Who are you?
Hello, my name is Rebecca Richardson and I’m a sales and marketing professional from the UK. Before moving to Bulgaria I have worked in Dubai, UAE and Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. I love to travel and feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to combine my love of travel with my career.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I first moved abroad in 2008. I always knew I wanted to work abroad and at the time I was in love with Dubai so I decided to move there and start a new life. After spending two years in Dubai I returned to London for two years but once again I wanted to try something new and was then offered a position in the Dominican Republic.As that contract came to an end I began searching for the next one and an opportunity to work in Sofia came up. My partner is Bulgarian so I had visited Sofia once before however moving to the country was a completely different experience!
What challenges did you face during the move?
For me the most difficult challenge during the move was the language barrier. Moving to Bulgaria where the language is so different to English wasn’t easy at all. When you see the cyrillc alphabet everywhere it’s quite daunting as it’s completely unrecognisable. Even simple things like looking at property ads online was difficult as they were rarely in English so everything had to be translated for me. I also found the paperwork process for applying for the local ID card quite complicated and needed a Bulgarian speaker with me at all times while visiting the relevant offices! They like paperwork here in general and this is something I find very frustrating!
How did you find somewhere to live?
I’ve been renting a property since I arrived and have moved just once so it hasn’t been too difficult. We used a property agent who also spoke English so I was able to understand what was going on. The process is quite simple and works in a similar way to the UK where you pay a deposit and an agents fee. We chose an area close to my office to live which has been great as I have a very easy journey to work!
Are there many other expats in your area?
Sofia is the capital city so there a many expats here and I have been lucky enough to make some really good friends by attending networking events and spending time at the British Embassy.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I’m extremely fortunate to have a local partner so it’s been easy to meet locals but in addition to his friends I have also made many Bulgarian friends of my own, one of whom I have actually entered into business with! We realised we shared a passion for writing and marketing and wanted to create an online guide to Bulgaria in English and Bulgarian so www.eatstaylovebulgaria.com was born! I find the locals in Sofia to be very friendly and really helpful, everyone has been wonderful to me here.
What do you like about life where you are?
I have a nice apartment in a lovely area in the city where I can also see the mountains, something which is still so new and beautiful to me. I love the fact that I eat out almost every day without spending too much money and I love that I have so many great friends around me. Sofia is a very relaxed city in general, it’s not as chaotic as London and everyone here seems to have more time to enjoy life. I am always busy here but I’m busy doing things I enjoy which makes a huge difference to the quality of life that you lead.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There isn’t anything that I don’t like about expat life. Of course I miss my family and friends in the UK however I am very fortunate that I get to travel home almost every other month so even that isn’t a problem for me now. The only thing that I am a little concerned about is the cold winters that Bulgaria is known for! Last year was quite mild but I’m not sure I’ll be so lucky again this year and I am trying to prepare myself!
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
The biggest cultural difference for me is how close everyone is here with their friends and family. I feel like I’ve known my Bulgarian friends for my whole life as we spend so much more time together than I ever did with friends in the UK. Here it’s normal to speak to each other every day and see each other at least once a week. It also helps that everyone here has more time on their hands and that the city is quite small so it’s very easy to meet. When I lived in the UK I used to plan weeks in advance to meet friends but here it’s much easier. You also find that you will bump into someone you know almost every time you go out in Sofia!
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
When I first arrived I found it difficult to find everything I needed here however that’s the same challenge I’ve faced in every new country. After a couple of months and some exploring the local malls and supermarkets I soon found my favourite places to shop and was able to find local alternatives to the few products that I wanted but couldn’t find. The only thing I found odd when I first arrived is that the supermarkets don’t sell any medicines so when you want to pick up something like paracetamol or even contact lens solution you have to go to a pharmacy. It’s a small thing but I’m so used to buying everything I need in one place that I noticed it! There’s so many malls in Sofia and we even have a Debenhams and Marks and Spencers (which are famous UK department stores) so I have the best of both worlds. I go to local shops for something different and UK shops when I want to feel at home! If you shop for clothes in the mall they are quite expensive but there are also some great markets where you can get some real bargains.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Bulgarian food is incredible! What I love here is that every lunch time we go to a restaurant and eat really good ‘home cooked’ food. A typical lunch for me is roast chicken with rice or potatoes or chicken soup and this will cost no more than 2 Euros! It’s such an improvement on the sandwiches I used to eat for lunch in the UK! I think it’s cheaper to eat out here than to cook at home and that’s what most people tend to do, there’s so much choice. I also love that salads are served here with almost every meal. Bulgarian wine is also lovely and very cheap at about 3 Euros a bottle.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
My advice to anyone thinking of making a move to any new country is just give it a go! You should always make sure you have an option to go back home if things don’t work out but as long as you have that then you have nothing to lose. You should also network as much as possible and get involved with groups and activities as it’s such a good way to make friends. Although someone did once advise me that you should still maintain the same approach that you would at home when you meet new people. Just because you meet someone from your home country that doesn’t mean you should immediately trust them. I think that’s a good piece of advice as many people look for help when they first arrive in a new place and they tend to automatically trust those from their own country which isn’t always the right thing to do. Be open-minded and patient as there will be many things that frustrate you, particularly if you don’t speak the language but it’s all worth it in the end.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now I imagine myself staying in Bulgaria for the foreseeable future. I love life here and if things continue as they are then I have absolutely no reason to leave!