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An Aussie in Bulgaria

Expat chat forums are full of people about to take what seems to be a plunge into the unknown of buying a property and making a permanent move to Bulgaria. Many are sensibly trying to determine what life will be like once they arrive here and what they need to bring in order to make life better. Those people who have lived here for several years all have their own tales to tell and everybody’s experience of their arrival and subsequent period of integration varies, yet each holds something that future movers can learn from. We take a look at one plucky expats experience of her move from Australia to Bulgaria via Scotland.

 

 

Pack and Go

Aussie TV presenter Sue Mercer (53) was always a globetrotter at heart. After seven years in cold and rainy Scotland, when one day in 2005 she decided to pack her bags and moved to a tiny village called Miladinovtsi in Bulgaria. Her sense of adventure was driven by the low property prices and when she fell in love with her dream house in the village 30 km south west of Yambol, she decided that this was one bargain she could not afford to miss and so after checking out the title she signed on the dotted line.

Welcome to Planet BG

The paper trail was frustrating particularly as there is a different set of residency and visa rules for citizens beyond the EU, however she quickly learnt what most of expats soon discover - that there is no point getting stressed, patience is the key and eventually things always get done.  Sue’s opinion is that things have improved dramatically since the country joined the EU. With her documentation all in order, Sue started to take stock of her environment and compared to Australia and even Scotland it was quite a culture shock she explains, “When I arrived in Bulgaria, I felt completely at sea, like I'd been dropped in from another planet. Not a soul in the village spoke English, but I didn’t let that worry me - I learnt very quickly that the locals were an amazingly friendly lot and the fact that we didn't speak the same language had no bearing on how much social contact I had with them. It's amazing what can be achieved with limited language and great charade skills.”

A Bulgarian Love Affair

Aided by the warmth and friendliness of the local people, Sue soon began what can only be described as a love affair with this extraordinarily interesting, beautiful, fascinating and sometimes, bizarre country. After a rocky start – the first six months in the country were dogged with problems from misunderstandings with the estate agent, which resulted in her living in a huge brick and concrete shell and having no builders and no idea where to find any. Through her own tenacity and determination and help from a Bulgarian friend she managed to source a great builder called Ivan who also proved to be a great friend as well. Just after Ivan started work on her house Sue became very ill and with a great deal of help from him, she received treatment at the Stara Zagora hospital. Ivan’s help saved Sue’s life and the post operation care she received from him and his family aided a speedy recovery and she spent the next two years grafting side by side with Ivan and his building team on the property.

Sour Grapes

As each stage of the build was completed, Sue began to advertise the newly available accommodation.  Life began to blossom and everything was going well but Sue ran into problems with some members of the expat community, she explains, “I think my success and happiness was more than some people could bear. Unfortunately, I had some unpleasant experiences with some members of the expat community, which tarnished my life a little. It also made me question why I remained somewhere that was making me a little unhappy.  I was torn between my deep affection for the Bulgarians in my life and my love for the country, and the unhappiness being brought upon me by a few unpleasant people.”  Just before Christmas 2007 Sue was badly injured and decided to return to Australia to regroup. She made arrangements for her friends to care for her beautiful home and for her two handsome Karakachan dogs to be cared for by another friend in Yambol and then reluctantly returned to Australia.

An Extended Stay

Sue intended to remain in Australia for six months but the global financial recession made her think twice about returning, “I considered that perhaps this wasn't the best of times to return to Bulgaria.  Around the same time as the recession kicked in, I was offered a very good job as the Regional Manager and Breakfast Presenter for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Geraldton station in Western Australia.” Sue took the job and enjoys her work very much, but she is closely monitoring the world economy and planning her return to the country that she considers to be her home. In the meantime she has written a book about her experiences, she enthuses “It’s about the good, the bad and the ugly – my life in Bulgaria.  It's almost completed and is with the editor now and hopefully, once it is published, I can journey back and continue my love affair with the wonderful country that has stolen my heart.”

Advice for Wannabe Émigrés

Quest Bulgaria asked Sue what her advice would be for anyone considering a move to Bulgaria and based on her experience she offers the following, “I would say to anyone, 'do it'.  It's been one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life.  We only get one chance at life and I think a lot of us waste what we have because of fear and man’s overwhelming need for security and safety.” She reminds would-be expats to “Remember this is not the same as where you've been living.  Forget about the things from 'home.'  If they are that important to you, go back from whence you came.  Bulgaria, like any 'foreign country' you might choose to live in is different and that's what makes it so appealing.  Don't spend your life trying to make it the same as what you moved away from...that's just boring.  Live in and love the country for what it is.....” Sue’s move was not an easy one, but she would not trade her experience for anything in this world. She has learnt from her time here that regardless of where you are born and bred, there could possibly be another country out there that will be more 'home' to you one day than the country of your birth.  Finally she reflects, “I have no connection with Australia anymore and feel like a fish out of water.  I think about Bulgaria every day, every night, I dream about it and when I talk about it to people here I say ' I can't wait to get back home'”