Young Bulgarians are often lured abroad by plush study and work opportunities. Perhaps a surprise, corruption scandals and ridiculous politics aren’t the main reason that Bulgarian millennials end up in another country — some choose to stay in Bulgaria despite these issues.
For those who leave, there are challenges but also many benefits. A huge driver, usually underestimated, is the desire to discover new worlds and cultures.
“London, New York and Boston, the three cities I have lived in, are hubs for human diversity,” said Daniel Danev, a 26-year-old MBA candidate at Harvard. “I have had the chance to interact with people from around the globe, with different cultural and career backgrounds, aspirations and motivations.”
Danev noted that the rise of populism around the world undermines cross-cultural exchange. That might deter most people from working and studying abroad, but not Danev.
“For me, that has been one of the drivers for my personal development and a source of inspiration,”he said about persevering despite populist movements.
A degree or an exchange program in a foreign university is usually a “first try” at living abroad for many Bulgarian millennials. During that period, young people have the chance to get to know different cultures, expand their horizons and become global citizens.
For Danev, living abroad proved to be a particularly enlightening experience — he was in London for the EU Referendum (Brexit) and in Boston for the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, which changed his perspective of the “West.”
“These two events reminded me of the deep lines of social division that exist in societies here,” he said. “It is irrelevant for this discussion to debate the root causes for that division, however, my personal takeaway was not to take the status quo for granted and always be on the look for disruption (either positive or negative) where it is least expected.”
After those experiences, coming home and settling down can be somewhat boring. Hence, another driver is the feeling of permanently being outside of your comfort zone — committing to self-improvement, which can become an endless journey.
Savina Radeva’s experience was far from any comfort zone. The 27-year-old first studied abroad in 2008 (when she was 19), at a university in the Netherlands.
“My generation were some of the first that took profit of the advantages of being in the EU, which was amazing. Nevertheless, it was extremely difficult as well,” she said.
“The Netherlands was not very happy to open their working market to students from our part of Europe,” she recalled. “Me and most of my fellow Bulgarian students struggled a lot in the first years. Those times taught me many important things and helped me build my character.”
Furthermore, education in a prestigious foreign university offers unique benefits. Danev was able to interact with professors who are leaders in their respective fields of study and kept up with the academic debate in the areas he is interested in.
The lack of professional opportunities in Bulgaria is also pushing students to other countries —but do not mistake it with unemployment. As a matter of fact, the unemployment rate in Bulgaria (at 7.9 percent) is lower than that of Greece (23 percent), Spain (18,9 percent) and Italy (11,9 percent).
However, Bulgarian millennials are seeking top career opportunities, which are not available in their country. For example, the management consulting and investment banking industries are practically non-existent.
“I decided to leave because the world of design in Bulgaria could never have offered me the education that I received abroad,” Radeva said. “Professionally, there are certain studios that accomplish quality work, but the scope of the projects are limited,” she added, noting that her particular interest, design for public spaces, isn’t well-funded in Bulgaria.
Danev’s experience is similar. He said that his work experience abroad is brief if based on the number of years, but broad in terms of the number of situations and problems he has dealt with.
“Capital markets in Western economies are much ‘deeper’ and more dynamic in comparison to my home market and that makes them an excellent launch pad for my career,” he said.
Still, he noted that the work environment in Bulgaria is improving and said that he hopes it will lead to greater demand for highly educated and experienced workers.
“Spending time abroad for educational or professional reasons is nowadays indispensable,” Radeva said. “The world we live in requires it not only as a prerequisite for your professional development but for personal growth as well.”
Cover cartoon credit: Sergio Algeri/GYV