Romy (22) and Tessa (18) are both interns working for the Plovdiv 2019 Foundation via the European Voluntary Service. They’re from the Netherlands and have been in Bulgaria for 4 months now. People often ask them what they’re doing here, at the Plovdiv 2019 foundation, in Plovdiv and in Bulgaria. To be frank, I was quite curious about them as well which is why I suggested to have a short interview with them. They are excited to tell you everything about their decision to come to Bulgaria and their stay in Plovdiv so far.

Author: Hristina Mihaylova | Volunteer for Plovdiv 2019

Welcome girls! Let’s kick off with the most common question you’ve probably had during your stay so far: what brought you to Bulgaria?

Romy: I just graduated from University last year and I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, if I wanted to pursue a masters degree and if so which one. After working at my municipality for a few months, I was approached by a Dutch organization (Eastpackers) who asked me to take a look at their website and see if there was a project that I would be interested in. To be fair, all their projects looked interesting but the Plovdiv 2019 one immediately caught my attention since I studies European Studies. After a meeting with Eastpackers in which they explained me everything about the EVS project, I became very excited about the opportunity to go abroad for a year. I just had to apply at the Bulgarian organization that would host us: Neoton. After the application process I quickly started preparing for my departure as I would leave in 2 months.

Tessa: I just finished my high school and wasn’t sure what I wanted to study yet, so I decided to take a gap year. During this year I really wanted to go abroad so I began looking at all sorts of things like language courses or job opportunities, until a friend of mine told me about EVS. Since the European Commission covers pretty much all your expenses it sounded like the perfect opportunity to go abroad, so I started looking for a project. After a while, I received an email from Eastpackers with the Plovdiv 2019 project and I immediately got very excited about it, so just like Romy I applied and now I’m here!

So you specifically choose this project and Bulgaria as destination for your EVS project. Why did you choose Bulgaria instead of another country or project?

Tessa: I’m very interested in culture, so being involved with something like the European Capital of Culture seemed perfect to me. That being the case, I chose more for the specific project than for Bulgaria as a country. However, I had never been to Bulgaria before and found this to be the perfect way to go there and get to explore the country and the different side of Europe. It was also a big plus that the project takes place in a city like Plovdiv, since I enjoy the city life and figured this would be the ideal place to spend my time abroad.

Romy: well, I studied European Studies so my first thought was that it would look good on my CV. After looking into the details of what the project would entail and reading about Plovdiv I thought it would be great to live there for a year! Moreover, during my studies I followed a semester of Central and Eastern European Studies which made me very interested in going to this region of Europe. I learned a bit of Russian during that semester as well so I thought I would at least be able to understand a bit of Bulgarian however when I came here and someone asked me something in Bulgarian it sounded like Chinese to me so jokes on that.

It’s always nice when people from other countries are willing to work in your city and help with projects like the European Capital of Culture. Why do you think other young people should consider doing an EVS project?

Romy: I think it’s very important to experience cultural differences at a younger age in order to develop intercultural communication skills. It’s becoming more and more important to be understanding to other cultures because of the changes in the world. It’s just an important part of personal development. Living in another country, with a different culture and language, being able to support yourself financially. These are all things you can use later on in life as well. Also, it looks good on your CV. It can help you with future career opportunities, especially when you would like an internationally oriented career. 

Tessa: besides all of that doing an EVS project is really ideal if you want to go abroad for a longer period of time, since most of your costs are covered. It’s an Erasmus+ program funded by the European Commission and they cover pretty much everything you really need. Think about plane tickets, food, public transport, accommodation, insurance and even pocket money. This ultimately makes it possible to go to a different country and just volunteer there. Furthermore, you get a lot of support from the organizations involved. For us, Neoton arranged accommodation, an insurance and public service card which is a great help as well, since it can be difficult to do that sort of things all by yourself in a different country.

Now that you’ve actually started your EVS project, what advice would you give to someone who’d like to do an EVS?

Tessa: make sure to make the most of it. Don’t just volunteer, but try to see as much of the city and country as possible. After all, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore a different country and culture! We’ve been lucky enough to have friends taking us to different cities and places outside of Plovdiv, but even if that’s not the case you can still travel and see a lot by yourself. I also try to say yes more often than not. This way I for instance got to see the Surva in Pernik this year.

Romy: be active! It can be the case that in the beginning your colleagues might not have that much work for you to do. This can be because of a language barrier or something else. I think it’s important to take initiative and show them that you can be useful and resourceful. This way it will make it easier for them to give you more tasks. Don’t overdo it though! Make sure you set boundaries and have enough time for exploring the new country and culture you’re in. 

Now let’s talk a little bit more about your stay here in Plovdiv. What’s your favourite place in Plovdiv?

