How a Bulgarian student in the UK feels about having more than one home

Meet Ilina Stanimirova, Open Sofia’s writer

Edited by Scott Green

My name is Ilina and I am currently a media and communications student in the UK. I came across Open Sofia by chance, I was looking for summer internships and my mom sent me their advertisement looking for writers. I looked up the organization and was immediately intrigued. Since I went to study in the UK in 2018, I have met many people from all around the world and I found myself enjoying meeting international people and learning about different cultures and traditions. Seeing that Open Sofia is a foundation for foreigners in Bulgaria, I knew I wanted to become part of the team because I wanted to connect with foreigners in my own hometown.

I will allow myself to coin the term “bulgarianness” here to characterize some Bulgarian traits that have stood out to me since moving to the UK. Bulgarianness is not necessarily good or bad, it is a word I want to use to describe Bulgarian culture - our food, music, language, and behavior. There is something very charming about Bulgarians, especially abroad - the way we carry ourselves immediately gives away our nationality. I have noticed that no matter where we go, we can always be recognized by our looks, our loudness, sense of humor, hospitality and stubborn, but hard-working attitude - our Bulgarianness. It’s easy to focus on the negative, but since moving abroad I can say that looking at things from an outside perspective, Bulgaria is uniquely beautiful and rich with history and culture. Similarly, Bulgarians are people with big hearts and strong spirits. I am grateful I got the opportunity to experience Bulgaria from the ‘outside’, as it gave me a completely different perspective on my country.

One thing I wish people would know before moving to Bulgaria is that they need to be open-minded and have a positive attitude towards the people they meet. Like every foreigner, Bulgarians get happy when you know something about our country or traditions and we will welcome you with open arms even if you just attempt to say “Zdravey”. Few other things: never decline food (especially from a Bulgarian grandma) and don’t call us Russians or Macedonians, it’s a touchy one!

What I love most about interacting with internationals is that we get to exchange cultures and language. I love the moments in a conversation when we just stop, look at each other, and realize we have the same saying in our native languages or a similar custom in our cultures. These random moments when you realize how similar you actually are with someone foreign is something that warms my heart every time. Of course, sometimes foreign words make us laugh, too. A classic approach to foreign languages and something I find very funny is incorporating foreign swear words into my dictionary and using them when I notice my foreign friends are frustrated. It goes the other way around when they notice I am in a bad mood. Playing with language, exchanging cultural experiences and trying dishes from our cuisine is probably the most fun I have when meeting foreigners. 

Like every expat, I often think about my future plans and where I want to go. As of now, I am still young and, although, I love my country, I also want to nurture my curiosity. I like traveling and experiencing new places and I am trying to develop a sense of home within myself so I can move freely without borders. I will move back to Bulgaria at some point, but right now I know that my spirit wants to see more. 

Moving to a new country can be overwhelming and I truly believe that something that helps a lot in keeping a positive attitude and cherishing your time in a new place. In this sense, I want to advise newcomers to explore alone and with others. Building a support system of friends who are in the same boat as you is important and I would suggest joining the Foreigners in Sofia & Friends Facebook page. Additionally, the team at Open Sofia is always ready to welcome everyone and keeps expanding its reach within Sofia and Bulgaria.

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