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Taking a Gap Year

Imagine the fun of taking a whole year out of your routine UK life and spending it relaxing in Bulgaria. Gap years are usually associated with pre or post university students, but not specifically. Quest Bulgaria caught up with one happily married couple whose kids had flown the nest and with that they decided that now was the time for their gap year.


Dave and Janet Willis from Plymouth bought a villa in the Albena region in 2004, “we intended to use it as a holiday home and never contemplated coming here full time,” Dave explains. They chose Bulgaria because friends had given glowing reports about Albena and the surrounding areas and when they finally got to visit they had to agree. After quite a few more stays here, Dave and Janet began to start thinking differently, “we liked the country , the people and the way of life and we thought about an extended stay here” Janet recalls. Getting away from the stress of everyday life in the UK was a key motivator;Janet had spent 17 years caring for her disabled mother before she passed away 2 years ago and Dave works as a manager for Social Services,where he is responsible for a team of support workers who work in the field of child welfare, a job, which at times can be stressful and emotionally challenging.

Dave felt that after 20 years of working in the childcare arena,  he would benefit from a break and this coupled with the fact that Janet had virtually put her life on hold for many years to care for her mother, a change in scenery and lifestyle would give them a chance to put themselves first for once. This was something that Dave’s employers fully appreciated, when he proposed the idea of a career break they were fully supportive and agreed to give him the chance to take a year of unpaid leave, to decide whether a Bulgarian lifestyle was something that he and Janet could adapt to and enjoy and ensuring that if they couldn't, his job would still be there for him on his return. “We haven’t left the UK permanently yet, we’ve just come out here to see if we could live here in a way we wanted.” Janet says.

The Willis’ started their gap year in July 2008 and in May this year they have to make up their minds about whether or not to return and at the moment the jury is still out, Dave clarifies the situation, “when the time comes we will sit down and discuss the pros and cons of the situation,there are many things to consider. One of the biggest drawbacks to remaining here is not being able to see our children and two granddaughters aged 15 and 11 and our one year old grandson whenever we want to,although we see them and talk to them on Skype on a regular basis but it is nowhere near the same as being able to hold and cuddle them,although they are all looking forward to visiting us in Bulgaria during the summer. We have been very fortunate to have made some really good friends both English and Bulgarian who act as a support network and a great source of advice, if needed.

Another challenge has been the language but Janet explains, "We really wanted to make an effort to fit in to the Bulgarian way of life,so we have been taking Bulgarian lessons from our friend Neil who still attends school here and although it's only been three months we have learnt enough to understand and converse on a basic level with our neighbours,which they seem to appreciate." There is little the Willis’ dislike about Bulgaria, "there's the usual things that seem to bug most people like taking two days out of your life to register a car and some of the crazy driving stunts you see on the roads, although over the past five years we have seen some vast improvements in the condition of some roads, but unfortunately the more affluent drivers now boast more powerful cars which they seem hell bent on showing to you whether its in you rear view mirror waiting for the slightest gap to emerge or scraping the paint of the front number plate as they scramble for that vital few inches of space. Then having over reached themselves and they realise they are heading straight for a 16 wheeled juggernaut". Dave continues “We are having a great time relaxing and enjoying life together, before we were always working, but now if I feel the need to be more energetic,I can pick up on some of the numerous jobs that need doing around the house or start the huge task of landscaping the garden which has been neglected for numerous years but I'm up for the challenge!" The last few months have given us a chance to explore places a little further afield,"we like to explore the many villages around the region, I think we must have visited just about every one between Varna and Dobrich.  It's nice to see the real Bulgaria and not just the commercialised areas around the resorts, which we saw when we were tourists", Janet explains. When asked if he would recommend his experience of a gap year to others Dave says, "I would recommend to anyone thinking about 'upping sticks' and settling in a foreign country to give it an extended stay first, its so much more different than holidaying there, I know I've been lucky enough to be given the opportunity of a year out but we are hearing on a regular basis about people who gave up everything at home to 'live the dream' but are now returning home after only several months of living here, if only they could have found a way to 'test drive' Bulgaria first it could have saved a lot of heartache."

What does the future hold for Dave and Janet? Are they going to stay and build a life in Bulgaria? Dave replies, "I'm still enjoying my year out and I still have a few months left to make my decision, of whether to stay or go. If we do stay I will be giving up a job I really enjoy and in today's economic climate it might be a foolish move. We would not get to see our children or grandchildren on a regular basis, but this may be balanced by the fact that they can spend time with us during the summer and we could visit them for Xmas etc, but the burning question is, 'would this be enough?' I know I will need to work,not just for the income but also for my sanity. I have a few ideas around this aspect and I am also determined to continue to improve my Bulgarian language skills as I see it as a key issue if we stay. I really don't know if we will stay, but I do know that I could live here and enjoy the life, which I didn't know before I started this gap year".