourself? I mean, you were so young. Did you have family there? Or did you like stay in the dorm? How did you how did you live there by yourself? Or did your mom come with you? And suddenly your parents came and settled you into like, okay, now you should be okay. And they went back? How did that happen?

Vlada Z 8:15

So I was alone without parents and without my friends. I lived in dorm. Right. Um, but it wasn't scary.

Malini Sarma 8:30

Yeah, I think it's, you know, you're brave and new adventure. Right. Right. Right.

Vlada Z 8:36

Exactly. The new adventure excited for a new life in the foreign country. Mm hmm. And I just Yeah.

Malini Sarma 8:45

Did you have to work? Did you have to work like to pay the fees and stuff or it used to like, it was much cheaper. So you could you know, your parents could afford to pay and then have to worry about?

Vlada Z 8:56

Yes, my parents could afford to pay. Okay. And about managing. Think ever think of myself someone that I grew up managing everything by myself. Okay. Yes, you're the

Malini Sarma 9:08

oldest child. So you knew. Ah, okay. I think that's an oldest child syndrome. Maybe? Yeah, I'm an older, older child too. So I understand what you mean by that. Yeah.

Vlada Z 9:19

Yeah. That's why it wasn't something new for me. Okay.

Malini Sarma 9:22

So you didn't have any problems making new friends? And okay. That's good. That's good. That's it. That's a skill because most people find it really, really hard to make new friends in a new place. And, you know, so know that that's a really good, that's a really good skill to have. So So tell me more about your life in Germany. So you went to college? You were you were at the university. And so what was your days like and what were your friends? Like? Is that where you met your husband? How did that happen?

Vlada Z 9:54

Ah, so my life in Germany study study study.

Okay in the college time,

were a lot of parties of course.

Unknown Speaker 10:07


Vlada Z 10:09

but during university I have always studied and always stayed and lived in the library.

Malini Sarma 10:18

Okay. Okay. You were the good girl who did all your work.

Vlada Z 10:22

Okay? Yes. But I had also friends said a lot of my friends were from different countries. Okay. I think I had

Unknown Speaker 10:34


Vlada Z 10:36

German friends. Mm hmm. All my friends who are either from Ukraine, Russia and saw Russian speaking countries, or Latin girl Latin America countries. Oh, nice. Okay. You don't speak Spanish to you? And no, I dunno, but I would love to. This is my next goal. Okay, that's good. That's good.

Malini Sarma 11:01

Yes. So, um, so how did you meet your husband?

Vlada Z 11:05

For um, it was almost eight years ago. Yeah. We both were at the school back then. But i was in Ukraine and he was in Germany.

Malini Sarma 11:17


Vlada Z 11:18

Yes, we are both from Ukraine. But he come to Germany came to Germany then when he was six years old.

Unknown Speaker 11:25

Okay. Okay.

Vlada Z 11:27

And at that time, at the school, I prepared already myself for applying for a college in Germany. And I wanted to practice my language skills. Mm hmm. And my cousin gave me the website for the language center. Hmm. And were there I found Zhenya, my husband. He wanted to improve his Russian and my German This is how we found each other on the on the internet.

Malini Sarma 11:55

Right. So you hadn't even met each other at that point? No. Okay. And so then fast forward a few years you move to Germany? And did you meet him in the University? You reached out to him or he reached out to you? How once you went to move to Germany? How did you meet?

Vlada Z 12:12

So we? We were best friends we have on the chat on WhatsApp. And like messages? Mm hmm. Skype calls? Mm hmm. But nobody had the time to come and visit each other. Even even in Germany. I was in a another region of Germany then he was uh huh. And then I he came to me to know I came to him to visit yes to Munich. And then yes, so then I understood okay.

Unknown Speaker 12:51

I have to move to Munich.

Vlada Z 12:54

And then we were since then a couple and even if we have even started together in the university, because I have changed my faculty to or from that I started before to another.

Malini Sarma 13:10

Okay, so you basically moved university so that you could be so you guys could be together? So you moved to Munich. And you went to university together? Yes. And then both of you went to university but something happened and then you you something within you changed because you wanted to drop out? What What was that? What What happened? Or you know, what was it what what changed your mind that made you think that you know, I need to do something else? What was that?

Unknown Speaker 13:43


Vlada Z 13:46

I'm after the university, I began to ask myself, is it really this, what I want to do in my life? I began to ask myself how I want my life with looks like what kind of work I want to do, where I want to work, Is this real? My decision to go to university to do I have started at first law and then political science and sociology is really my decision or of decision for my parents did I was influenced by society, and this kind of questions I had on my head. And then I found out that for example, law is interesting for me, but not what I want to do the whole life, then the political science and sociology was the same and at one point and just assumed that I have no more space to grow at my university. That to have learned for myself, everything can eat and then come okay. That's it. I can't do this anymore. Yes.

