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)

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.

WPI Student Employee of the Year Award

It was March 10th, 2011. I was with Derek in New York University’s Brittany Hall.

I checked my phone. I saw an email from Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Student Activities Office and read it out loud:

“Georgi Kardzhaliyski, you’ve been nominated for the WPI Student Employee of the Year award. The Student Recognition Awards Ceremony will take place on April 11th, 2011 in the Rubin Campus Center Odeum.”

Derek winged at me and congratulated me. I smiled and wondered who could’ve nominated me.I was scheduled to assist with A/V needs in an e-classroom on the night of the ceremony. I walked into the Academic Technology Center’s Office to pick up equipment, when Kaitlin, my supervisor, said:

“Georgi, I’ll find someone to cover your shift tonight. You’re going to the ceremony.”

I wondered why, but I didn’t question it. I went back to 14 Dover Street to change into my prom suit and headed to the Odeum.

I was sitting quietly when I heard Kris struggling to pronounce someone’s name:

“At this time, I would like to present to you, the WPI Student Employee of the Year: GEE-yor-gee KARRD-za-lisk-ee.”

April 11th, 2011: Positing with the Student Employee of the Year Award, next to H’mon, Kristen, and Jessica.

I stood still. I had become the first Bulgarian to win the award!


First Bulgarian to win the WPI Student Employee of the Year Award!
A poster outside the WPI Academic Technology Center in Fuller Labs, my on-campus employer that nominated me for the award.

Day center funded by the Embassy of Bulgaria

Recently attended a Welcome to Rotary Orientation Party and met a Rotarian from the country of Georgia. She told me UNICEF approached Together for Real Changes, an organization created to bring services for people with disabilities and their families in rural and mountainous areas of Georgia, to develop the first state-of-the-art day center for children with disabilities.

The Center serves up to 30 children with disabilities and 10
adults in a social-therapy workshop in Borjomi, and the Embassy of Bulgaria through UNICEF funded renovation, training and equipment. She was so grateful.

Here’s a video of the day center in Borjomi:


Salute to the WPI Class of 2013

I auditioned for a Commencement / Baccalaureate speaker at my graduation ceremony.

Even though I was not selected, writing this speech was an opportunity to reflect on m years in college. When I wrote this speech, I wanted it to apply to all my peers whether they grew up in Worcester, Bulgaria, or somewhere else.

I looked back at the text of my speech today and wanted to share it as a blog post. Took a lot of courage to want to give this speech!

WPI Class of 2013,


Suddenly classes are over. Can you believe that our lives are about to change?  Next up is 40-hour work weeks, retirement benefits, and the scariest thought of all: not being able to roll out of bed in sweatpants and hoodies and start our days! And mom and dad now have one more quite strong reason to tell you, “Now you’re on your own.”

We’re ready for the next chapter in our lives. The last four years have prepared us. We’re standing here today as quite different people than the 19-year-olds that came to WPI our freshman year. We’re 16 terms smarter. Many of us are world-travelers. We are more culturally and socially experienced, a bit older and wiser too.  But one thing that I have learned is that no matter how different we all are, there is a place at WPI for everyone.

Today, May 11th, 2013, is a day to be proud of. Along with all of you, I also celebrate with my parents who are watching the live webcast.  They are not understanding a word of what I am saying.

I grew up in a very small town in Southern Bulgaria called Septemvri.  I will always remember sitting in our yard with family and friends, the smell of my grandmother’s homemade bread, the fresh vegetables from our garden, and our dog’s soft barking.  I had a good childhood and could find many reasons to stay but knew I would have to look beyond my small town to fulfill my ambitions. I remember a cold November day when my grandfather took me for an interview with the Fulbright Commission’s United States Achievement Program. This was the first time I was interviewed in English. Little did I know that this experience would be one of the reasons I stand here today.

And so I began the hard process of applying to a U.S. college. I had to master a language, take the entrance examinations, and learn to navigate a foreign application process. This was the easy part, though. I had to convince my family that applying to U.S. colleges was the best option for me.  They had always instilled in me the importance of hard work but moving 4,000 miles across the ocean was a big step. However, I specifically remember my father spending his weekly wages to register me to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). All my parents wanted for me was to see me realize my dream and reach my full potential.

