Who are you?
My name is Daniel Roy. I’m a freelance narrative video game writer from Montreal, Canada.These days I live in Sofia, Bulgaria with my partner Helene, who is also Canadian.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
My first expatriation was to Shanghai in 2003. My partner Helene and I both wanted an adventure and were very interested in China, and after a short trip to Shanghai I landed a job with a video game studio and we moved there for more than three years.
We moved back to Canada in 2006, but we realized we still had the travel bug after our experience in China, so we quit our jobs to travel in 2009. We both reoriented our careers so we could work remotely (I transitioned from project management to creative writing, and Helene now teaches online), and have since then lived in Thailand, Mexico, India, South Korea, and now Bulgaria.
Bulgaria had been on our minds since 2015, and last year we finally moved to Sofia, where we now live for the foreseeable future.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The biggest challenge when moving to Bulgaria, honestly, was acquiring the visa and residency permit. It’s a trivial thing compared to the experiences of immigrants to my own country of Canada, but it still required a lot of patience and organisation.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Bulgaria isn’t known as a paradise destination (at least not by those who haven’t visited!) so we faced a lot of incomprehension, including from Bulgarians. During the time we were outside the country and planning our move, that level of doubt was a bit nerve-racking. Fortunately, as soon as we got here we were reminded why we made this choice.
How did you find somewhere to live?
I first connected with a few Facebook pages for expats and foreigners in Bulgaria, which helped me gain a clear picture of the rental market. Using the little I had acquired of the Bulgarian language, supplemented by Google Translate, I then checked out Bulgarian property listings. That was more work than expat-focused listings, sure, but it meant I had access to more choices and better prices. A rental agent, recommended by a friend, helped us navigate stuff like leases and visits, so overall it was a smooth process.
Are there many other expats in your area?
There’s a growing number of expats living in Sofia, but to be frank, I don’t really go out of my way to find them, as I’m perfectly happy interacting with Bulgarians, many of whom speak English very well.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I’ve made plenty of friends here, even with people who speak very little English. My language and culture teachers are the folks from whom I buy my groceries at the farmers’ market or in my neighborhood’s shops, restaurants, and cafes. They’re always happy to have me talk to them in Bulgarian, and they’re very patient with my learning efforts.
I’ve also made a few friends who speak English or French well. I find people here whip-smart and open-minded, and it’s easy to get along.
What do you like about life where you are?
We chose Sofia because it’s the perfect balance of comfort and adventure for us. It’s a European culture with all its creature comforts, but it’s also an ancient culture full of things to discover. I love it here.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Mostly, I miss my family and my friends back home. The unfortunate side of expatriation is putting many deep and meaningful relationships back home on pause while you’re away. With some people it’s easy to just pick up where you left off when you meet again, but the years do take their toll.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Bulgarian people are super-nice in general, but they sure don’t smile unless they have to. I came to Bulgaria after living in South Korea, and there people smile all the time as a way to ease social tensions and signal friendliness, which is something I took to very naturally as a Canadian. I had to “unlearn” smiling all the time, but now that I’m more used to it, frankly, it’s quite liberating.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Food is a big reason my partner and I moved here! We’re amazed at the quality of local produce we have access to, and we eat Bulgarian most of the time. The fresh salads are definitely a highlight.
The biggest downside for my is the lack of international options, even in the capital. There are more and more authentic restaurants and grocery stores popping up, but there’s still some ways to go.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If you want to be happy abroad, you need to take things as they are instead of how you expect them to be. If you keep comparing your host country to your life back home, you’ll just set yourself up for disappointment. But if you accept things as they are, you’ll discover new favorites, and you’ll even grow as a person. If you practice cultural humility and allow yourself to be shaped by your new environment, it’ll be a supremely enriching and life-changing experience.
What are your plans for the future?
My partner and I want to stay in Bulgaria as long as we can and as long as we enjoy it. I’ve got a good feeling about it.
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