Have you ever wanted to study abroad in Bulgaria or wondered what that experience would be like? Would it be similar to spending a semester abroad in Spain, Italy or France, or would it be nothing like it? What would everyday-life be like and what challenges and opportunities would you come across?
If these and a gazillion more questions come to mind, then this post is for YOU! As part of our series Bulgaria: The Land of Opportunity, we are thrilled to share with you the Bulgarian study abroad experience of someone who has been there and done it all. Please meet Liennor or as she is better known in Bulgaria – Eli!
Bio: I am 23 years old and live in the very heart of Switzerland. After 6 years of primary school, I continued in High School, where, after 6 more years, I still was not sure what I wanted to study. After one year of working in a bookshop and a bar, I decided to go to art school. Soon I will start my last bachelor year in Basel, and after two more years of master, I will hopefully be an arts teacher. I know I will like this job, but I can imagine doing other things later as well. My great passions in art are video and performance.
Q: Bulgaria is definitely not one of the traditional European study abroad destinations. What made you decide to study abroad there?
When I was thinking about doing an Erasmus semester, I looked through the list of partner schools of my university. The St. Cyril and St. Methodius University of Veliko Tarnovo caught my eye immediately. I have always liked Balkan music and I realized that I did not know a lot about these countries. Still, I needed to think about it a while and it took me a lot of courage and a little bit of craziness to choose Bulgaria and not just go to other countries where I knew the language and have been before.
Q: When you found out that you were accepted into the Bulgaria program, how did you prepare for your upcoming study abroad experience? Did you find a lot of readily available information on your destination or did most of your learning happen on the go?
After being accepted in November, I began to learn Bulgarian. Although I did not come very far in the three months until my departure, it helped me a bit in the beginning and kept my nervousness lower. Otherwise I actually did not search for any information because I wanted to see and learn for myself. So yes, when I left, I still did not have an idea about life in Bulgaria.
Q: What is everyday life like for an exchange student in Bulgaria? What were the greatest challenges that you encountered? What made most sense?
I guess the everyday student life must be really similar in most places, for me anyway it was. The greatest challenge, however, was to figure out the lesson schedule. Because all the Erasmus students had different studies, we could not help each other and had to find teachers or Bulgarian students that could speak our languages and show us what to do. I was very lucky, a now very good friend helped me with everything. We spoke German together.
Also, for me, the beginning was a small challenge, because I did not know anyone or anything, but that changed really soon!
Q: Bulgarian as you know is a Slavic language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet. On a scale from 1 to 10 (where 1 is very easy and 10 is very difficult) how difficult was it for a Western European student like yourself to overcome the language barrier just enough to get by? Were your classes taught in English?
Actually, when I arrived, everyone found out that most of the classes were in Bulgarian. For others, this was more of a problem because they had lectures, but in art lessons, the language does not matter that much. We had Bulgarian class though, which was in English. For me, I guess the difficulty level must be around 8. It was hard for me, and I did not learn as much as I wanted, but I really like the language and still have my learning books at home…we will see what happens 🙂
Q: You took the time and explored Bulgaria from its largest city and capital, Sofia, to its smallest town of Melnik. While crisscrossing the country, did you find a favorite place? If so which one is it and what about it stood out the most to you?
I found many wonderful places, the most meaningful ones where I made friends.
But the city that will always be special to me is Veliko Tarnovo of course. After traveling, it was always just perfect to come home and cross the bridge with the awesome sight of the whole old part of the city, and of course greet all friends.
Q: While in country, you kept a blog where you shared a lot of your adventures. Looking back on those, what is the single, most important thing that your study abroad helped you learn about yourself?
I learned many things. I guess one of the most important ones is, that I’m not as shy and introverted as I always make myself believe. Also, I realized that making plans should not be that important, but that sometimes spontaneity leads to more interesting paths.
Q: How do your “before” (pre-arrival) and “after” (post-departure) image of Bulgaria compare? In what way did Bulgaria surprise you the most?
Since I practically knew nothing at all about Bulgaria, I did not have any expectations, which, I think, is a good thing. It also really helped me with the small difficulties at the beginning, because I just took everything how it came. Still, Bulgaria positively surprised me many times and makes me miss it now.
Q: Is there anything that you would still like to see, learn or do if you had more time in Bulgaria?
Many things! I will definitely come back.
Q: What advice would you give future exchange students looking to study abroad in Bulgaria?
Be patient, spontaneous, and open for everything. If you get into it, it will be awesome!
Q: Lastly, if you could describe your Bulgarian experience in three words, what would they be?
Life lessons. Friends. Wow!
photo credit: Liennor
P.S. Crave more? Our Resources on Bulgaria page is updated regularly & features lots of interesting & useful reads. Check it out!
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