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How open-minded are Bulgarians?

Three foreigners in Sofia share their integration stories

Three foreigners in Sofia share their integration stories

Edited by Lindsay Martin.

Polly Colona

My name is Polly, and I am an international educator from Brazil. This is the 4th country that I call home and although I chose Bulgaria without knowing much about it…I know I made the best choice.

I moved here last year with my 2-year-old son and at the time husband. I found a job online, and through a quick Google search, my heart screamed ‘go!’. Bulgaria has indeed become a home, full of love and comfort.

Bulgarians get a terrible reputation for being rude and because of the fact that it is eastern Europe. Well, I have been to many countries in Western Europe, and I prefer Bulgaria any given day! Yeah, our numbers may not be the best, but there are so many great things about the culture, culinary, and country itself that are so worth it.

Polly Colona and her sonAs for how warm people are… I have come to realize that Bulgarians will do anything for you once they trust and connect to you. My Bulgarian friends are the kindest and genuinely care for me. I wish someone had told me to give them a chance. I would have done it much sooner!

I cannot say it was simple nor easy to integrate in Bulgaria. It was challenging. It made zero sense to me as to why people would directly speak in a sweet tone to my child but ignore me. I suffered not connecting to the people at my job right away, as I did in other schools. I also had a hard time comprehending some logistics such as shopping for specific items in 3 different supermarkets – seriously. Truth is, I was the one looking at it all wrong. It is exciting to see that each market attends to a need. Thankfully people like children here, and I can make friends through my child! 

My job is phenomenal, and once I opened up, everyone did too. When I filed for divorce here, I was terrified for a boy to live without his father. However, when I tell you everyone helped me… everyone did. My coworkers with translation, my security guy downstairs by holding the door for me and even taking out the trash, and my closest friends with an ear – because quarantine had just begun. 

The latest was the global issue of racism. I am not white, I am Brazilian, which makes me an afro descendent, and seeing so many people here speaking against injustice truly warms my heart. I know racism is a significant issue here as well, even though in different contexts, but there are folks who see how irrational it is and are fighting against it.

My piece of advice to a newcomer here: give it a chance. Sofia is a vibrant city, and going to Vitosha blvd can cure almost anything. If it does not, all the nature surrounding us will! I hear the seaside is amazing too! This summer, hopefully, I’ll get to enjoy it to the fullest. Don’t forget to reach out for help. I was certainly gloomy for the first few months and could not imagine how I would come to love this city.

Jimmie Hunt with his wife in SofiaJimmie Hunt

Zdrasti! My name is Jimmie Hunt. I am from New York in America. I have been living in Bulgaria for about 8 years.  I am an ex-basketball player, and I played a couple of seasons here in Bulgaria, in which I met my wife.  We married 3 years ago and now have a beautiful 1-year-old daughter. We chose to stay in Bulgaria for a couple of different reasons. First, we like it here! Second, we are comfortable. She is working and I am now training kids in basketball. We enjoy living here.  

I don’t think there is something I wish I would have known before coming. Every country has its own culture, its own traditions and I think it’s interesting to see and learn different things.  

I think my biggest difficulty here is the language. It’s tough. I’m really putting a great effort to learn,  but it’s taking a bit longer than I wanted. But my integration here has been great. I met many great people. I’m learning the cultural habits. I love the food. I’m very comfortable here. 

I have had my family and some friends come to visit and I always have great things to say before they come. I show them around to different places and, treat them to the great Bulgarian food. I guess my only advice is to be sure to visit the seaside. It’s absolutely amazing. 

 

Oyinlola Bello

Hi, I’m Lola Bello (full name Oyinlola). I am a British Nigerian, born and raised in the UK. I’ve been living in Bulgaria since 2014 whilst studying medicine in Sofia. 

Growing up, I didn’t know much about Bulgaria, nor did I ever really plan on visiting. I discovered more about the country during my time at University in England studying Pharmacy.  I wanted to make the switch to medicine, so my mum and I did some research. We found out about Bulgaria and the medical courses offered at different institutions. 

In terms of what I wish I knew prior to coming to Bulgaria, I wish I had further insight into how difficult it would have been for me to acclimatise. I also wish someone would have warned me about the looks I would get from strangers. You see, growing up I was always taught it was impolite to stare, hence why I was in for a complete shock when I landed for the first time in Sofia. I remember always getting offended at the audaciously prolonged looks I would get. I used to think that the people here were racist and rude until I spoke to a Bulgarian friend who explained that not all people are trying to be rude. It’s more of a fascination for some of the older generations, as I was the first black person they’d ever seen. The stares were most likely out of intrigue.

Lola Bello talks about her integration in Sofia BulgariaI won’t lie, it took a while to integrate into life here in Bulgaria, approximately 1-2 years and then an additional 1-2 years before I actually started enjoying living here. I think it is important to note that since moving to Sofia in 2014, Bulgaria has dramatically changed. For one, the residents are friendlier. It is a lot more multicultural as a result of this. I think the Bulgarian nationals are less shocked when they see people of colour now. However, when my black friends travel to visit me in Bulgaria, they do complain about the stares so I may have just become desensitised to it. But in all honesty, I do think it’s not as bad as it used to be.

Upon reflection, I vividly remember a situation that occurred during my first year of Medical School. I went out for my friend’s birthday dinner, where two Bulgarian white women approached me and asked for a picture. My friend, who was sitting next to me questioned why they wanted a picture with me and not everyone else. They pointed towards my face and indicated that it was because of my skin colour. I just remember feeling very weird and uncomfortable about the whole situation. I ended up giving in and taking the picture, which in hindsight, I think was mainly due to shock. 

My advice to future people of colour moving to Bulgaria would be to be prepared for the adjustment period and to stay surrounded by friends and family. Keep your chin up and stay confident. There will be situations where you will be uncomfortable.  Stay confident and don’t let anyone bully you into doing anything that makes you uneasy. 

Overall, Bulgaria is a beautiful country despite the awkward adjustment period. I would still advise everyone to take the plunge and move here. I genuinely love it here, and Bulgaria truly has become my second home.

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