In my conversations with people I meet here I'm usually asked if I like Bulgaria. When I reply that yes, I actually love Bulgaria, and I'm planning to stay here for another year, I often get some quizzical looks. While a lot of people are quick to point out its flaws, it's clear that they like it here, too. There's just a perception that foreigners have negative associations with Bulgaria and it comes as a surprise that one of them would choose to stay a while. Some of my colleagues are very enthusiastic about my decision to return to my "heaven in Bulgaria," as one of them put it. She also suggested that next year I might find a husband and settle down permanently. Although that's about as far away from my intention as possible, I do feel good about staying and learning more about this fascinating place.
Bulgaria's location is perfect for someone interested in the Balkans, which I am. Ever since visiting Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia two years ago I became determined to learn more and experience the diverse cultures that make up this historical crossroads of Southeast Europe. There are elements of shared culture between all of these countries and across the region, including Greece and Turkey, which make for excellent opportunities for exploration. Understanding the differences between these cultures and my own has helped me more closely examine American identity and the assumptions we make about others. I think that being more aware of these contrasts can help bridge the gaps in efforts towards mutual understanding and hopefully benefit everyone.
What else is there to love about Bulgaria? Its natural beauty is breathtaking, with several distinct mountain ranges, river canyons, fields of sunflowers and roses, not to mention the sea coast. The food is delicious, varied and meant to be enjoyed over several glasses of rakia (which I also love). It has a long and rich history, being the oldest country in Europe, with many archaeological treasures. And the people I've met here are some of the warmest and friendliest ones I've ever known. I have a lot to learn still, not least of which is the language (but I'm trying, as my students can assure you). Maybe Dessy's right and I will find my "luck" here in Bulgaria. I'm just glad that I don't have to say goodbye quite yet.