A phone call to remember

The Registrar’s Office posted my last D-term grades in the late afternoon on 3 May 2013. Suddenly classes were over. BannerWeb confirmed that I had officially completed all of my degree requirements and had become the first college graduate in my family.

A minute later, I called Hristo, my cousin who lives in Florida, to share the good news with him. He and his wife, Pavela, have always supported me in many ways, and I cannot thank them enough. To date, they are my only family in America.

Hristo answered the phone, and we started talking:

“How many A’s did you get this semester?”
“I got straight A’s both C and D terms, Hristo. “
“You got all A’s? When’s your commencement ceremony?’
“11 May.”
“Is your family coming to the ceremony? ”
“No, they won’t be able to attend, but they will be watching the live webcast.”
“Okay, let me call you back in 5 minutes.”
5 minutes passed.
“Pavela and I are coming to your commencement. You’ll have family cheering you on.”

With Hristo and Pavela at my Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on 11 May ’13.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI)

Septemvri train station

The Septemvri train station became dear to me ever since I got accepted to attend the Math High school in the nearby town of Pazardzhik. Our relationship evolved when I was selected for Fulbright’s United States Achievements Program and began traveling to Sofia on a regular basis.

When my classmates were taking the train to Pazardzhik, I was taking the train in the opposite direction. I was skipping school to reach the Fulbright Advising Center during the school year and throughout school holidays. I had joined the “international students applying to U.S. colleges” gang.

Bloodhound’s olfactory sense for catered events on campus

By D-Term ’11 of my sophomore year, I had developed advanced scent receptors for catered events on campus. It was as if I had awakened my sixth sense and knew where to be at the right place, at the right time. I had successfully reached a bloodhound’s olfactory sense for detecting free food on campus.

I was taking Data Analysis for Decision Making class, taught by Professor Crystal Shields. She was a kind, empathetic, and passionate professor from Canada.

After class, I had a 2-hour break before heading to my next class, so I went to the Campus Center. The Rubin Campus Center hosted numerous events during the year. It was the central location for students, at the crossroads of the campus. I would sneak into an event and blend in with the crowd like a chameleon, even though I didn’t know anything about the event whatsoever.

I went up the stairs to the Class of 1946 Lounge on the second floor. It was an octagonal lounge, named in honor of the Class of 1946. My usual spot was on the chair by the window overlooking the Higgins House.

There was an IEEE conference that same day. My senses hadn’t let me down again. The next day, I went to my on-campus job in the morning. H’mon greeted me and said, “I saw you were at the conference yesterday, how was it?”

“You’re not moving to Kenya or Belgium. Or China. You’re staying in America.”

In the summer of 2014, I was back to the place I had left a year ago: 14 Dover Street, Worcester. While I was as student at WPI. I spent 3 years living there; now I was living there again.

Everything was the same, just the way I remembered it: the portrait of James Dean with his famous “Dream as if you will live forever, live as if you will die today” quote was still hanging in the hallway; the dining table someone had given to me was still in the living room; the same plants were dying of improper watering. Nothing had changed. Same old apartment 2A.

I had to quickly pick myself up and get my act together. It was a daunting task. This was the time when my friends and family were there for me for encouragement at down-times. All of them, but Seabass in particular.

I was applying for jobs in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, South America. I brushed up my Excel skills and learned Tableau. I interviewed with a company in Nairobi and a company in Brussels. I also interviewed for an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher in a public middle school in Zhu Zhou, city of Hunan Province, China.

One day, I was in a real strop. July was almost over. I was on the brink of booking a ticket to Bulgaria anytime now. My mind was in turmoil. As I was dwelling on all of this, Seabass walked into the room.

I shared my frustrations with him, updated him about my current situation. I had gotten a job offer. He went silent for a moment, looked at me, and confidently told me, “You’re not moving to Kenya or Belgium. Or China. You’re staying in America.”

Pictured, Seabass and I at Hog’s Head in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure on 8 July 2017.

Daydreaming at Boston Harbor

I was burnt out towards the end of B-term of my junior year at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. I hadn’t seen my family since 18 August 2009, and I already knew I wasn’t seeing them for the holidays.

I was fortunate to get a Co-op at Biogen in the spring of 2012. I was alternating a semester of academic study with a semester of full-time, paid employment. This was a great opportunity to get hands-on experience in the real world. I cherish the time I spent at Biogen.

I was living with my U.S. family in a town 5 miles northwest of Boston. I loved to mender along Boston’s Harborwalk after work. This was my favorite place in Boston, because it overlooked the airport. It had been 3 years since I last saw my family. I headed to the harbor on Wednesday, 28 March ‎2012. I stood there, peering at the planes taking off. I gazed at the water, looked up, and then smiled. I imagined it was August, and I was on the plane going home.

I followed the plane’s trajectory until it became a tiny dot in the sky. When my eyes got watery, I realized it was just a dream. A few minutes later, another plane took off. I started daydreaming again.

It got dark and chilly. I could hear the soothing sound of the waves crashing into the harbor. It was time to go. I was the last one to leave the harbor.

Seeing the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) in Iceland

The vessel was waiting at Reykjavík’s Old Harbor. Around 21:15, we set out into Faxafló in search of the Aurora Borealis. The Harpa and Hallgrímskirkja shrunk behind us. Bellatrix, the 3rd brightest star in the constellation of Orion, and Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, were guiding us along the way.