Four years ago, the night before I left Bulgaria, I had dinner with my family and my best friends.  The people I loved were all grouped together saying goodbye to their son, brother, grandchild, and a friend that they would not see for four years. I remember my grandmother smiling at me while we all ate the bread that she had made.  It is a typical Bulgarian tradition to make this special bread when there is something to celebrate. All my grandmother wanted was to see our happiness that we experienced from what she had laboriously prepared.  And the big smiles on our faces were enough for her to know that she had achieved her goal successfully.

That night, four years ago, was special for me and my family.  Throughout the next 4 years, I would often go back to this amazing evening to re-energize myself.  To inspire myself.  I sacrificed a lot to be here, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

WPI taught us how important it was to think of new, unique solutions to problems. WPI sharpened our desires to understand complex ideas and expanded our minds to better understand today’s society. It provided us with the opportunity to identify with people whether they are from Bulgaria, the EU, the United States, Asia, Latin America, Africa, or anywhere in between. On the verge of adulthood, we have started to perceive the world in a way markedly different from the carefree days of our adolescent lives. With a project-based curriculum, now we strive to better not only ourselves, but also the world, keeping in mind that the more successful we become, the more we will be able to give. I know that my family, and friends are waiting for me to come back home someday, to see them, and to taste my grandmother’s wonderful bread again.

I would like to show gratitude to those who supported me during this journey and give thanks for the fortune I have had in being able to come and study in the United States. In Bulgarian…

„Мамо, татко, бабo, дядо. Въпреки че не сте днес тук с мен, можете да видите къде съм прекарал последните 4 години от живота си. Въпреки трудностите и лишенията, успях да постигна мечтаната си цел. Благодаря ви за подкрепата през тези години!“

I have always believed that if there is a will, there is a way.  Accordingly, I reached out to people who were able to lend me a hand. I would like to thank the “Dimitar Berbatov” Foundation and “Communitas” Foundation for believing in me.

Next, I would like to acknowledge my guardian angel Valentine Callahan, the members of Worcester Rotary Club, and Westborough Rotary Club for reasons I could not explain in words.

To my colleagues from the Academic Technology Center and Undergraduate Admissions Office for being my American family for the past four years.

To my cousin and my American family for cheering for me in the crowd today, thank you.

To Frank Hoy and Sharon Wulf for inspiring me to follow my inner voice. To all the professors, thank you.

Lastly, to all of you sitting here today. Class of 2013, thank you!  Be proud because you deserve it, stay humble because there is more to accomplish tomorrow, and be grateful because today would not have been possible without the love of the people who are important to us. Congratulations! Salute!

Photo Credit: Coni Gadjokova

Advice from an international student for faculty and staff

Wrote this piece a while ago for an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event.

Show interest in your student’s country of origin: Ask about their country’s heritage and what it’s like living there. Showing even the slightest interest goes a long way. Every time someone would ask me about Bulgaria  (1) it takes me back virtually to my homeland; (2) it makes me smile that someone is interested to learn about my home country; and (3) it turns to be the highlight of my day. You can ask just a simple question such as: Tell me more about Bulgaria and the town where you grow up in.

Try to understand the student’s desire to study abroad:  Why did they choose this specific school? Why did they decide to study in the United States?

Consider inviting them for the holidays: I have been fortunate to have spent Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas with U.S. families (thanks, Michelle  Carrara, Ellen Lincourt). This helped me feel home away from home in moments when I felt home-sick and lonely. It provided me a loving heart when I needed it most.

Encourage shy international students to participate in class:  Part of my culture shock experience was the amount of in-classroom activities. As an international student, I was not used to speaking up and  quietly stood on my desk. I didn’t want to speak mostly because of my accent, but I also thought I didn’t have anything meaningful to say.

I spoke with a professor of mine who encouraged me to raise my hand when I wanted to add something to the discussion, whether it was valuable or not. She listened to me, which helped me open up, get out of my comfort zone, and  make my voice heard instead of keeping it all to myself (thanks, Sharon Wulf, Ph.D.)

Image Source: https://web.facebook.com/pg/wpi.edu/photos/

What advice would you give to an international student who’s been admitted to a U.S. college?

A friend of mine introduced me to a Bulgarian student who’s been accepted to study Biomedical Engineering at NYU today. We chatted about the U.S. education system, fitting in the college environment, and the expectation from going to school in America. I’d like to share what I had to say about “Your First Year in a US college” at an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event. Feel free to comment and share your experience.

