“We miss Bulgaria and the spontaneous contact with people there …“
Yordan Kostov has been living for six years in Baltimore, the US. He is the Director of the Center for Contemporary Censor Technologies at the University of Maryland. His wife – Gergana Kostova – is in the US since 2002. She is studying at the University of Maryland and working on the setting up of a digital archive on the cultural heritage of the State.
Why did you chose America – was it a dream, by chance or you simply wanted to leave Bulgaria?
Yordan: It all happened by chance. I was senior assistant in Biotechnology at the Technical University in Sofia. I was looking for ways to specialize abroad, mainly in Germany since I had already been to that country before. It didn’t work out. I decided to try in the UK and the US. As it turned out later, I had sent a letter to my current boss who at that time had the necessary funding for a specialization and I had been the first to contact him.
Gergana: I came here because of my husband. I was working as an assistant at the Department of Slavic literatures in the University of Sofia. I very much appreciated my work with the students but decided to follow by husband to the US. What love can only do…
What were your expectations about America and were they finally met?
Yordan: I expected work and difficulties. I have graduated in Russia, specialized in Germany, and I have also been to Spain for a while. I know very well what it is like to be in a foreign country. One can find work and ways for professional development there, and the difficulties are just a natural part of life, but one that can be overcome. The good thing in the US is that Americans are less xenophobic compared to other foreigners. Gergana: I came with no expectations whatsoever. I only knew that it would be very hard to find a suitable job. The adaptation process was not easy but I took the right direction. I chose a job that combines my background in the humanities with the new information technologies. I would be happy to put to practice everything I learn here in terms of skills and knowledge, so as to achieve a full-value communication between the US and Eastern Europe, and in particular in Bulgaria.
What are the differences and similarities between Bulgaria and America? Do Bulgarians and Americans have features in common?
Yordan: Well…we are all people after all. Bulgarians complain too much, while Americans always smile at you, but you can’t know what they are thinking. The common thing is the bureaucracy – in America and Bulgaria it is equally big. You rarely offer cash in the US, not to speak of taking it. If, however, such an act is found out and proven, one faces lawsuit and prison. In Baltimore, for example, it turned out that the chief of the local police had been spending public funds. The court found him guilty, he was in prison for one year and a half, and now he cannot find a job because he no longer has a clean record. The world outlook is different. In the US people are individualistic, everybody does what he thinks is best, while Bulgarians still lack enough high esteem.
Gergana: I would only like to add that here in the US the system of being “well-connected” when looking for a job is something legal and natural. They call it “networking”. Everybody can propose somebody s/he considers suitable to fill a certain job opening at his/her working place. Thus s/he becomes a guarantee for the proposed new person. Such kinds of relationships are encouraged. Something else that Bulgarians would probably find surprising is the fact that many Americans have never traveled abroad. Less than half have shown interest in other parts of the world. The news on the TV is primarily national.
Do you miss Bulgaria?
Yordan: Yes – I miss my family, my friends, the cheese, the trams, the Boris Garden, the nice climate. ..
Gergana: Yes, I miss my family and friends most. I also miss the spontaneous contact with the people in Bulgaria and the pleasure to have a coffee somewhere out in the open in Sofia.
What do you think we as Bulgarians should be proud of no matter where we are?
Yordan: We too have given something to the world – the Cyrillic alphabet, the yoghurt, the rose oil …
Gergana: We have a good educational system, which is a prerequisite for the success of those Bulgarians that have decided to study abroad. We have a beautiful land and valuable history that impress foreigners. Recently, I was wearing a T-shirt with some letters from the Glagollic alphabet when two students, a Korean and a Chinese, started asking me about it, finding it remotely connected to their own.
Would you come back to Bulgaria?
Йордан: Of course – when I find a suitable job in Bulgaria, consistent with my qualifications.
Gergana: Yes, I would like to return to Bulgaria after spending some time in the US and apply what I’ve learned there.
Do you find life in the US to be like in fairytales?
Yordan: In tales there are good fairies that make miracles. In America there is loads of work, 24 hours a day. Of course, there also people to appreciate and evaluate it. Gergana: America is not a dream place. However, I am happy that I came here because I saw life in a completely different light.