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A touching story of Sofia in Sofia

Sofia Protopopova, student of the Institute of Humanities, NMSTU, pioneered a new exchange program between Nosov Magnitogorsk State Technical University and Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski" (Sofia, Bulgaria).

The program was established last summer upon agreement between the Department of the Russian Language, General Language Studies and Mass Communications of NMSTU and the Department of Russian Philology of Sofia University. Launching something new is always difficult; however, an active student easily took on all bureaucratic challenges and from the 12th of November till the 1st of February got into a new life, remembering it now warmly and with a smile.

- Was Bulgaria your dream or a combination of circumstances?

- A combination of circumstances. Last year senior students visited Serbia and I also intended to go somewhere. My parents supported me in taking such opportunities. When I learnt about a call for study in Bulgaria, I told my teacher about my intention to go. We were very worried about this program, as it was new and gave rise to various questions. Everything was rather hypothetical. But in short terms I managed to do everything. My mother was always supportive and hoped for the best. So, this was my first experience of going abroad, and I learnt a new life.

- Tell us please about your first impressions, when you just arrived in Bulgaria.

- To be honest, I did not have any impressions of being in a foreign country. I traveled a lot in Russia and when I arrived in Bulgaria, I felt like visiting just another Russian city as if I have not travelled outside Russia. This is about my first impressions. Perhaps, I just picked up vibes and followed city rhythms.

- What did you study at Sofia University?

- I studied five courses: the Old Bulgarian language, historical grammar, history of the Russian literary language, the Bulgarian language and Russian literature of the 20th century. Studying Russian in Bulgaria seems to be strange in a way. Many Bulgarians were surprised and asked, “Why did you come from Russia to study the Russian language in Bulgaria?” And I can explain you why. I went to study history of the Russian language. Many of my courses were directly related to history of the language. I am sure that few people are aware of the fact that the Russian language has Old Bulgarian roots, and our Old Slavonic language is their Old Bulgarian. Disciples of Cyril and Methodius came to Ancient Bulgaria and created the Cyrillic alphabet, taking their inspiration there. It means that the Cyrillic alphabet was brought to us from Ancient Bulgaria; that is why our languages contain many similar words.

- However, it is difficult to listen to the Bulgarians. Having no command of Bulgarian, I do not understand anything, even when I hear known Russian words.

-  Yes, at first it was very difficult. I had to deal myself with everything. I immersed into the language everywhere: in streets I strained ears to hear conversations of passers-by; when travelling by bus, I took notice of talks between passengers. In a month or so, I began to understand the spoken language of the Bulgarians. A main contribution to my command of Bulgarian was made by my host family, whom I met by a miracle. I found a family there.

- By a miracle? Tell us please in detail.

- In the beginning, I lived in the dormitory. But, by a mere coincidence, once I got acquainted with a grandmother and its granddaughter. This was exactly before Christmas, a true Christmas miracle. I waited for the tutorial on Old Bulgarian. Meanwhile, the grandmother came and we got acquainted by chance and just in five minutes she put down my phone number. She invited me to visit her, and we together traveled to her native city for Christmas. We felt absolute trust and often spent free time together. After Christmas they invited me to stay at their house. I still remember a situation when they saw me off at the airport for a plane to Russia: the grandmother, her grandchildren and my friend wove their hands and cried. I sobbed in the plane. I understood that I was leaving my second family. So, if my first impression in Bulgaria was that I did not leave my home, my last impression was that I left my home, my family.

- What did you manage to see and visit in Bulgaria?

- I set a goal: to study Bulgarian culture and the Bulgarians and used time to the maximum extent. I toured all over Sofia, travelled down to the south of Bulgaria, on the border with Greece, on a mountain ski resort, and visited neighboring towns. I would like to say that Bulgaria means ancient artifacts everywhere. You may go and come across a stone, and this stone may belong to an ancient palace. I also visited the village of Rupite, where Baba Vanga lived. I travelled to small towns, and if your goal is to get into the spirit of culture, you should visit such small provincial towns. I tried to manage everything: I went to the Russian Cultural Center, the Russian Union of Writers living in Bulgaria and exchanged contact details. I visited the press service in the city, met various people, and got contact details of public figures in Bulgaria. After classes I met with my Bulgarian friends, took part in various events, for example, chemistry evening, and attended lectures on Bulgarian culture of my own free will! When people ask me about my rest, I answered them that I did not take a rest at all, and I used my time to the ultimate fruitful and interesting extent.

- It is interesting to learn more about Vanga’s house.

- The village seems to be desolate. There is a small house for visitors near the house, where Baba Vanga lived. Everything is in its place as in her lifetime, even her chair. By the way, I was surprised by a church located nearby. It was built by Vanga when she was alive. It is extraordinary as saints are unusually depictured, and everything is different. Baba Vanga’s grave is nearby. I felt bad vibes rather than fear. I got a headache. Moreover, I cannot find explanations for the following: in that area my phone turned off. It was not so cold to be discharged, and the battery was charged over 80%. I do not know how to explain this phenomenon.

- Now that you are in Russia, do you want to return to Bulgaria?

- I believe I will come back soon. I hope very much that we will manage to implement a joint project and in April I will visit Bulgaria. A youth union in Bulgaria invited me as a speaker to a conference annually held for students of humanities together with such companies as Forbes, Coca-Cola. The objective of the conference is discussions of employment possibilities by employers and students of humanities. Now, at time of technologies, it is getting more difficult for graduates of humanities to find a job. And I want to implement another large project between our university and Sofia University. I have already received an approval from the Bulgarians. If everything goes well, you will learn about it later.

Proactive Sofia, taking the initiative and dedicated to ideas, wished all students to gain such invaluable experience. Study in Bulgaria was free, and her home university rendered financial support of the trip.

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