Saint Patrick’s Day 2010

Shortly before I came to America, the local Rotary club in Pazardzhik got in touch with the Worcester Rotary Club and notified them about my arrival, kindly asking the club members to welcome me and help me with my adjustment. One of the club members, Val, responded and eagerly accepted to welcome me to Worcester and the local Rotary community.

She introduced me to the Worcester Rotary Club, made me feel at home, and ensured I had everything I needed. She knew I didn’t have a laptop and a printer, so one day she told me to prepare a presentation about Bulgaria’s culture and traditions and give a talk at the Rotary Club of Westborough on Saint Patrick’s Day. Val even got me a green tie for the occasion. I remember spending a late night in the empty Higgins Labs 116 rehearsing the day before the presentation.

I was living in the dorm, she picked me up, and there I was talking about how I went last night to the library to print a couple of papers, answering her question about any related expenses I’ve had. A short ride later, we arrived in Westborough.

The room was full of Rotarians. The District Governor and Past District Governors were present at the meeting.   It was the club’s 41st anniversary. I gave the USB with my presentation to the Past District Governor and sat down. I saw a laptop and printer on the desk, but I didn’t question why they were on the desk.

We had corned beef and cabbage, the traditional Saint Paddy’s day meal, for lunch, and it was my turn to present. Suddenly, everyone was looking at me. We exchanged club flags, and I started talking. At the end of my presentation, the President of the Westborough Rotary Club took the microphone and thanked me. A few other people stood up and gathered next to me, then they all looked at me: “Georgi, do you see that laptop and printer here? They’re for you!”

I was not sure what was happening. The Rotary Club of Westborough and the Rotaract Club of UMASS Medical had teamed up to get me the laptop and printer on the desk! Val later told me she had known about this for a week and was relieved to tell me out loud that my computer and printer challenges were now over!

During one of their meetings, they had discussed getting me the gift because Val had told them I was a good student, was struggling financially, and they wanted to help me have everything I needed for my success at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The week before, they had taken a hat and passed it around the room asking the members to donate for “this talented student from Bulgaria who’s a freshman at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.”

It was one of those  moments where I was physically there, but I was staggered by the lovely gesture people I didn’t know would do for a first-year international student seeking to make sense of the new academic setting, adjust to the culture, and prove himself in a foreign country.

Arriving on campus – first impressions

Mululu and I arrived on campus. We were escorted by a police car. He was on the back seat. No, we hadn’t done anything wrong on our first day in the US. We simply got lost and the officer offered to take us to our dorms, which turned out to be a walking distance from one another. There was campus police,  and they were willing to help us.  And they were friendly.

I had not even seen pictures of the campus until that moment. I was staying in Morgan, one of the newly built dorms.  I entered the wedge with my two suitcases, and people held doors for me — I felt as if I was a prince! I took the elevator to the 3rd floor. The brothers from the Alpha Chi Rho fraternity helped me carry my suitcases.

As I walked into the hall, I saw cartoon characters on every door with the names of the residents underneath them. I could not understand this. I thought this was childish. Later, after the international orientation, our Community Advisor gathered all of the residents on the floor, all guys, to mix and mingle. We had to do icebreakers to get to know each other; we formed a circle and each of us had to do something, the others had to reproduce it, and the next one had to do something else. I thought this was immature!

I did not need an icebreaker to make friends! Then, as the year progressed, the Resident Advisors organized a “war” between the two wings of the floor: my peers were using nerf guns, toy grenades, they even dressed themselves up in uniforms. This was such a culture shock for me! I was wondering if I was surrounded by 18-year-olds or 12-year-olds?