Our core team member shares her story and talks about why she loves Bulgaria
Written and photos by Lina Jarad, edited by Lindsay Martin.
I am a Bulgarian-Palestinian citizen of the world. I was born in Sofia, and after completing first grade, my parents moved abroad, and that was the start of my international journey. We lived in a few countries, and I graduated high school from Palestine then moved to the U.S for my higher education. I obtained a master’s degree in communication and after worked in Washington, DC. From the U.S., I moved to the UAE, where I worked in a few universities in Dubai and Abu Dhabi teaching English and managing Study Abroad Programs. I traveled a lot throughout the years and managed to spend half a year in London, where I obtained my English teaching certificate.
I came to Bulgaria last year with the idea of spending one year with family and enjoying the beautiful nature and delicious food before moving on to a new country somewhere further west in Europe. However, I was recently offered the Executive Director position at BEST Foundation in Bulgaria. This organization promotes English language education, civic engagement, and creative expressions in Bulgaria through the power of speech and debate for students. I am super excited for the opportunity as I believe in the power of youth and the importance of empowering them.
My connection to the international community here is natural since the culture, language, healthcare system, and many other things are different than in the countries I’ve lived in. I find a lot of support from foreigners who live here and Bulgarians who have lived abroad in terms of answering questions about some processes and logistics in the country.
One of the most surprising things in Bulgaria for me is the manual handling of operations at government offices and the amount of waiting time and paperwork needed to be done at a lot of businesses (instead of a paperless/easily accessed electronic system or information posted about it if available). Waiting at the doctor’s office for long hours, even when having an appointment is another surprising matter.
A pleasantly surprising observation I have is how people here don’t cut in line, and the formality used when people address you in various service operations. It feels really respectful and educated. I also love how you can join hands with strangers when people are dancing horo at the restaurant or the park and get out of your comfort zone; it’s something that I missed abroad. Another nice surprise is how much people are into yoga, meditation and spirituality, and the abundance of yoga studios.
I really enjoy the parks in Sofia, especially South Park, and love how you can completely connect with nature when you’re right in the middle of the city. Additionally, I joined a Paneurhythmy course, which is an old spiritual Bulgarian practice done as a group dance; it was amazing. I also visited Veliko Tarnovo for the first time, and I absolutely loved it. Its history and architecture are so unique, and the light show at the castle was wonderful! I highly recommend visiting it.
My average amount of time living in one country has been 5 years, so let’s see if I manage to stay in Bulgaria for longer! I really enjoyed the system in Sweden when I visited last year, so I think I wouldn’t mind living there in the future. I find the healthcare system in Bulgaria very difficult to navigate with a lot of paperwork and limited availability of certain specialized doctors and meds. That could be one reason to make me move to a different country, perhaps.
What would be my piece of advice to a newcomer here? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Service people might seem grumpy and rude, but greeting them with a smile and a “Zdrasti” goes a long way. The culture values a leisurely and good work-life balance here, and so your satisfaction as a customer doesn’t necessarily “come first.” That’s important to keep in mind. Also, explore the country while you’re here, it has an abundance of options for all kinds of interests, especially nature and outdoor sports. Finally, try the natural and organic Bulgarian products, especially cosmetics as they are amazing, and this way you’ll support the local economy!