Malini Sarma 15:04

Okay, so you will basically, you were basically thinking about how your studies is going to impact your life and how you can use it. And you didn't see any thing there. So were you able to? And I think that is most children are most people who are going to college, where, you know, that's all they've seen would say, you know, why am I doing this? So were you able to talk about your, you know, your, what you were going through with anybody? Or was this something that you that you are still struggling? Or you're like, Nope, I think I did what was best for me, and I'm okay with it.

Vlada Z 15:47

So I discuss it with my friends, you know, in Germany, on the south, a few friends. And only with Zhenya, my husband with my husband? And I also try to discuss about this with my parents, but it was very difficult. Yes, because especially my dad,

Unknown Speaker 16:18

I can imagine,

Vlada Z 16:19

yeah, my dad has strong belief in that. You're now about nobody without a university degree that you would not find a good job and earn enough money to have a good life, that you're never recognized by society. As an intelligent and smart person, if you would not have a diploma. And yes, and I was just, Oh, I just was exhausted all of it, all of it. And yes. And then my husband came into my life. And yes, we have started to live together. And he gave me this support and trust I needed back then. So I could make this decision.

Malini Sarma 17:15

So I'm in now you were telling me about your dad, and you said that he's a marine engineer, right now. But he had a hard time to growing up, because that's not what he wanted to do.

Vlada Z 17:27

Yes, right. Right.

Malini Sarma 17:29

Tell me that story. What what was what was your dad's story?

Vlada Z 17:33

That, uh, so as I know, my dad, what I wanted to become a doctor started medic, medicine, medical, and health. Ah, he had his parents were

Unknown Speaker 17:49

back then.

Vlada Z 17:51

I wouldn't say famous people by people with authority in his region. Okay. So

Unknown Speaker 17:57

they had a lot of power.

Vlada Z 17:58

Yes. Okay. So a lot of power a lot of connections at the newer universities, and organizations and so on. And as he said, to his parents that he wants to study medicine. Ah, his parents said to him, Oh, perfect. We have here connections at this in your city, you would not, should not pass especial exams, you will just just give us your documents for apply and you're already in. Wow. And my dad, wasn't this. What it this way. He wanted to achieve everything on himself. And his life on her and his terms. And without support and help of her parents out there. Authority. And then he moved from his town to my hometown and began to study him and marine engineer. Hmm.

Malini Sarma 19:08

So you're not very different from your dad, when you think about it? Yes, he did. He wanted to follow his passion. And if he couldn't, he wanted to do it on his own. And you're not any different because you started questioning when you were at university. What am I doing? And you wanted to do other things?

Vlada Z 19:26

Yes. Okay. So I know a lot about it. Well, yeah,

Malini Sarma 19:31

think about it. I mean, you're, you're very much like your dad. No wonder he's fighting you so hard. Usually when people are, they argue with each other. It's because they're very similar. You know, especially when it comes to parents and children. So I can see it. I'm sure most other people can see it, but you probably can't because she was you're you're fighting him all the time. So you move to a new country, you speak at least three languages or if you For you have your own business, you've traveled to many countries, you do photography, you even have your own YouTube channel, and you're not even 25 Oh my gosh, you turned 25 this month is amazing. So how do you think when you look back and you look at all these things that you've done? How has that changed you? You look at your journey, and you're like, you're just thinking back to when you first started? How, how have you changed? You know, within you?

Vlada Z 20:38

I'm, I'm really grateful for this experience I have in hand in my life. Because some and thanks, this experience and this struggling. Now I'm more confident in myself, even if sometimes I had my days. And I'm not sure not confident. But at least I know what I don't want to do. And yes, and yes, I really am. I would even say proud of myself that you should

Unknown Speaker 21:20


Vlada Z 21:20

you should admit, made this decision to drop out of this my university because it gives me so much opportunities, and I met so a lot of new people and make new new friends and started in an own business. And I have learned and and a lot of skills what I never, never would achieve. In that time. I wouldn't make this decision.

Malini Sarma 21:51

Okay. So when you compare yourself not that you need to, but when you look back and you compare yourself to your other friends, you know who's probably started University at the same time as you, or you were all hanging out together and like, Oh, I'm going to do this. And I'm going to do that. Now looking back and you look at your friends and you look at yourself. What do you what do you see? And how do you like you were saying, you know that if you've gone to university, you probably wouldn't have done any of these things. But have your friends come back and said, wow, you know, you're smart. You should? I'm so glad you did. I wish I had done that. Have you? Have you had conversations like that? Has anybody said something like that to you? No. Well, they probably don't know.

Unknown Speaker 22:36

Yeah, maybe maybe.