We were out on the outdoor decks, in protective overalls to stave off the cold, surveying the sky for the nature’s own fireworks. It was a full Moon, with a clear, dark sky. In the middle of a pitch-black bay, it was a matter of waiting for the cosmic show to begin. We were patiently waiting on the decks for about 30 minutes, everyone was silent.

“Georgi, look to your left,” Kirsten marveled.

“Ahh! I see a green arch,” I said.

Wisps of green were twirling across the Icelandic night sky in a turbulent chaotic flow. We were all silent again, mesmerized by this natural phenomenon. The aurora show had begun. The Northern Lights were dancing in the sky in green and purple colors. They even had a rhythm to it. They had a color scheme. I was in a complete awe.

It was a jaw-dropping, surreal experience. Seeing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland was so thrilling. Hard to paint a picture of this overwhelming experience. It’s a must-see.

The Last Don

I met Genadiy at the Little Red Riding Hood kindergarten in my hometown of Septemvri, Bulgaria at the age of five. Right off the bat, we were up for shenanigans. He was such a visionary. The kids in our class called him the “commander.”

We shared a desk all through elementary school. I call the “commander” one of my best friends today. We continue the shenanigans, despite the distance between us.

14 years after we had met, he was with me at Sofia Airport, Terminal 2 Departures. It was 5:30 AM on 18 August 2009. While it would have been easier to stay in Bulgaria, I was at the airport ready to embark on my journey to America; a journey where I was going to encounter all kinds of thorns.

There we were Genadiy and I, waiting in the departures lounge, when he opened the plastic bag he was carrying and handed me a book. It was The Last Don, a novel by Mario Puzo. It was a gift for me. I would later lean on this book for support. But more about that later. Even the smallest piece of paper written in Cyrillic was valuable when I was far away from home and family.

Christmas with WPI faculty

I finished my 12th term at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and was staying in Worcester for the holidays. I was working on campus during the winter break. I was about 7, 415 km (4,607 miles) away from home. It was my second Christmas in Massachusetts. Second of the seven Christmases my seat at the table was going to be empty. Long conversations on Skype seeing my family on my laptop screen was the closest I could get to celebrating the holidays.

I was by myself in the apartment. My roommates had left to be with their families. Dover Street was dark and deserted. Weather was cold and windy. It was raining. It had snowed on the 23 December 2010.

It was 5 P.M. on 26 December when my cell phone rang. My English as a Second Language (ESL) professor had arrived. She was picking me up to spend the second day of Christmas with her family. It was one of the many random acts of kindnesses I experienced during the four years I spent at WPI.

WorldTeach Bulgaria Summer 2009

I travelled to Sofia on June 28th, 2009 to greet the U.S. volunteers who were going to be teaching English in the summer. I remember I arrived with Bulgarian rose oil for each of them. After a week of orientation, they were ready to travel to their placements, and that is when I met Derek and William for the first time.

They were going to be teaching at the Math high school in the town of Pazardzhik, their home for the next two months. They knew no one and spoke not a word of Bulgarian.

Derek was a New York Yankees fan; William was a Boston Red Sox. They quickly brought me up to speed on the rivalry. Despite their differences, they ended up forming a great team together.

During our trip to Pazardzhik, I was asking them endless questions about the United States: famous quotes, history, cities, and everything else under the sun. They told me what they thought was positive, as well as negative, about their culture. I participated in that same debate about mine.

For two months, they became the local superheroes. They were on the local TV and in the newspaper! They even met the mayor!

Their experience was so inspiring that upon returning to America, they continued supporting the development of Bulgarian youth from afar. More about that later.


Tell us a little about the education system in Bulgaria

In my high school, each class lasted 40 minutes, with a 10-minute break between classes and a 20-minute break after the third period.

I went to a Math High School 15 miles away from my town which was considered an “elite” school compared to a regular public school (think of it as a Charter School). We shared the building with a language school and took turns switching shift every  term

For example, during the Fall semester (September – February), my  first class started at 7:30 AM until 12:30 PM; during the Spring semester (February – June), classes started at 1:30 PM and ended around 6:30 PM.

On average, classes are  about 25 students.

  1. This varies depending on the school district. Class sizes are smaller in the  towns and villages.
  2. Students usually take Math and Literature entrance examinations at 7th grade and apply to the “elite” schools,   such as Math high schools, language schools vocational training schools which are outside of their hometown.

There were seven classes, consisting of 26 students each, in my high school. Each class followed a distinctive curriculum, depending on their chosen major. Some schools, the so-called “elite” schools, have a policy of maintaining an even gender acceptance ratio.

  1. Back home, teachers are very authoritative, and the class structure was very formal.
    1. They give the information to the students, and there is almost no interaction/discussion.
    2. It is mostly about memorizing and then reproducing the information.

Group work is not tolerated. Most of the assignments are individual work. Group projects are not tolerated as part of the curriculum. As an exception, one would need to go the extra mile and work with a peer and an advisor separately on a project for a specific competition. For example, a friend of mine and I worked on a project with our physics teacher for a national IT competition.

  1. Overall, teachers would be presenting the new information and dictating the content each class, structuring everything in a bullet point format that we’d reproduce the next time we get verbally examined on the board, or in a written format.
  2. Failure to reproduce it and expressing your own voice, especially in Literature classes, was often penalized with a lower grade, depending on the teacher.
  3. I had to “delete my Bulgarian hardware” and evaluate the information presented, build my own views.