After spending the summer in her hometown of Sofia, Bulgaria, Dana Entcheva, 19, had some trouble getting back into the swing of things in Groningen. But surprisingly, being in the city and country where she grew up had taken some readjusting, too. ‘The first few weeks back home, I felt so weird’, she says. ‘Nothing had changed at all, and that sort of makes you feel like a place is not moving. So now, whenever I leave home, I say goodbye to people, but when I leave Groningen, I also have to say goodbye. It’s always goodbyes.’ Those goodbyes inevitably accompany a lot of hellos, and Entcheva says hello to almost everyone – she’s very sociable. It’s fitting, then, that she’s a part of ESN’s PR branch: she’s responsible for the Mentor and Integration committee this year.
While socializing comes naturally to her, she’s also a dedicated student and calls the UB her second home. In Sofia, she was always in the top of her classes, but coming here was a painful academic reality check. ‘The way of studying here, I wasn’t used to it at all. To pass my exams back home, it just took me an hour or two to study and make notes, and I scored the best score.’ That’s not so easy in Groningen.
Tears on the booklet
‘I was actually crying during one of the exams. It was for micro economics and I was in the exam hall, I remember looking at the questions and seeing tears dropping on the booklet. I wound up passing it with a 5.45, but I really don’t know how I did it.’ As an economics student, she is optimistic that she can find a good job after graduation, but ironically, due to a struggling economy in Bulgaria, she doesn’t know if there will be any work for her there. ‘Many people think they’ll leave to study and then come back, but then they don’t. I don’t even know if I will’, she says. ‘After this degree, we’re supposed to be able to find a nice paying job, but the jobs just aren’t very well paid there.’
The majority of people in Bulgaria are really struggling. ‘The minimum wage is about 250 euros per month, but a high salary is considered to be only around 500 or 600 euros.’ So even for highly educated people, finding decently paid jobs is tough in the poorest of the EU’s 28 member states. On top of that, corruption is common in Bulgaria. ‘Our political situation: we’re corrupt, and here in the Netherlands, it’s not corrupt. That’s an enormous difference.’ But it extends to other industries, including financial – there were two major runs on the banks this summer – and medical. ‘My mom broke her ankle at the beach one time and we had to rush her to a hospital back home. My parents had to take the doctor and his wife to drinks and dinner a couple of times because otherwise, you won’t get the best doctor. So you do that, and then you still have to pay for treatment, of course.’
Bulgaria is the best of both worlds
Still, Entcheva feels very attached to her hometown, the capital city of Sofia, and her country at large: she even has the national flag hanging up in her student room. ‘Bulgaria is beautiful, we have a seaside with sandy beaches and sunshine, and then we have mountains. You can do everything you want, it’s the best of both worlds.’
Yet aside from its natural beauty, coming to the Netherlands showed Entcheva how much influence communism has had on her country, even though she was born into a democratic Bulgaria. ‘The Netherlands was never part of communism, and you can see it. The buildings here are beautiful, and the only bad thing about Sofia is that the buildings are so ugly. We don’t have the money to replace them though, and people have to live somewhere.’ Living in a soviet-era building can be scary, too. ‘My family lives on the 14th floor of one of those communism-type apartment buildings and there was a super strong [5.8] earthquake two years ago, so everything was swaying like crazy and a lot books came down off the shelves and blocked my door. My mom was panicking because she couldn’t reach me. I’ve never felt the earthquakes here, even though people tell me constantly that there are earthquakes happening because they’re pumping the earth for gas.’ Although the earthquakes here are manmade and weaker, they do mean having natural gas readily available, which is another big difference between Groningen and Sofia that Entcheva has noticed. Even though a major gas pipeline is currently being built from Russia to Bulgaria, the ongoing Russian conflict across the Black Sea in Ukraine hasn’t changed much in her country so far. Maybe increased commercial air traffic due to rerouting to avoid Ukraine is polluting Bulgaria’s air, but in the end, they have their own problems to deal with.
Not ready for the European Union
Bulgaria has been in the EU since 2007, for which Entcheva is grateful since it means that her family only has to pay EU tuition fees – she doubts she could afford to study here otherwise. But she still doubts how wise it was for Bulgaria to become a member state: ‘The bad thing about us joining the European Union is that we get the money, but it doesn’t go where it’s supposed to. We’re not in the Eurozone yet but we’re considering it, and I don’t think it’s a good idea. I don’t think Bulgaria is ready. I honestly don’t think we were even ready for the European Union.’ The main problem, she thinks, is still economic inequality in Bulgaria. ‘Everyone is doing so well here in the Netherlands, and I really feel like it is a privilege to be able to be here myself. I know my friends would love to be here, but they can’t. I can, so I know I’m lucky.’ A small pause. ‘It’s amazing here’, she says. ‘I love Groningen, I love the people – I just hate goodbyes.’