Here I am sitting now after nearly 12 full months in Bulgaria: So many memories, so many stories, so many different experiences, so many changes, but where to begin? Looking back on myself only two years ago, I wouldn´t in a million years have believed that I would spend a year abroad in Bulgaria and here I am now after one year and there is nothing in the world I would trade against this life-changing experience. If people would ask me for my favourite memory out of the entire year, I would have to pass because I couldn´t say which one it is. There are so many truly wonderful memories and trying to rank them wouldn´t even come close to what they mean to me, still, I will share some of these stories and memories in this article.
The one thing I can in fact call the most important and most wonderful part of this entire experience was the people I met. Starting with the volunteers most close to me, with whom I spend most of my time together: Maxime, Annelyne, Paula and Daniele. We all were volunteers here at Eunipartners and all spent basically every day together in the span of 4 ½ up to 12 months. With each one of them, I remember something else. Each of us was different, but still, we got along and spend a wonderful time together. Even though we also had our disagreements sometimes. These were the people I went with through this entire year, the people who were an anchor for me next to all the people coming and going. This brings me to the next group of people: all the other volunteers, who stayed only for a limited time here in Bulgaria. Most of them came from the other organisation in Blagoevgrad, but there also were some volunteers from other organisations in Bulgaria. Even though I met most of these volunteers only for a limited time, it was nonetheless an important part of the experience. Meeting so many different people from different countries, cultures, and backgrounds was truly eye-opening for me and everyone else. We all were basically in the same situation, which made us instantly feel connected. The different backgrounds and cultures didn´t play a big role. We felt like we were all the same even though some of us were born and grew up hundreds of kilometres apart. Especially interesting for me was also the fact that the age difference between us didn´t really matter, with my 18/19 years I was one of the youngest volunteers here, while some of the others were up to 7/8 years older. Somehow all of that didn´t matter and despite all of our differences, we were all the same. The third group of people obviously can´t be forgotten either: the Bulgarians. Whereas at the beginning we didn´t meet many locals, mostly just in connection with our office, after a few months that changed. We got to know a lot of young Bulgarians, most of them were high school students. With them, we discovered Bulgaria and the culture even more. It was incredible meeting all of these local people, they filled our experience in Bulgaria with life. After looking back on all of the people I met during the last year and all the memories, I can´t help but be grateful for everything that happened and for each one of them who stepped into my life (or maybe I stepped in there’s).
While we all spend a lot of time together in Blagoevgrad at events, evenings at the bar, clubs or just at home talking about god and the world, the slightly more memorable part might be the travels we did throughout the year, in and outside of Bulgaria. I visited a ton of places in Bulgaria from big cities like Sofia, Plovdiv, Varna, and Burgas to smaller cities and villages like Veliko Tarnovo, Kazanlak, Shipka, and Bansko and even beautiful remote places like the Seven-Rila-Lakes or the Buzludzha-monument. Some of these travels we did altogether in big groups, while others we did in smaller groups and some I even did entirely on my own. It was amazing being able to travel so easily through Bulgaria and visit so many fascinating places. If I would need to choose my favourite cities would probably be Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo. But my favourite travels (probably because a little bit crazy) were first the exploring of the Seven-Rila-Lakes in May when the mountains were still covered in snow and our only way up was by hiking through the seemingly unspoiled nature and second my solo hike from Shipka to the Buzludzha-Monument and back (in total around 20 kilometres) in the morning after a party with volunteers in Shipka. Both of these travels made me again feel truly alive and myself. But we not only travelled through Bulgaria. We also visited the neighbouring countries: Thessaloniki in Greece, Istanbul in Turkey and Bucharest in Romania. Besides our work travel to Novo Mesto in Slovenia (with a stop in Croatia) for a project, we implemented in Blagoevgrad. I also need to mention my little bit adventurous trip back home to Germany, which when I´m writing this article hasn´t started yet. It will bring me through Ohrid and Skopje in North Macedonia, Belgrade in Serbia, Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Budapest in Hungary until I will finally arrive in Germany after two weeks of travel. I am already so thankful for the wonderful trips I´ve already done this year and I am looking forward with the same excitement to my last big travel. When I am coming back home to Germany I will be richer by the experiences of ten newly travelled countries.
This brings me to the next part of my experience: the changes I´ve discovered about myself and the things I will take back home with me. While I think the first obvious change has probably to do with my appearance, like the long hair or the new earring, the more significant changes are on the inside. But I think the most crucial change can be found in my competence in speaking in front of and with other people, basically my social skills. Due to my introverted personality, I´ve always struggled in social settings and stayed most of the time quiet, especially if I didn´t know the people that well. After this year, I can now say that I was able to improve this a lot and jump over my own shadow. After months of everyday improvement and people close to me pushing me sometimes in the right direction, I feel much more confident now. Even randomly approaching strangers, something a year ago would have cost me a ton of negotiation with myself, is now much easier for me. Interestingly it can lead to memorable situations, like this one time when we came down from the Seven-Rila-Lakes at around 7 pm with no possibility of getting a bus. In the end, I “just” approached a German couple, which we had already met on the way down. They got us a ride in their camper van back to Blagoevgrad during which I had a remarkable conversation with them. This experience genuinely showed me my improvement.
Coming now to the end of my experience in Bulgaria and also the end of this article, there is only one thing left to say and that is: I am truly thankful for this whole year in Blagoevgrad, for all the people I met, the moments we shared, the trips we´ve made, the time we spend together and most of all the confidence in myself they gave me. There is nothing in this world that I would trade this experience against, nothing! When I leave Bulgaria, I will leave it with a crying and a laughing eye. Crying because I can´t realise that it´s already over and because I know I will miss everyone and everything here. But also laughing because I am looking forward to getting back home, seeing friends and family again and because I know I will come back to Bulgaria one future day and meet everyone again. It will not be a farewell, it´s just a Good Bye and a See You Again someday Bulgaria!