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A story about life in Bulgaria
Few things are well known in the western world about Bulgarians, their culture or history. And we here have gotten used to that – because of the relations with Russia in the 20th century and whole lot of other political reasons, this place has never had the chance to become popular.
When I think about what Americans know about Bulgaria I always remember what the world famous Bulgarian magician, Astor once said in an interview:
For the first time I was across the ocean in 1981. After that I have been in America many time and unfortunately, every time I said I am from Bulgaria, most people would say: A-a-a Bolivia. To make fun of them I used to reply: No, Bulgaria is a new American state at the border with Canada. The ignorance was so common, that a lady replied: Yes, I know.
In this post I want to tell you about life in this country, in the wild south of Europe, and the struggle of young people for a better life. It’s a small country in the shape of a lion in the center of the Balkans. The people there lived through a lot of hard times in the last hundred years, but these people do have what to be proud of!
Do you know that the first ever Computer was invented by a Bulgarian? He was indeed a US citizen, but he was a Bulgarian. John Atanassov’s who spent his life in the US, invented the first electronic digital computer. His father’s was forced to flee Bulgaria after the April uprising of 1876, only a few years before the liberation of Bulgaria.
This is the story of all our great minds: For one reason or another, they had to leave their homeland seeking refuge, better life or higher wages. Life was truly hard in the beginning of the 20th century for Bulgarians, the newly established state had no developed economy, war after war. In almost every war in the 20th century, Bulgaria was on the losing side. Then there was Socialism. That is a period of controversy. On one hand no one starved, everybody had work, but at the same time there was no luxury, everybody owned the same stuff and wore similar clothes; some simple freedoms like choosing where to live, expressing a political opinion were taken away. People were running away from that, because the western world had a lot more to offer.
What happened in Socialism was a great industrialization of the country. Hundreds of factories were built – but Bulgaria was indeed isolated from the West, but in the meantime every single larger city had a university. Freedom is something you cannot trade for safety or an idea, no matter how good it is. People were running away from socialism.
I was born right after the end of the dictatorship, at the beginning of a democracy which is still catching up with the west, but things are slowly improving. Back in 90’s it was different. The economy in the beginning of the transitional period was in a heavy crisis. Higher unemployment rates than ever before, wages going down, bankruptcies and lack of basic products in the stores. People were again fleeing from Bulgaria to seek better life in the West.
The beautiful country faced some of the highest emigration rates in its history in the last 25 years. Everyone I know has a family member or friends living in Spain, Germany or somewhere else. My personal story was similar I grew up with the American dream, which for me back then was to just have what people in the west have for granted. Seeing on TV how people live in the US and comparing it to the reality back at home, with all the gray, socialist blocky buildings used to make me sad that I’m here. I could have been one of the people who left their home. Instead as I grew up I realized I love this place. I chose to stay and seek opportunities back here.
Today the numerous universities that were established during the period of Socialism are producing more experts in every single field than the market actually needs and this results in high unemployment rates among the people with bachelor and even masters’ degrees.
I was one of those students that got their Bachelor’s degree, and then had no idea what to do with my life, so I studied more. I spent months searching for a job, any job, with no luck. Ever heard of this movie called Catch 22? Well, something similar happens to most young people with a university degree in Bulgaria – you cannot find a job, because you are inexperienced and you cannot get experience because no one will hire you.
I began to search for other opportunities. Developing websites, even selling local products on eBay, but what actually worked for me was translations. Online work offered me what no other job in Bulgaria could. It is not in my scope of expertise, but I have always been good at learning languages. Many people still chose to live in the West, saying they have no other choice in life. In my opinion, things here are getting better with every passing day.
You have to be an optimist. Looking on thing from the bright side, life in Bulgaria is ahead of the West in certain aspects.When it comes to health, like most the rest of the Balkan countries, obesity is not such a serious concern. Most average people have the habit of cooking at home rather than eating fast food all the time – it is both cheaper and healthier.
Bulgaria is not as overpopulated as many other European countries – the entire population of only 7 million people living in, what is today, the largest Balkan country, can be compared to the size of only one of the larger cities in the EU. Coming here you can find amazing untouched regions with a astonishing diverse wildlife or enjoy bio and organic food coming directly from the farm.
Check out the other articles on our Homepage to learn more about the History and Culture of Bulgaria.