Meet Eric David Halsey, creator of "The Bulgarian History Podcast"
Why moving to Bulgaria might be the best thing one can decide
Edited by Lindsay Martin.
I was born in Washington DC and grew up in the Virginia suburbs. I'm from a pretty normal American family but got interested in Bulgarian history in high school when I dated the daughter of someone in NATO. Her family had just returned from a 3-year deployment in Sofia and so I learned a lot about Bulgaria and its history from her.
I suppose I began thinking about moving here when I wanted to study abroad at university and discovered the American University in Bulgaria. I studied there in Blagoevgrad for a year between 2009 and 2010. During that time I spent little time in Sofia. But, when I returned in 2013 on a Fulbright grant to do historical research, Sofia was the obvious place to be even though I only knew a few people. It was only after that year that I decided to settle in Sofia permanently. The reason was that I had met lots of interesting people who were working on great projects in both business and academia. I found that environment very inspiring and felt there were many projects I could work on. I was also a bit tired of moving around so much.
My original plan was to become an academic and teach Bulgarian and Balkan history at a university somewhere. However, the realities of the academic job market led me to decide against obtaining a Ph.D. So at that moment, I still really wanted to work on Bulgarian history but had no clear reason to. So, I thought that starting a podcast might be a way to do that. I had already been a huge fan of podcasts for many years and was lucky to have the support and encouragement of friends. Once I decided to create The Bulgarian History Podcast, the idea was to create a podcast that approached Bulgarian history in a straightforward way, avoiding as many nationalistic biases as possible. The podcast also aimed to cover all 1,300+ years of Bulgarian history and not skip over eras like the Ottoman period.
Funny stories? I once tried to tell my girlfriend (now wife) that she was incorrect about something. However, the word I assumed to mean "incorrect" actually meant "sinner." Needless to say, she was quite taken aback when I suddenly called her a "sinner" (Грешна си) and we still laugh and joke about it.
It's hard to answer how my life changed now that I’ve settled in Bulgaria. All told, I've lived in Bulgaria for more than 8 years so I don't think of it like that. I recently got married and have really grown into an adult during my time here. But I think of it more in terms of how my life is different from what it would have been in the US. I certainly get a lot more chances to travel, I can save more money for retirement and buy an apartment one day. I guess I feel like Bulgaria has allowed me to build a career and a life that allows for more options than I would have had in the US.
I wish I’d known how to navigate the immigration system and how to set up my finances between the two countries before moving here. Both of those have been a long process. Living and working legally in Bulgaria has cost me thousands of dollars and untold stressful nights. I really wish Bulgaria made it easier for non-EU citizens. I know so many young talented Americans, as just one example, who would love to live and work here but are put off by how difficult the process is. Then, as an American abroad, you are an exception to just about every rule about how do run your finances. Everything from retirement investing to paying your taxes is a major headache.
I wouldn't consider moving to the US or anywhere else. I feel like the US is just too brutal of society for my taste. From guns to health insurance, the way things are set up seems cruel and insane. I still vote in US elections and pay close attention to what's happening there, but the US is a bit of a strange foreign country to me at this point. But more than that, Bulgaria is my home now and I'm committed to building a meaningful life here, especially one that can improve the country in some small way. I don't feel I could really do that anywhere else.
What would be my piece of advice to a newcomer in Bulgaria? Well, there's a joke I came up with years ago about this. "The best thing about Bulgaria is that nobody gives a sh*t, the worst thing about Bulgaria is that nobody gives a sh*t." That's a bit crass, but the point is that there's tremendous freedom here in many ways. But, that same attitude can also lead to frustrating delays when you need something to happen. I find it's essential to always remember that those are two sides of the same coin. The attitude that lets you relax and have a beer in the park is the same attitude that can lead to bureaucracy being slow with many documents.