My life in Bulgaria: language barrier, travel, and nature

Meet Claudia, Open Sofia’s writer from Italy

Written and photos by Claudia Pecoraro, edited by Andrea Vushkova

My name is Claudia and I hail from a small city in the South of Italy. I joined the writing team at Open Sofia and have had the pleasure of combining my two passions; Bulgaria, and writing. This is how I came to join the OS team, but let me tell you more about why I chose Bulgaria: what I learned here, and what my advice for a newcomer is.

I came to Bulgaria at the beginning of 2019, for a volunteering opportunity with the European Voluntary Service (EVS). To be honest, I had never thought of living in Bulgaria; as soon as I found this project, I got excited about the idea of spending some time in this country. My knowledge about Bulgaria was minimal, so I was curious and wanted to know more about its culture. I arrived with almost no expectations — which, I believe, is one of the best ways to enjoy every new experience in life.   

I spent 9 months doing my EVS in a little village in the Bulgarian mountains, and it was an awesome experience. After settling down in Bulgaria, my life changed in so many ways. I learned how to be more relaxed and enjoy a slow-paced life. I rediscovered my love for hiking in nature. I traveled around the country, visited stunning places, and met interesting, kind-hearted people. 

After my EVS, I got the opportunity to stay in Bulgaria for 6 more months, I accepted without overthinking. I loved my life in Bulgaria so much that I wanted to spend additional time there. Unfortunately, in July 2020 I had to leave the country. But, for everything it gave me, I still feel a strong bond with this land. I don’t exclude going back as soon as I’m able to.

What I love the most about the country is its wild, astonishing nature. I’ve spent a lot of time hiking in the mountains, and I’ve seen beautiful hidden gems, such as small villages lost in the middle of nowhere.

I have collected several stories in a year and a half spent there. One of the funniest anecdotes is related to the language barrier.

It was a lazy Sunday evening, and I didn’t feel like cooking so I decided to go grab some food. Unfortunately, there weren’t many options, so in the end, I opted to have pizza (I believe that’s always the best choice, especially for an Italian!). I went to a pizza place that I had visited a few weeks before with a friend. As I wanted to get more confident in communicating in Bulgarian, I decided to speak the local language.

I asked for the pizza that was labeled as number four on the menu. The waitress asked something back, but I couldn’t understand what she said, so I thought that nodding and repeating (all in Bulgarian) “four, four, yes” was a good option. She replied something, and I nodded again. I was a bit upset because she started laughing — was my Bulgarian that bad?

I was sure she was making fun of me. Things that may happen when you start learning a language! I thought. I stepped outside, waiting for the pizza (and getting pretty hungry). Thirty minutes later, the waitress called me. To have your food after waiting for so long, that’s such an amazing feeling! I was ready to take my pizza and eat it when I realized that… there were four pizzas!

I would have loved to look at my face when I realized what I had done — I had just ordered four pizzas instead of one. The funniest part was that I had told the waitress I’d eat them there (instead of taking them home). I believe that’s why she was laughing at me. I went back home, laughing along the way. Luckily, I had enough money to pay for the pizzas and my flatmates were pretty hungry. But since then I started to be more careful when speaking Bulgarian.

After that, I decided to study Bulgarian. I realized that knowing a bunch of useful words and sentences in the language of the country you’re living in can be helpful. And I also found out that communicating with people in their mother tongue is rewarding both for you and for them (locals really appreciate it when people try to speak their language).

Here are some things that helped me and you may find useful:
- spend some time learning the language. As I showed you, it turns out to be really useful;
- meet local people. I believe that meeting locals is the best way to learn about the country you’re living in. Bulgarian people are kind, generous, and love to meet foreigners;
- travel as much as you can. There are so many places to see. Mountains, lakes, picturesque villages, cities with a gorgeous cultural heritage like Plovdiv, Varna, and Ruse, or the beautiful, historical Veliko Tarnovo;
- eat a lot of banitsa, tarator, and lyutenitsa! You won’t regret it.

If you’re interested in moving to Bulgaria, there’s not much I’d advise you apart from coming here and discovering this beautiful land for yourself!