Fitting in the U.S . college environment:

Orientation is not just for fun! Use the time in your first week in college wisely! Write down names. Go to the administrative offices: Registrar’s, Bursar’s Financial Aid, Student Affairs. After all, it’s better to know these people sooner rather than later. In my case, they got to know me by name fairly quickly.

Challenge yourself. Don’t just take the easy classes to get a 4.0 GPA. Take a mixture of classes. Take the classes with the hard professors.

Visit professors during office hours.  Talk to your professors if you have questions or are having a personal issue. They have office hours for a reason!

Speak up and participate in class.  Most of my classes had a 10 – 20 % class participation grade. Do not be shy to raise your hand and speak up. Get out of your comfort zone. This will also help you build relationships with your professors.

Keep in touch with the International House. Talk to the International House if you feel down and just need someone to talk with. They are here to help you!

Make international and American friends. Make friends with your international and American peers. Do not limit your circle to just international friends. Your U.S. peers have grown up here, they are familiar with the culture, and can guide you during your adjustment to the new academic setting. Mix and mingle with everyone.

International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue

When I was an MBA student at Cambridge College, I got invited to speak at an “International Perspectives: Cross-Cultural Dialogue” series event entitled “Cultural Competence.” The purpose of this event was to elevate awareness about international students and the obstacles they overcome.

In this event, specifically, I talked about culture shock. Today I’d like to share what advice I had for international students:

What recommendations would you make for international students who are dealing with culture shock?

Do not judge. A lot of things will be different. It is important not to view everything as good or bad when you compare it to your own culture. Be open-minded.

Listen and observe. Watch others’ reaction in different situations. The more you know about how Americans behave, the less uncomfortable you will feel.

Ask questions. Don’t assume you will always know what is going on or that you will always understand everything. Be honest with your professors and staff — ask them for clarification when you do not understand something.

Join clubs on campus or start your own club. Get involved in on-campus activities and meet new people. Get out of your comfort zone. If you don’t find a club you like, start your own!  


12-и декември 2015

Quincy Market бе нашарен с червено-бели цветове.

Коледа наближаваше. Две седмици деляха ни от този празник.

Не се чувстваше всякаш празниците наближаваха обаче.


Топло бе навън. Червено-белите Снежанки украсили бяха входа и раздаваха усмивки.

Майки с дъщерите пиеха топъл шоколад.

Приятели хапваха шоколад и смееха се.

Момче и момиче говореха си шепнешком и крояха планове за празниците.

Две госпожици отсреща говореха си на италиански и оглушаваха залата с техния смях.


Коледна музика тананикаше и приповдигаше настроението на всички.

Снежанките навън махаха дружелюбно и пръскаха щастие с усмивките си.


А стоеше си той сам горе в кафенето и пиеше си топлия шоколад.

Не обичаше той празниците. Далеч бе от близките и приятелите.

Сам бе в чужда държава, липсваха му милите коледни моменти пред елхата;

бумпетено на печката; пухтенето от комина; искрите и жарта.

Липсваха му топлите прегръдки и смешките с приятелите.

Липсваха му гледането на филми със семейството и събирането около трапезата.


Далеч бе той от тях, ала у дома чувстваше се в това кафене.

Усмихваха му се момичетата отсреща; махаха му русите Снежанки.

Танцуваше той на музиката и тананикаше си, че скоро ще е у дома.



8-ми февруари 2014

Тръгнах аз срамежлив юнак без калпак

височините аз да покорявам.

С одежди нови и чувства неизречени,

затайл бях дъх аз да те срещна.


Стоеше сама ти с гръб към мен.

Стоеше ти до ледената пързалка.

Беше спокойна и замислена.

Гледаше с усмивка към пързалката.


Косата ти бе спусната.

Извади червило.

Устните ти заблестяха в далечината.

Ще успея ли да те прегърна отново?


Забързах се аз към теб.

Снежните препятствия аз преодолявах.

Ново снежно препятствие ни делеше един от друг.

Тръгнах храбро аз. Ще стигна ли до теб?


Затаих дъх аз. Скок.

Бях от другата страна.

Гледах те застанала още до пързалката.

Виждах край аз на този път.

Приближих се аз до теб

и те потупах по рамото.

Сърцето ми тревожно затуптя.

Обърнах се и се усмихна.


Поехме си двамата дъх и мълчахме.

Последва прегръдка топла.

Усмихна се отново.

Смехът ти чух аз отново.