The University of San Diego’s annual All Faith Service is Thursday, Feb. 2 at 12:15 p.m. in Shiley Theatre. The campus community comes together for a diverse experience through faith traditions. Several USD international students will serve as flag-bearing representatives of their respective countries. Inside USD chose five students and asked them to share insights about their home country and their USD experience.
Where were you born?
I was born in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria.
How long have you lived in Bulgaria? Do you still visit during school breaks? Will you live there again after you finish college?
I’ve lived in Bulgaria most of my life. I lived in the U.S. for one year while I was in second grade and now while I’m at USD, but the rest of my 17 years have been spent in Sofia. I go back to Bulgaria for the longer winter and summer breaks. Ideally, I’d like to live in San Diego after I graduate, but I’d like to travel to Bulgaria occasionally to reconnect with family, friends and my roots.
I was raised in Bulgaria so the majority of my memories are from there. My family bought our first home there; my two brothers were born there; I went to high school there and graduated. These are all very significant events in my life. Bulgaria provided me with a very happy childhood and helped me become an adult.
How different is Bulgaria now than 10-15 years ago?
Fifteen years ago, Bulgaria was beginning its recovery from the political monopoly that the Communist Party had established. The start of the 1990s was a rough transitional time with democracy trying to permanently settle in. Because of this, the country developed very slowly and was drastically falling behind the progress of the Western cultures. The Internet wasn’t heard of, acquiring a car was near impossible and buying a big home wasn’t allowed. Today, as a member of NATO and the European Union, Bulgaria is a parliamentary democracy. It is westernizing at a fast pace and quickly catching up to the progress of the capitalist nations. It’s amazing to see entire changes take place before our eyes and how much better and easier life is now.
Can you share some cultural thoughts about Bulgaria?
Bulgaria is a rather small country, but it’s known for a lot of things. The official language is Bulgarian, which is similar, but not quite, to Serbian and Russian. The most popular sport is soccer, but tennis, gymnastics and volleyball are gaining in popularity. Bulgaria is known for its beautiful nature and has four seasons, allowing for nature to be explored in various conditions. There are numerous mountain ranges, rivers, lakes, waterfalls, national parks, sunny beaches, hot springs, caves and more. The country is known for its rose valleys. The rose-growing industry is a major one. Bulgaria produces 85 percent of the world’s rose oil. Bulgaria is also one of the world’s oldest winemaking regions with five distinct regions. Bulgaria’s known for its honey because of its nutritional and remedial properties, and for dairy products such as yogurt. Bulgaria has a rich folklore and traditions remain through music, dances and clothing.
If you were a tour guide for others visiting Bulgaria, what would you show them?
Bulgaria’s incredible nature should be explored. Some of the bigger mountains — Rila, Stara Planina and Vitosha – and the gorgeous lakes within them are a must-see. Bulgaria has a long history and there are several museums, including the National Historical Museum, to create a sense of its past. There are ruins of the Roman Empire in the heart of the capital, Sofia. The walls of what was likely a Roman Church are located in downtown Sofia and are believed to date back to 500 B.C.
What’s a misconception about Bulgaria?
People often associate Bulgaria with the Soviet Union because, geographically, it’s very close to Russia and creates a stereotype of Bulgarians. Bulgaria, however, was never part of the Soviet bloc.
I visited Southern California many times prior to the college application process and I was determined that this was where I wanted to live and study. With the help of a high school counselor we made a list of good private schools in the area and USD was the best match for me. I’m extremely happy with my decision to come here. I am a junior and I am majoring in business marketing and finance.
Describe your experience as an international student at USD?
My first month at USD was probably one of the hardest times of my life. I found myself alone, with no family or friends, so far away from home and having to adjust to a completely different culture. Even language was a barrier because most people here speak very fast. In time, though, you get used to things. Language is no longer an issue; I can now freely talk with native speakers, which gives me an opportunity to be part of their world and explore American culture. It’s fascinating to compare and contrast two very different cultures based on personal experiences now, not just literature and media. I think I have an advantage as an international student because I see the best of both worlds. That I’m able to represent Bulgaria and familiarize others in greater detail makes me very proud. There are students from so many countries at USD that it gives all students a chance to learn about the world’s many cultures and traditions, which has always interested me. Being part of a diverse USD community is what I’ve enjoyed most about my college experience.
What are your thoughts about American culture? Has it been a difficult adjustment?
American culture is very different from the culture in which I was raised. The importance of free expression and concepts of materialism, capitalism and consumerism stand out and are what usually cause culture shock. I didn’t see it when I was in the U.S. as a second grader, but it’s different now as an adult, I see much dissimilarity between American and Bulgarian cultures. It was initially hard to adjust but being around other international students helped me. I realized I wasn’t the only one in this tough situation. I gained confidence by spending more time with domestic students. Americans are very warm and welcoming people. I’m extremely grateful for this amazing opportunity to live here and make good friends. My time in San Diego, so far, has been the adventure of a lifetime.
The All Faith Service is a chance to represent Bulgaria and carry your flag. How do you feel about being a part of this event?
Carrying Bulgaria’s flag is a great honor for me. It reminds me of who I am and how I became the person I am today. Carrying the flag of the country I was born in makes me feel proud and very grateful for the opportunity to represent my country. I get to show my USD classmates a little bit about my cultural background.
Describe Bulgaria in one sentence:
Though very small, Bulgaria is a country of breathtakingly beautiful nature, centuries of history, long traditions and cheerful people.