Where are you from? 

I am originally from Sofia, Bulgaria.  

What was it like growing up? 

 I was very fortunate growing up. My brother and I would spend the school year in the capital and during the summer we would stay at my grandparents’ beach house on the Black Sea. Looking back now, I realize it was my parents who were the lucky ones to get a break from us. 

 I remember one year we went on a two-week bus trip with my classmates to Austria, Germany, France, and Italy. I must have been only about 10 years old at the time and I remember being allowed to go only because my older brother was going with his friends as well. My parents seemed to ignore the fact that at the time he didn’t like me much so he would have gladly given me away to a stranger if the opportunity presented itself. It is despairing that kids don’t have the same opportunities to travel as freely today because of the always looming threat of terrorism.

What brought you to Cleveland? 

I moved to Cleveland from Washington, DC for work about two and a half years ago. My company’s global headquarters are in downtown Cleveland and I accepted the relocation package to further my career. 

What were your first thoughts about coming to America? Did those change? 

There were many things which I found strange when my family and I first moved to the US that I have now become accustomed to. Our school system in Bulgaria is very rigorous so when I started 7th grade in the US I was placed in an Algebra I class. By the time I was a sophomore in high school I was in AP Calculus. I thought that American kids weren’t as smart but now I know that it’s just a difference in the school curriculum. Americans tend to focus much more on creativity and athletic ability than on math and science which is just a cultural difference. Having just recently watched the 2016 summer Olympics it comes as no surprise that American athletes always dominated the competitions. 

What challenges did you face as an immigrant transitioning here? 

My family relocated to the Washington DC area when I was in middle school and since I was relatively young my transition was fairly smooth. Of course, there was a culture shock in the beginning and a language barrier but as a child it is easy to assimilate quickly. Fortunately, we moved to one of the most diverse areas in the country and I never felt much like an outsider. 

What is your occupation? 

I work in Global Mobility. I am currently a lead manager for our International Destination Services department. 

How have other Clevelanders made you feel welcomed? 

I have to say that growing up on the East Coast made my transition to the Midwest quite easy. I was amazed by how nice and friendly people are here. My coworkers had a big welcome party for me on my first day in the office and it wasn’t just my department, the whole company was there! They had these huge posters and everyone had written down their favorite things to do in Cleveland and their favorite places to eat. Almost three years later and there are still a few places left to cross of the list! I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for the people and the friends I have made here I would have moved back to DC a long time ago.

What traditions or customs do you continue to practice?

In Bulgaria we celebrate Name days. Every Bulgarian name, which is associated with an Eastern Orthodox saint, has a specific date on which it is celebrated. On August 15th it is Holy Virgin Mary’s Day so you call everyone you know by the name of Mary or Maria to wish them a happy name day. Although it was originally a religious practice it has turned into just another reason to get together and throw a party for your family and friends. My mother’s name is Maria which is one of the most popular names in Bulgaria. She has four name days during the year which is probably why she has insisted on keeping this tradition. 

What do you love about Cleveland? 

There are so many things I have learned to love about this city. I love the comradery, especially during sporting events. I love how affordable it is and that as a young professional I can afford to both work and live downtown. I love that I can walk to see a Broadway show in Playhouse Square or walk to one of the three stadiums downtown to watch a game! And last but not least I love how hospitable Clevelanders are.

Why is it so important to welcome immigrants and refugees?

The US is a nation of immigrants. People around the world have always moved in search of better opportunities for themselves and/or their children. The US provides one of the best platforms in the world for hard working families to build a brighter future for their children. It is upsetting that the word alone immigration has such negative connotation in so many people’s minds. There are so many great minds around the world, why shouldn’t they be allowed to contribute to our economy and society? 

Why is it important to travel abroad?

Traveling abroad allows you to learn so much about another culture so quickly. It is one of the richest experiences you can have. Although on the surface it may look like you’re learning about another country’s history, art, architecture, culture, religion, traditions, etc., in reality you’re learning much more about yourself. Traveling abroad exposes you to new experiences and new people and the way you interact with those people allows you to peer into your own psyche and confront your own judgments. Ultimately, we realize that we’re not very different from one another after all.