Malini Sarma 22:38

So So what are you looking? What are you looking to do in the future? Just so much, there's so much out there and there's so much to do, right? You want to do so many things. But what are your top three things that you're looking to do?

Vlada Z 22:51

Ah top three things.

I really want to help people to trust yourself to be more confident if you're put with her just have potential that this power this and I want to have people I don't now, we have travel content creators and how the creators and the travel content creators is offering around travel for photographers and travel bloggers or travel brands. And I think As I said before, and for me it's travel not about

to go for to

one destination, just visit and relax. Now it's

Unknown Speaker 23:39


Vlada Z 23:40

to explore the country and explore yourself for the travel, maybe

Unknown Speaker 23:47


Vlada Z 23:48

maybe learn even something from different countries, what you can apply to yourself. And this is why we have so much support travel and what is why is so much support travel. And

I really want

that people

really do in their life what they really want.

Malini Sarma 24:12

Right? Okay, so you're looking at when you're looking into the future of what you're going to do with your business, you're looking at expanding your travel content creator and doing a lot more with that because you love travel. You love art, right? So you're you want to expand your business and I think with your YouTube channel, and with all the people that you're meeting, you know, around the world, you really you're really connecting with a lot of people. So you have a lot of business plans, right?

Vlada Z 24:42

Yes, what I would even at

really love and this is very personal. I would really love to help women to

Unknown Speaker 24:57


Vlada Z 24:59

to help them to open They are to this feminine energy. This is so a lot of woman's women as a healer who are struggling

Unknown Speaker 25:11


Vlada Z 25:13

a lot of problems. Mm hmm. Yeah, I really like psychology and a very, like feminine psychology. And in around this theme and in this niche, I would love also to this is also my plan

Malini Sarma 25:31

to go. Okay, so this is one of your this is one of your passions is Yeah, you know, I'm helping women, you're talking about feminine energy, and you're seeing how other women are struggling in you can help them. So considering you speak so many languages, I think that itself is huge. You know, you see you speak Russian, Ukrainian, so Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, you know, your Eastern European area? You can, you could probably be the expert. You know, you could, you could help all women over there, because then there's no language barrier, you could actually help them with that. That's great. That's a huge that's huge, huge, huge market. Yeah. That's exciting. That's so exciting.

Vlada Z 26:14

It's on the on the plan now. But I'm going,

Malini Sarma 26:18

Yeah, there you go. You start, you start with the plan, write it down, and then you work towards it. And I think you're doing it Look at you. So you know what's so the I already know you've got a huge fan following. And there are lots of young people looking at you and following you, and want to be like you. So what advice would you give them

Vlada Z 26:48

don't hesitate to trust yourself. And don't lie to yourself. Because we all me you, we all knew the deepest, truth inside. And but we all always lie to ourselves. So because of the opinion of society of the parents, friends, what others would say or think. And I'm sure that everyone is powerful and strong enough to do in your life, what you really want to do. And as an advice,

and as a tip. And

even if you're scared or worried about what would even somebody support me, or if I make this decision or would follow this path, or what even would achieve something in my life or how I the life could be different countries. Trust me. As long as you follow your heart, you'll achieve everything. And you will find people who will love to work with you, who support you. And yes, the biggest mistake you can make is be is to be strict to yourself and your dreams.

Unknown Speaker 28:11


Vlada Z 28:13

yeah, and don't compare yourself to others. Yes.

Unknown Speaker 28:18


Vlada Z 28:19

everybody is their individual.

Malini Sarma 28:21

Yep. Yep. That's very true. You know, Vlada for somebody who's not even 25. That is so wise. Most people take a lifetime before they figure that out. So thank you. So no, that is very, that is. That is a lot of good advice that you're given. And I'm sure there's a lot of young people who can't wait to follow and see where you're going to go. Because I know you're going to do great things. So thank you so much for being here today. And, you know, having this conversation with me.

Vlada Z 28:56

Thank you for having me here.

Malini Sarma 28:59

Oh no, you're welcome.

Transcribed by

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About The Show

This podcast showcases women, predominantly women of color, who in spite of their fear, are forging ahead, chasing their dreams and becoming stronger.

Discover how these conversations can help you so that you can work through your fear and conquer your dreams. What do you need to move ahead?

Whether it is starting your own business, traveling the world on your own, standing up to your boss or just silencing that voice in your head, every small step you take is a push in the right direction.

It’s a mix of interviews, special co hosts and solo shows that you are not going to want to miss.

Hit subscribe and get ready to jump into the arena!

Malini Sarma

Malini Sarma

Your Host

Hello. I am Malini. I am a dancer, world traveler and storyteller. I am a hard core fan of chai and anything hot. I am always looking for new adventures and would rather be outside than inside.

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