Life in Plovdiv

The perspective of a British-raised medical student

Written and photos by Idil Ali, edited by Olena Cytryna


Sometimes when I look back over my time in Plovdiv so far, I am utterly dumbfounded. Who could’ve imagined four years ago that one of the oldest cities in Europe would become my home away from home! Join me as I share a little piece of my life in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.

Being a student

In the second year of my degree, my psychology professor and I were discussing the difference between a job, a career, and a calling. Intuitively, the difference was clear. Perhaps because for me, being a doctor is a calling that has been serenading me my entire life. So when I was unsuccessful in my pursuits in England, why did this sweet song still sing my name? And here I am, four years later, floating in a medical orchestra.

Lost in translation

One of the things I looked forward to the most when moving to Bulgaria was learning Bulgarian. I fondly look back at the naive girl who thought she’d be fluent in two years, oh how we dream!

As a native English speaker, there’s a certain arrogance we carry in assuming everyone speaks English. This “truth” was quickly dispelled in my first few days in Plovdiv. Armed with Google Translate I wasn’t about to back away from a challenge. I learned a few phrases, perfected my pronunciation, and took to the streets. Within a week I was, by all appearances, a self-sufficient Bulgarian speaker.

I was determined to make it. I could do the basics: introduce myself, order food, and count to ten. Cashiers and waiters would complement my Bulgarian not knowing that if they deviated even slightly from the rehearsed script of how I expected our conversation to be, my linguistic facade would crumble.

Did I underestimate how difficult it would be to learn Bulgarian? Without a doubt! But my trusty friend ne razberam (I don’t understand) and da (yes) would never abandon me! Flash forward four years and I feel as stagnant as when I first started. But I’ll change… I hope.

Bulgarian culture

It’s apparent with each passing day that I am a foreigner in Bulgaria. At times, it can be alienating to live in Plovdiv. In some ways, it’s still a small town stuck in its old ways. Other days, there seems to be a sudden explosion of color! I am fortunate to have met some wonderful people who’ve shed light for me on the Bulgarian way of life. They taught me trite perti (a line dance), took me on hikes across the mountains of Bulgaria, and patiently baked banitsa with me. It’s the small pleasures that matter.  

In the infamous words of legendary pop star Hannah Montana, “life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” The tumultuous journey of being a medical student coupled with the unique experience of living in Bulgaria is an interesting feat full of adventure. Definitely one for the history books!