Romy: I think my favourite place in Plovdiv is Kapana, or as some people call it ‘the trap’. My favourite restaurant is there, Паваш, which has the most delicious potatoes with dill and garlic. Pair that with their amazing pork ribs and a bottle of wine and you have a meal fit for a queen. I also love all the street art that can be found in Kapana! You can walk there for hours and find something beautiful at the corner of every street.

Tessa: even though I do love Kapana, my favourite place in Plovdiv has to be Небе Тепе. This is the first place I show my non-Bulgarian friends when they come to visit and I give them a tour of the city. To get there you first have to go through the beautiful old town and once you’re there you get a perfect view of the city. It’s even better watching the sunset from the hill and seeing the sky change colors above the city.

What’s the most shocking / interesting thing you found out about Bulgaria, Bulgarian Culture and Bulgarians?

Romy: well one of the first things we notice was the nodding with yes and no which is opposite of how we do it. We were on the bus and the conductor kept nodding her head as if she was saying no, and we were confused and trying to figure out if there was something wrong with our bus card before we realized that this is something Bulgarian and it actually meant that it was fine. I didn’t find anything really shocking. However, I was surprised to see how warm and welcoming everybody was to us. People invited us to places, wanted to show us the city and I just didn’t expect everybody to be so nice and interested in us.

Tessa: For me there wasn’t really anything that was extremely shocking. Though the broken sidewalks and roads full of holes scared me a little bit at first, now I know to just watch my step. I did however find out many interesting things about the Bulgarian culture. One of the first traditions I encountered was during the opening event of Plovdiv 2019, when I entered the backstage area. Before I even opened the door I could hear the deafening sound of hundreds of bells. Then, I found many men dressed in what looked and more importantly smelled like sheep wool. The whole experience was quite overwhelming to say the least. Later someone explained to me that this was simply the Kukeri. 

I have heard you have experienced some Bulgarian holidays and traditions. What’s your favourite Bulgarian or Plovdiv tradition?

Tessa: I particularly liked the Baba Marta. The positive vibe that I could feel all around the office was just amazing. Everyone was so cheerful and excited and even though I wasn’t familiair with the tradition, I actually received quite a lot of Martenitsas (??) and good wishes. Feeling so much love from the people around me was the perfect way to start the spring season and I hope to introduce my Dutch friends to it next year.

Romy:  I really enjoyed the Kukeri Festival! We went to the Kukeri parade in Pernik and it was so funny to see all the performances and the amazing yet kind of strange costumes. Even though my toes and fingers were frozen because of the snowy weather, I had a great time looking at everyone. This is also were I learned my first full Bulgarian sentence: сурва, сурва година, до година до амина. What it means? I still don’t know but maybe by the end of this year I will have found out.

You have been here for 4 months already, have you experienced any struggles during your EVS and your stay in Bulgaria so far?

Tessa: for me the biggest struggle was and still is being away from my family and friends back in the Netherlands. Having to miss them for such a long time is hard for me, but fortunately I’ve made some great friends here as well and we even have our own Bulgarian family in Plovdiv! Besides that, the language barrier can be a struggle sometimes but with gestures and a lot of help from Google Translate  it always works out fine.

Romy: the thing I’m struggling with most is the language. I really want to learn Bulgarian but finding the time and motivation is hard sometimes because of our busy work schedule. I know we have lots of great people around us who teach us some Bulgarian now and then but I feel like to really learn and master a language I would need more regular classes.

So if you could go back in time and give yourself a piece of advice before your Bulgaria adventure, what would you tell yourself?

Tessa: even though I wouldn’t have done anything different, I would tell myself to prepare better. I’m a big procrastinator and started packing my suitcase only the night before I would leave to Bulgaria. It turned out fine, but I could’ve saved myself a lot of unnecessary stress if I had just started a little sooner.

Romy:  I would probably tell myself to stop worrying about meeting new people. Before I went I thought the language barrier would be a huge problem when it comes to meeting new people. I also didn’t know how everybody would react to us. Turned out that I had nothing to worry about. Everybody was super friendly and welcoming. They took great care of us (and still are). We were also assigned mentors and buddies who are now close friends so everything turned out to be great!

Fast forward to the end of your EVS in Bulgaria, we can imagine that you’ll be happy to go home but what will you miss most after you leave?

Tessa: that would have to be our Bulgarian family and friends. The people here have been incredibly open and welcoming to us. I’ve met some great friends and I know for sure that I’ll miss them when I get back home. However, I know I’m welcome to come visit them again in the future and I will most definitely do so!

Romy: like Tessa, I’ll mostly miss all the friends I have made here of course. I have met so many lovely people here who have taken me around Plovdiv and showed me places outside of it as well. I’m looking forward to coming and visit here many times. Also, the potatoes from Pavazh... I will be dreaming about those till the day I die.

About the author:  Hristina Mihaylova (24) is a volunteer for the Plovdiv 2019 foundation. She is mostly active as a mentor for the Blog & Translation department. She graduated with a Bachelor in something and is currently working as a barista at Dea coffee which is where this interview took place.


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